The most galling part of the whole scheme is that with the exception of the actual theft itself, the business practices leading up to the rip-off are legal. The result is a 24 hour a day hunting season against the vulnerable, whose only legal protection comes after the fact. A good, though imperfect analogy is the U.S.health care system that refuses to pay for preventive medicine. The difference is that at least the health care system spends big-time to fix the problems for the insured. But in this scam, there is little recourse; the criminals laugh all the way to bank and restitution is rare.
As I have argued on other occasions, the problem is bad regulation. Bad regulation is not de-regulation, not a lack of regulation. It is regulation, but the wrong regulation. If I understand the current banking legal and regulation situation, the use of unsigned checks and access by telemarketing companies to banking records are permitted thanks to tele-marketing companies and banks that lobby effectively to shape the regulations in ways that benefit the unscrupulous. Astonishingly, though most tele-marketing companies and banks do not engage in unethical behavior, they make themselves complicit by defending bad regulation.
I would thrilled to see those bank and tele-marketing companies come forward with serious proposals, developed with civil society groups, to make it harder for companies to have access to people's data and to make it illegal to sell contact information without informed consent.
Unfortunately, lack of commitment by ethical business firms is not the only difficulty. Some worry that restrictive regulation deprives adults of free choice and strangles the economy. These are reasonable concerns. But I would remind my liberal economist friends that definitions of free choice can also include legal prostitution, legal indentured servitude, legal poligamy. In a world of absolute "free choice", defending those who can not protect themselves becomes almost impossible and "free choice" evaporates. The result is abuse of basic rights. It is no surprise that the most effective anti-sex trafficing in Europe is in Sweden, where prostitution is illegal and the purchasers rather than providers are targeted by the police.
I far prefer a world in which we protect the young, the old, the innocent by restricting some adult activities. In the difficult and confusing real world where the vast majority do not receive the necessary education and training, nor have the mental and physical health to live unprotected, our most fundamental sense of human decency requires that civil society provide basic protection.
Defining "basic" is always open to debate, discussion, trial and error, cost-benefit analysis. Like it or not, we are stuck having to think, try, consider, redo, struggle to make the world a better place. Success is hardly guaranteed, and for many it is more comfortable to fall back on an ideology that says that doing nothing is better than doing something. Unfortunately, we have seen the result, and it is awful.
Given the current state of disarray in the U.S., one would hope that we could at least agree that more basic protection is needed. The U.S. data on health care, education, crime, human trafficking, corruption, poverty, the environment is depressingly clear: we are not doing enough and we are doing the wrong things. Our strategy is failing.
My advice to government and civl society organizations is the same that I give to business. We need to go back to the stragegy planning process. Values --> Objectives --> Strategy --> Plan --> Organization --> etc. Unfortunately, most of what I read and hear is either churlish outrage about what's broken or pathetic stonewalling defending vested interests. From time to time, there are good ideas, good projects, but they are piecemeal. They may forestall disaster, but they will not fix the problems. To have any hope of fixing our serious problems, there must be a major coordinated shift from government industrial and tax policies that seek wealth concentration to policies that refocus government on solving our social problems and returning industrial and tax policy to wealth creation in areas such as renewable energy, health and education. Sadly, the current Bush Administration's interventionist industrial, tax and spending policies sink money into useless and corrupt misadventures. (I will spare us all the pain of reviewing Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, federal student loan programs, government required health care bureaucracy costs, pork barrel legistation.)
We must not forget that none of this happens by accident. I repeat: We are choosing to fail. The business community can do its part to help fix the mess by given up lobbying for regulation oriented to short-term profits, abandoning failed self-regulation, and collaborating with government and civil society organizations in making rules of the game that are provide much needed protection and relief.
I realize that most of you will think that this is wishful thinking. You may well be right. If so, we are likely to continue to choose to fail.
Coming from davidbruceallen