In the midst of the various corporate accounting scandals this past summer, I came across an old Doonesbury cartoon in which a prison chaplain counsels a white-collar felon, a former corporate executive.

Trying to instill an elementary sense of ethics, the chaplain asks, "What is the opposite of wrong?"

The man replies, "Poor."

This idea is reminiscent of the complaint of Elihu, Job's sometime friend and sometime tormentor, in Job 36:21: "Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction."

The crisis in corporate America that has shattered investor faith and rocked the markets was not, I think, brought about by an insufficiency of laws; rather, it was brought about by inattention to righteousness. Corporate executives, pressed to meet their financial targets, and investors, obsessed with short-term gains, made choices at every turn. Too often they chose evil over affliction, or, in Gary Trudeau's terms, chose to be wrong rather than poor.

It is against this backdrop that it is most useful to consider the Supreme Court's narrow decision on school vouchers this past June. The court, in a case involving a voucher program in Cleveland, allowed the government to provide some measure of financial relief for poor parents who choose to send their children to private schools, including religious schools.

Although attacked by liberal critics, the ruling may actually help shape the morality of the rising generation of young Americans. These are the people who will be running America—in particular, corporate America—three or four decades in the future.

When Americans gaze into that future, what they see unsettles them. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (on whose advisory board I sit) recently released a depressing survey: ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Civil Reactions
Stephen Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University. He is the author of The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (2012), The Violence of Peace, The Emperor of Ocean Park, and many other books. His column, "Civil Reactions," ran from 2001 until 2007.
Previous Civil Reactions Columns:

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.