Regaining Our Trust

How important is trust to you?

When I was growing up, it meant everything to my mother and father. My dad applied it to people he hired. "It's nice if they're smart," he would say. "It's nicer if they're loyal. It's nicest of all, if they're both."

His message was simple: He'd rather have a loyal idiot than a disloyal snake. The snake might be more cunning, but he'll invariably get you in trouble.

Looking at recent events, I think he was on to something.

A lot of companies have been acting like snakes. Taking your money, but not commanding your trust. They got sleezy, now you're uneasy. They try to sell you a bill of goods, but you refuse to pick up the check.

Trust is broken.

It started with Enron and Arthur Andersen.

It spread to other energy names — like Dynegy and Halliburton — to telecom concerns — like Global Crossing and Lucent Technologies — to financial giants — like Merrill Lynch — or retailers — like K-Mart — or, a family-run cable enterprise — like Adelphia Communications.

Different issues, same theme: deceit.

Good money chasing bad companies doing very bad things. And now the people with that money — investors — are saying, no more.

We won't buy you, because we don't believe you. We don't like you, or your shifty accounting practices and ethical standards.

Now, people are saying, the shift has hit the fan. No more. And companies and analysts are aghast: How do we get them back?

I'll give you a clue. Stop being snakes. Start being real.

Investors will take it from there.

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