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Shit Happens

February 14, 2022 by Twan van de Kerkhof

Misfortune is part of life. It is impossible to conjure it away. We need to accept that bad things sometimes happen.

Many people and organizations don’t: they don’t accept disappointments or mistakes anymore. Everything has to be perfect and certain; if setbacks occur, more rules and controls are introduced to engineer them away.

Two examples in the Netherlands illustrate this. The first is the sexual harrassment cases at The Voice, Ajax, Partij van de Arbeid, and others. Obviously something must happen to tackle this toxic issue. Men and women need to cooperate in shaping a climate in which this is less likely to happen and if it happens, perpetrators should be punished. But more elaborate rules and codes of conduct won’t solve the issue.

The second is the fraud at law firm Pels Rijcken. One of their partners embezzled millions, and his close associates and family had no idea whatsoever; they found out after he killed himself. More rigged supervision, which is by definition at a much greater distance than family, friends or colleagues, would’t have prevented the actions of one individual.

It is impossible to construct rules and regulations that prevent people with bad intentions to act; they will always find a loophole. If rules are made ever tighter and more elaborate, the good will suffer for the bad. If distrust becomes the foundation, social cohesion will be eroded. Living from trust is superior because it decreases transaction costs but more importantly, because of its intrinsic value: it increases the quality of life and it makes us more human.