World leaders look for short term solutions to treat the symptoms of the economic meltdown -- such as enacting more complex and burdensome laws, rules and regulations. Yet the ultimate solution lies in identifying the real causes -- such as greed, dishonesty and breach of trust.
Confucius wasn't an economist or a lawyer. But for centuries his philosophy has provided sound principles on values important in the management of human resources. If one leads by laws and regulations, he taught, the people will try to avoid offences and punishments and will have no sense of shame. But if one leads on moral principles and educates them on rules of virtue, the people will not only have a sense of shame, they will not do wrong. Therefore it is not the regulatory controls but the lack of a sense of morality and shame, which one has to address.
On the subject of trust, the sage said: how can a person who is not trustworthy or has any credibility be acceptable? Trust placed in individuals and organizations has been severely eroded with the exposure of corporate corruption and greed. Had it not been for the economic collapse, the fraudulent activities of Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford would not have been exposed and investors would have continued to place their trust in them.
What then does Confucius have to say about greed? He said: Everyone desires riches and fame, but a gentleman would not accept riches and fame unless it is attained in the proper way, i.e. not through deceit, corruption or dishonorable means. Conversely, everyone loathes poverty and destitution but a gentleman would not rid them in an unjust manner, such as theft.
It is not an economic crisis the world is faced with but a moral crisis. Short term solutions -- more laws -- cannot address the 'human' problem and can only be likened to treating polio by improving on wheelchairs. Perhaps we should seek the wisdom of the ancient sages for answers to our current dilemma.
Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong (pictured above) is pursuing a Doctorate on management lessons from the Chinese Classics. He practices periodontics in Singapore. He's fluent in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and also speaks Bahasa Indonesia. He received training in art in watercolors and oils in the U.S., and his paintings and commissioned works are found in private collections internationally. Dr. Wong can be contacted here.