The Fear of Getting Caught


In the week this past February when stunned colleagues watched as a senior executive at Kidder, Peabody & Co. was led out of his office in handcuffs, I happened to be reading a novel about money, George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Of people who are not rich— people like the secretaries and data entry clerks at places like Kidder, Peabody—Orwell writes: “Our civilisation is founded on greed and fear, but in the lives of common men the greed and fear are mysteriously transmuted into something nobler. The lower-middle-class people in there, behind their lace curtains, with their children and their scraps of furniture and their aspidistras—they lived by the money-code, sure enough, and yet they contrived to keep their decency. The money-code as they interpreted it was not merely cynical and hoggish. They had their standards, their inviolable points of honor.”

Inviolable points of honor? Not always. Not on Wall Street, not on Main Street, not in City Hall, not even in the laboratories of our scientists. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to Orwell for this reminder that honesty is less rare than it sometimes seems, and grateful for a phrase that does justice to the current scandal. Cynical and hoggish.