Technological advances are rapidly changing the nature of almost all that we do. Many of the careers our children will pursue have yet to be invented. The end results of the political rumblings of the Arab world are impossible to discern, adding additional layers of uncertainty to the world of tomorrow.
Our Sages well understood the folly of predicting the future by asserting that the only “prophets” of today are children and fools. Yet there is one thing that never changes: human nature. Almost equally unchanging is the inability of man to learn from past mistakes, dooming us to repeat them over and over. Thus it is old news to read, once again, of a warning—this time from the Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions—that financial institutions are exposing themselves to risk at “pre-recession levels”. It is precisely this uncontrolled risk that led to the last recession, and is undoubtedly what will lead to the next.
Left to our own devices, nothing stands in the way of seeking more money now. As Chuck Prince, former CEO of Citigroup, said in July 2007 (just prior to the near financial meltdown), “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you've got to get up and dance. We're still dancing." It should surprise no one that Citigroup shares fell by over 95% when Mr. Prince left—along with millions of dollars in bonuses.
It takes a great moral leader to demand that we stop the music while the profits are still rolling in. It is precisely when things are going well that government regulators must ensure that the music is playing at the right speed. Initiatives such as “too big to fail”, where governments guarantee to prevent the bankruptcy of key economic players, are morally problematic—even when they offer economic benefit, something that is highly debatable.
Allowing others to pay for someone else’s mistakes undermines the most basic principles of moral behaviour. In a society where people too often look to blame others for their own failures, it is even more imperative that we model lessons of personal responsibility.
When one combines the uncertainty of the future with the consistency of human nature, it is apparent that the key characteristic we should be demanding of those who seek political office is moral integrity. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that moral integrity is what motivates many politicians; nor will they display any unless we demand it. Perhaps even more so than in corporate boardrooms, it is in the area of political maneuvering where decisions are based on what is best for the present; with, all too often, little regard for the implications of those maneuvers years down the road.
However, as a Jewish Canadian, I am most proud that (in one area at least) our government has taken the morally proper path despite the political fall-out. The moral leadership our Prime Minister has shown in supporting Israel is a model of principled leadership. While it is not my place to endorse any specific candidate, I do think that we need to examine more than just the candidates’ policies. More importantly, we must study the characters of the people that we will have the privilege and obligation of electing to serve us.