Self-dealing + double-dealing = Fraud

Legal principles migrate. For a long time, it was generally accepted that when adult persons entered into marital unions of their own free will and pledged to “love, honor and obey,” any efforts to enforce that commitment by the “head of household,” mostly the male spouse, would be OK. There was, in effect, no domestic abuse recognized in the law because, having given consent, a spouse could expect to be “disciplined.” Consent vitiates abuse.

Also, liability. At least that seems to be the theory supporting “informed consent” as regards medical/surgical treatment. Telling the patient that he’s about to be eviscerated and getting his consent relieves the surgeon of liability, unless he’s grossly negligent. Consent serves to shift responsibility for an action and its effects from the perpetrator to the recipient/victim. (It would be easier to use the Latin term, “object,” except for the fact that the term has been hijacked to mean “oppose,” which would be accurate, if everything one person does to another were bad).

Another aspect, in addition to shifting responsibility, that makes consent attractive is that it is antecedent to any act — prior permission, if you will, which relies on the presumption that what is, will be. Though, in reality, that’s unlikely. There would be no need to preclude liability for abuse, if abuse weren’t a possibility. The same argument one would make about “buyer beware.” Abuse is pretty much assumed, if there’s a provision to call it something else or assign responsibility somewhere else.

More recently, this attitude seems to have surfaced in the legal arena as consent, in the designation of agents or the granting of powers of attorney, by explicitly authorizing self-dealing. Self-dealing is not, as one might think, a matter of just compensation. Rather, self-dealing is more like informed-consent, an agreement that the agent need not necessarily promote the interests of his client first and foremost. And, one could argue that, having consented to this abrogation of primary responsibility in the beginning, the client should be prepared for self-dealing to morph into double-dealing and downright abuse, as the Port Authority skewering of Fort Lee demonstrates. Instead of representing the best interests of constituent communities on both sides of the Hudson River, the Port Authority has morphed into a cash cow for financial interests. That there are many elected and appointed officials at all levels who serve themselves by taking care of the financial community first merely tells us it’s a systemic problem.

What is unclear is whether it is getting worse or the players are just getting desperate and careless in response to a citizenry that’s more alert to the shenanigans. Self-dealing, may be made legal in personal relationships and contract law, but it isn’t accepted by the general public, especially not when it morphs into double-dealing. Henchmen should know they are not going to get off.