I enjoyed reading Twilight of the Elites by Chris Hayes, editor-at-large of The Nation and host of an MSNBC show. The big weakness of this book is that it doesn't summarize tidily; but there are lots of great sections. Here's one of my favorites, called "Open Secrets".
He's just been arguing that there is a Gresham's law ("bad money drives out good") of results-driven organizations: if cheaters are not dealt with, then all the rewards wind up going to cheaters, so only cheaters will remain. Two "surefire tip-offs" of this devolution, he says, are the open secret and the inside joke. Here are two traders at Enron:
" 'He just f---s California. He steals money from California to the tune of about a million.'
'Will you rephrase that?'
'OK, he, um, he arbitrages the California market to the tune of a million bucks or two a day.' "
And here's Jose Canseco on steroids in baseball:
"...the trainers would jokingly call the steroid injections 'B12 shots,' and soon the players had picked up on that little code name too.... 'I need to go in and get a B12 shot,' a player would say, and everyone would laugh."
Investment bankers during the housing boom:
"Get the deal closed, if there's a problem later on, it was just another case of 'IBGYBG' - 'I'll be gone, you'll be gone.' "
Hayes summarizes: "What ties together these internal communications is the lurking, nagging presence of a conscience. In each case and in dozens others, the perpetrator tips his hand that he knows what he's doing isn't quite on the up-and-up. The inside joke [is] a kind of moral defense, a way for the agents of a fraud to distance themselves from their own culpability."
So I'm making a mental note-to-self: if you ever see these signs anyplace you work, get out!