I generally believe most people, even ones with average intelligence like my self, are smart enough to watch out for, and protect, their own self-interest in most cases. But not all people do it, and not in all cases. It’s a bell curve distribution of: Some people do it all the time and all people do it some of the time, but not all people do it all the time, and certainly none do it none of the time. Of course there is always that 1/10th of 1 % special class of people who simply don’t know what’s in their best interest, let alone know to watch out for it. They are the ones who need help figuring their interest out before they decide whether or not to protect it. Some people, like small children and people with legitimate mental disabilities fall under this category; they are the ones we, as a society, need to actively protect. But some are either simply knuckle-drugging, dumb-as-a-rock individuals who are too stupid to know better or have such a super-inflated sense of ego they think they are invisible and indestructible. And some, the worse combination, are both too stupid and with an un-justified high perception of their mental capacity to protect their own interest. It’s a situation with one of those individuals that got me started on this blog.
Joe (not his real name) and Jack (not his real name either) both were involved with, and have an equity interest in a company (SmallCorp) that had been wronged, and was in the process of suing MegaCorp. A win by SmallCorp would not only be the morally right thing to do, it would have most likely resulted in monetary compensation to SmallCorp, which would raise the value of Joe and Jack’s respective interest in the company.
Independently Joe has an on-going dispute with Jack that is moving through the court system and has nothing to do with the MegaCorp case. Joe loaned Jack money and wants it paid back. Jack refuses to pay it back because he believes it was not a personal loan, despite the cancelled checks made out to him personally and many witnesses to numerous conversations confirming the personal nature of the loan.
Fully aware of the dispute between them, but because the were both active participants in the transaction, the SmallCorp attorneys nevertheless ask Joe and Jack to provide their respective testimony to support their case against MegaCorp.
Joe cooperates but Jack proceeds to send the following e-mail (slightly edited to remove real names) to the SmallCorp attorneys (grammatical errors not corrected):

Dear SmallCorp attorney,
Thank you for your call this afternoon. After careful consider of our conversation, the amount of time that has lapsed, as well as Joe’s most recent threat of a law suit against me for an alleged personal debt that I dispute, my memory of many of the facts are unclear without being refreshed.
Please feel free to share with Joe, that should he be willing to release me (in writing) from his alleged claim I’m hopeful I can refresh my memory.

Now, by most standards, the above would be viewed as a vailed attempt of extortion, but the ethical and legal implications of the content of this e-mail are not the subject of this blog (even though I would love to hear what you think about it). The issue is whether or not Jack is a legitimately mentally challenged person, simply too stupid to know better than to put something like these comments in an e-mail, or he is an egomaniac convinced he is being clever.
Here is my take: The fact that he thought enough to come up with a plan to leverage one transaction to get something in the other one, indicates he is not mentally challenged. That leaves the second or third option. I think it’s a combination of both! You see anyone who knows anything about the legal system in the US would recognize that offering to, in effect, sell your testimony for a price taints it, and potentially exposes you to legal action. It would have been a clever play, but for the fact that putting it in the e-mail above made Jack’s testimony practically useless because, even if he was to tell the truth, the defense attorneys would destroy his credibility by exposing this e-mail, which is subject to discovery.
That’s exactly what made the SmallCorp attorneys drop their case against MegaCorp rather than risk losing a legitimate case because of Jack’s tainted testimony. So the “clever” game backfired. The dropped case means that SmallCorp and therefore both Joe and Jack, lost any potential gain from the lawsuit. To make things worse, Joe is now even more upset and steadily proceeding with the court case to collect on the loan. Jack failed to protect his self-interest and managed to lose on both counts.
I think one of the morals of the story is this: If you are too stupid to know what’s in your best interest, and don’t actually have the intellectual capacity to pull it off, don’t start playing “clever” games . Your chances of success are low and they will most likely backfire. Oh, and if your ethical standards are this low as to resort to extortion, you deserve what you get.
What do YOU think?