The Case of the Missing Ethical Dilemma

A few years ago, I had a close friend named Samuel.

Samuel barely graduated from college, and from an early age he dabbled with the wrong crowd. He began smoking pot heavily, and experimented with cocaine.

One day, Samuel decided to leave Maracaibo and head to Denmark to live as an illegal immigrant. I never really knew how he was supporting himself there, but time and again he would call me up and ask for money, saying that he was living off one potato a day.

Given how close we were, and how worried about his nutrition I was, I dutifully sent him some money – 100 now, 300 next month.

Until, that is, I realized I was supporting his habit. It was then I decided to cut him off. I later found out he continued panhandling our other friends, and last I heard he was selling ecstasy pills at trendy discos in Copenhagen.

Every time we lend someone money or simply give it away, we have to ponder the ethical consequences. Whether it’s me giving a couple of hundred bucks to Samuel, or Bill Gates wondering about the best ways of being a philanthropist, charity and lending have consequences, and most reasonable people weigh them.

But in our country, ethics have become scarcer than sugar. Case in point: the recent emission of PDVSA bonds.

By now you probably know that PDVSA issued $3 billion in bonds last Monday. Demand is very high, and many investment advisors are bullish, strongly urging their clients and whoever would listen that they should buy.

Absent from the frenzy was the fact that, on the same day, Hugo Chávez was announcing purchases of all sorts of military toys, and this on the heels of his announcement to begin building a nuclear power plant.

Now, I know better than to establish a direct link between people buying PDVSA bonds and the Russians selling Hugo his tanks.

But the accounting reality is that when someone issues a bond, they are issuing debt. When you buy a bond, you are their lender.

There is no escaping the fact that anyone buying PDVSA bonds – or any other form of government bond for that matter – is a lender of Hugo Chávez in the exact same was as, say, the Chinese government is. And we all know that Hugo Chávez will do what that money whatever the hell he pleases, including, yes, buying weaponry and tear gas canisters.

The surprising thing about all this is how the ethical consequences of these transactions are simply … absent.

It says a lot about our collective moral compass when people simply ignore the very real consequence of lending money to the government. There is no discussion about the pros and cons. The ick factor has simply been washed away.

All we have are people desperate for dollars, and a government willing to supply it to them in exchange for a little bit of their integrity. Never mind that the same people will gleefully turn around and criticize whichever government decides to finance the revolution. Ethical considerations and consistency have long ago stopped being a priority.

My intention is not to be a purist in all of this. I understand it is impossible to live in Venezuela and not have to deal with the government at some level or another, whether it’s paying a tax, handing someone a bribe, or selling a bureaucrat some stuff.

But in our zeal to make a buck and trade with the government – is it too much to ask for a little bit of discretion?

If you are using your hard-earned BsFs to play the game, can’t you at least pretend you weighed the ethical consequences? While you’re busy telling opposition people to buy, and you’re in the opposition yourself, couldn’t you at least signal this is a tough choice?

I’m just sayin’.