The Appearance of Impropriety:  How the Ethics Wars Have Undermined American Government, Business, and Society
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The Appearance of Impropriety: How the Ethics Wars Have Undermined American Government, Business, and Society [Hardcover]

Peter W. Morgan , Glenn Reynolds
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 15, 1997
For two decades, Americans have engaged in a vast campaign to clean up our ethical act in politics, in the workplace, and in local communities. We have crafted a mountain of regulations, created vast networks of committees and consultants, and become accustomed to speaking of such taboos as "conflicts of interest" and "the appearance of impropriety." Perhaps one statistic says it best: Corporations currently spend over $1 billion per year on ethics consultants. Yet at the same time, our confidence that politicians and businesspeople will "do the right thing" has dropped to an all-time low. Our ethics efforts have failed. As Peter Morgan and Glenn Reynolds entertainingly and devastatingly describe, we have made legitimate ethical concerns into absurd standards, and wielded our moral whims like dangerous weapons. The Appearance of Impropriety offers a bracing antidote for executives, group leaders, and anyone in public life: A reminder of some basic rules of good conduct that must be taken back from the pundits and bureaucrats that surround us.

Editorial Reviews Review

One of the longest-lasting residues of Watergate is the vetting industry: a mountain of regulations, committees, consultants, and special prosecutors dedicated to detecting and/or eradicating something called the appearance of impropriety. But for all this effort, it's hardly true that people in government and business are more ethical than they used to be. That disconnection is the point of departure for this book. The problem that Peter Morgan and Glenn Reynolds address is that the notion that all this energy is directed toward--the appearance of impropriety--is horribly obscure (Is it a conflict of interest, Michael Kinsley once wondered, to have a second child?). It's also subject to political whims and fads and, most important, not all that connected to what we should really be bearing down on: actual impropriety. This is a lively, opinionated read that makes excellent use of learned historical and literary contexts to cast convincing doubt on the current conventions of public morality.

From Booklist

To these authors, contemporary scandals are tempests in ethical teapots that obscure the substance of unvirtuous public conduct. Guided by episodes taken from Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and its appearance-versus-reality subject, Morgan and Reynolds energetically upbraid the "ethics establishment" that grew out of Watergate. Ineffective at rooting out substantive corruption, such as occurs in lobbying and campaign fund-raising, the ethical watchdogs--in the official bureaucracy, the press, and so-called public interest lobbies--fasten onto regulatory minutiae. Woe to the unwary so ensnared; even a Nobel Prize winner (David Baltimore) wasted 10 professional years defending himself and a colleague against a bogus scientific fraud allegation. Other examples the authors give, concerning plagiarism and election-posturing "anti-crime" legislation, are so deliciously preposterous that the reader is well primed for the concluding recommendations for reform. Presumably the authors would like to repeal the lot of post-Watergate enactments; instead they offer seven rules promoting ethical public behavior. A topical addition for active current-events collections. Gilbert Taylor

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (September 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684827646
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684827643
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,585,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you thought you understood Watergate, READ THIS BOOK! February 27, 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
And if you ever wondered why there seems to be no accountability, READ THIS BOOK!
As Milton Friedman has pointed out, when government attempts to solve a problem, the solution is often worse than the problem itself. As "The Appearance of Impropriety" shows, when government was tasked with restoring integrity in government, the solution turned out to be an elaborate code of rules which, in effect, destroy integrity in order to save it!
As an attorney and a self-educated Watergate buff, I read all the whodunit books, explored countless "Deep Throat" theories, and read most of the standard Watergate tomes. Typically the period is portrayed as one in which America learned "hard lessons" in morality, then entered a "new era." During my college years I watched the morality play on television.
Eventually I realized the whole thing had been a triumph of hypocrisy masquerading as a triumph of morality, and I finally concluded that Watergate was a triumph of investigative journalism run amok. I was more cynical than most people even before I read this book, because I sensed that the "new", "more ethical" era was worse in a moral sense than the old era of corrupt backroom deals and cynical political skullduggery.
Authors Peter Morgan and Glenn Reynolds not only provided me with proof of my suspicions, but they demonstrate how the system the reformers created has come to rival the corruption of the past.
As they show, today's corruption is governed by an elaborate, appearance-based regulatory system in which compliance with the rules, by eliminating any real need for personal integrity, places honesty and integrity about on the level of compliance with such things as IRS codes or affirmative action quotas.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A succinct explanation of our current political climate October 13, 1999
By A Customer
When one reads this book, which presents a plethora of alternatively humorous, irritating and discouraging (sometimes, all at once) examples of what's defective with "appearance politics" in law, science, government and society, one comes away with a much better idea of why American political life is as inane and depressing as it has become in the '90s: it's just the logical development of a long line of struggles in which the vacuum of appearance has triumphed over the meatier and graver substance of reality. This book demands to be read by a wide audience, as it provides an entirely new perspective on some of the more troubling incidents in our recent political and societal history and how we have gotten there. There's probably a post-Clinton Administration sequel awaiting this for Messrs. Morgan and Reynolds to report, or at least, a updated second printing.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb analysis of what ails our political system July 20, 1998
By A Customer
I really enjoyed this book. It covers a lot of ground: from Augustan age England to scientific scandals involving Nobel laureates. But it remains focused throughout on a common human frailty -- the tendency to deal in appearances rather than reality -- and how catering to that frailty has produced an amazingly screwed-up set of political ethics laws. Since I read the book, I view each scandal headline differently. I recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the convoluted and self-serving mess that goes under the name of "ethics" these days.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
An excellent and far-reaching guide to the way politicians and interest groups manipulate appearances in the interest of political power and money. The best single guide to understanding today's scandal culture.
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