Morality and Legality

The Theranos whistleblower story prompted a car discussion with my daughter on morality and legality.

Moral: the concept of right and wrong, usually derived from a religious perspective

Legal: the concept of what’s allowed and not, per the rules

Morals are not meant to be specific, written down but tend to beg universally agreed, and judged on the court of public opinion.

Legal laws had to be written down and “enforceable” in a judicial court.

And unlike what my daughter thought initially, both have shades of gray. 4 buckets (2x2):1 Both immoral and illegal 🚫: this is the clear case of when fighting the system is a must: fraud, corruption, child labor etc. The Theranos case fits very clearly into this first bucket.

2 Moral but illegal: some religious practices: child marriage, polygamy etc. Edward Snowden can be arguably in this bucket.

3 Immoral but legal: gender pay differences, environmental damage, anything usually found in the aggregate and impacts over a long term

4 Both moral and legal: where we wish the world to be by default (and are frequently disappointed)

Companies typically tend to take a legal angle, not a moral one… The latter is squishy and makes management uncomfortable.

Technology confounds laws. Any time there is a new technology- e-commerce and taxation, Uber and part time worker benefits. The morality is far more clear than the legality in such cases.

Governments tend to make more and more laws to catch every corner case of moral lapses and to increasingly draw larger circles of what’s in scope of a judicial resolution.

While it’s super clear to those outside on the legality of situations, aggressive targets and competitive market tend to make this a moral imperative. Witness the zenefits case or even the wells Fargo incident.