‘Libor’ – Lying Is Becoming Occupational Routine
It is not only the banking sector that needs to take a hard look at itself
Published 09 July 2012 | Tony Ward
In today’s world, we have to acknowledge that there are times when the truth seems inadequate for achieving what needs to be done, especially in a culture that’s driven by money and profit, or simply by the need for economic survival.
During the period of UDI in which I grew up in Rhodesia, when the country was subjected to international sanctions, I well remember the debate regarding the morality of certain practices. Rhodesian export oranges were stamped ‘Outspan’ to appear to be South African; maize was exported with the designation “Produce of Zambia”, and so on.
It was all done by people who, on the face of it, were mostly pretty decent, upright citizens. But circumstances dictated that any way necessary to circumvent sanctions, which could bring the economy to ruins, was legitimate and in the national interest. One perceptive person did comment, however, at the time, that if Rhodesia ever returned to international legitimacy, it was questionable whether local companies would ever revert to trading without deception and untruth. The culture had become comfortable with massaging the truth because it was, after all, for the ‘common good’.
The situation is very similar in Britain today, exemplified by the news that there have been senior officials in the banking industry who have lied in order to rig the Libor inter-bank lending interest rate. There’s a certain irony in the fact that the pronunciation of the acronym ‘Libor’ has the emphasis on the first syllable! But the former Barclays chief executive, Bob Diamond made an interesting comment when, in a business lecture last year, he identified ‘culture’ as the critical element in determining whether people behaved responsibly when no one else was watching.
‘Culture’, of course, is not a word that the Bible uses, although a collective responsibility is evident especially in the Old Testament as regards Israel’s behaviour and practices as a nation. And the two factors which most regularly seemed to throw Israel off course were firstly, the desire for wealth and economic gain, and secondly, fears about their security in the face of foreign aggression. Expediency became the watchword, and Israel’s consequent spiritual apostasy necessitated repeated warnings from the prophets. There are some words with a strangely modern ring to them in Jeremiah 17:1 where, “The Lord says ‘My people act as though their evil ways are laws to be obeyed, inscribed with a diamond (!) point on their stony hearts” (New Living Translation). In other words, deceit, deception and corruption had become institutionalised as a cultural norm.
The axiom “the end justifies the means” is how it would be described today. And the effect of this seems to be permeating all walks of life. The alarmingly unethical practices of a big pharmaceutical giant have been in the news this week, exposing a culture that is more interested in maximising profits than in patient safety. In a different field, I recently heard about how a certain institution was fraudulently using qualified employees to complete an assignment for a certain qualification, posing as apprentices, in order to increase their requisite numbers for purposes of obtaining additional government funding. Similarly, hospitals manipulate waiting lists in order to meet targets, and even the BBC have been caught out for phone-in scams where the winners had already been pre-selected. On an individual basis, plagiarism in the submission of essays, throwing false sickies at work, and making false claims on tax returns and insurance claims have now become virtually standard practice.
Truth has now been relegated so far down the scale of values that our society is now incapable of functioning without lies and deception. The hue and cry over the exposure of similar deception in the banking industry is merely a reflection of what is happening at all levels of society. We despise it in others, but are very often guilty of the same thing in a different guise. But the biggest lie of all is when, as a nation, we convince ourselves that we can break God’s commandments with impunity. Until we acknowledge once again the sovereignty of the one who said “I am the truth” (John 14:6), the recent revelations of the practices in the banking industry will be matched by many more shocking exposures of the levels to which we have fallen for the sake of expediency or profit.
Tony Ward is a Bible teacher and evangelist who was ordained in Zimbabwe. He currently lives and ministers in Bristol.
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