Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Honor code, what's that?

I live in a world, as a real estate broker, in which you hear a lot of chatter about ethics. I lived for 30 years in the realm of pharmaceutical manufacturing and marketing. The Pharmaceutical and Research Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) made a lot of noise about their code of honor.

Back in the 60's there was a senate investigation into the way the pharmaceutical industry marketed their products. A Senator Keefover chaired the investigation. Seems that the various companies in the business were plying their customers with incentives that bordered on shady. If a physician wrote so many Rx's for a certain antibiotic, for instance, they could get a Rolex watch or a TV from their friendly pharmaceutical representative.

The impropriety of this arrangement was obvious. Who paid for those gifts? Why the little grandmama or papa in the midwest living on a fixed income paid for them in higher prices. The Senate was chaffed about this arrangement and threatened to put price controls on the industry's products. The industry declared a big " Holy crap !" and created the trade association PMA, which later became PhRMA. The industry did not want government oversight on pricing and they swore to surveillence their own members. The R (research) was added later to keep generic, copy-cat, manufacturers out of the club.

Snap forward about twenty years and after things had relaxed for a while the same old incentives crept back into the promotion of drugs. Pharm companies would grant prescribers trips and honoraria in return for wink, wink prescribing of their products. Hold on said the Senate, what about your honor code? Did you not tell us that you would surveillence yourselves a few years ago? Another senate investigation ensued now chaired by none other than Senator Ted Kennedy, the very epitome of the honor code.

PhRMA then began an extensive dialogue with congress about their role in helping physicians to attain continuing medical education credits. To do that they had to assemble them in resort hotels in various places, provide airfare and even honorarium and expense money. This was not promotion of their products this was education. You use our products and we will educate you and your spouse in far off exotic places at our expense. Congress rattled the price control sabre and the industry did another big " GULLLLP !!". They begged and pleaded that they be allowed to clean up their own workplace, once again. Congress relented. Do not forget dear reader that this same industry is handing out millions of dollars to members of congress, simultaneously. So congress backed off. Nowadays pharm companies will not even provide prescribers with pens and note pads. That is a resolution by PhRMA to stay on the good side of legislators and regulators. All the while they extend the noble chin and point to PhRMA's Honor Code .

The same happens in real estate. National Association of Realtors with all of the state affiliates and regional affiliates paste the smug grin on their faces and point to their Code of Ethics. Why we are so squeaky clean we have a code of ethics. I would love to have a dime for every breach of the code of ethics that I have observed in my brief 8 years in this business. There are some slimy practitioners in this world. When you choose a realtor do so with measured care.

I cannot help but note the sports headlines of this morning. Brigham Young University just suspended their power forward, Davies, for the remainder of the season. BYU just rose to #3 in the polls this past week. They were being spoken of as a possible #1 seed in one of the NCAA regionals. Now we note that they have suspended a seriously big element of that team. Not because the NCAA told them to. They did it internally. Here was a student who violated the honor code. Ergo he is out. No fuss no muss.

Now what do you suppose he did? My wife is a BYU alumnus. I have many friends who are alums, due to my church affiliation. That honor code is serious business. You violate it if you do not live the standards of the church that owns that institution. Violations include premarital sex, drugs or alcohol usage, cheating on a test, not attending church, improper dress, etc. They can get away with that because they are a private institution. Live the honor code or go to State U in your own home town.

Please if you would, go back in your mind's eye to late in the football season. Auburn University's, Cam Newton, looked pretty likely to have violated NCAA sanctions. If Cam had been a BYU player, he would have been long gone at the first hint of impropriety. Instead he went on to win the Heisman and then a national championship.

There are honor codes and then there are HONOR CODES.

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