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‘The Fountainhead’ as an antidote to corporate corruption

The corporate world has been plagued by an array of corruption scandals in recent years. In Quebec, construction and engineering firms have been especially hard hit. I don't know if the phenomenon has gotten worse, or if we've simply become more aware of it.

Either way, the response has almost invariably been more rules, regulations and bureaucratic controls, both from governments and from internal corporate controls (so-called "governance"). I guess for a large, publicly-traded company, increasing the amount of oversight makes sense, if only to reassure investors and show the world that you're "doing something."

However, the real antidote to corruption and corporate mischief is for people to develop, hopefully at a young age, a strong "inner voice," a moral sense and an acute understanding of who they are and what they stand for. Employees and managers with uncompromising fortitude will not cave in to dishonest partners or conform to dishonest practices. They will stand firm, not out of fear of being caught or because of the existence of 10,000 pages of rules stating in minute detail what they can and can't do, but because they value themselves enough not to be bought for a few dollars, or even a few million.

A lot of people identify capitalism with unbridled greed and lust for money. But as Ayn Rand explained, capitalism, true capitalism, "demands the best of every man — his rationality — and rewards him accordingly." Far from encouraging corruption, free markets governed by simple, straightforward rules encourage honesty, hard work and intelligence.

If they really want to fight corruption, company managers should hand out copies of Rand's 1943 novel, The Fountainhead. In this engaging story, architect Peter Keating takes credit for work he doesn't do, threatens to blackmail one of his bosses, weasels his way to fame and fortune — and ends up miserable. Howard Roark, on the other hand, refuses to cut corners or compromise his artistic vision, even at the cost of losing business — and ends up happy.

If a 700-page novel is too daunting, the excellent 1949 film adaptation of it, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, is a very good alternative. If more people in the corporate world at least watched the movie, and were influenced by its content, we might find a lot of that corporate corruption replaced by corporate leadership that actually inspires.

Michel Kelly-Gagnon est président et directeur général de l'Institut économique de Montréal. Il signe ce texte à titre personnel.
* Cette chronique est publiée dans les journaux de Sun Media, tant dans ses quotidiens présents dans plusieurs des marchés urbains canadiens les plus importants (Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg et London) que dans ses 28 quotidiens régionaux.

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