How powerful do we want our institutions to be?
It seems like it would be great to have organizations that have authority and clout. We want to work for places that have weight. We want to be a part of something with scope.
But in an editorial board meeting with the Tribune-Review on Thursday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro noted institutional power as one of the areas he has been challenging.
The most obvious example with the Office of the Attorney General is the Catholic Church, which was confronted with 1,000 points of failure to protect children from predator priests in a grand jury report Shapiro released six weeks ago. Since then, 1,181 more people have contacted the OAG with their own horror stories.
That’s just one of many areas the AG is addressing, however. He is part of — or leading — lawsuits and investigations that are taking aim at a number of large-scale organizations across the country. There is targeting of opioid manufacturers. There is protection of consumer data. There is his strike at the nation’s largest student loan private servicer, Navient Solutions LLC.
The common thread is about tackling institutions where an imbalance of power appears to prey on the weak: children, the sick, the poor.
“I don’t know why anyone would want to give institutions more power,” Shapiro said. “There is no reason any entity should be off-limits.”
And that’s true. Everything about how we order our society tells us that.
We want our kids to go to great schools, but we want those schools to be answerable to the people. We want to work for great employers, but we want them to be responsible actors who follow the rules and treat their employees fairly. We want to worship in the faith we follow, but we want to know that our faith leaders are not sweeping up the breadcrumbs to cover their trails.
No matter how high the authority, it is crucial to know that we are all not just playing by the same rules, but playing the same game and for the same stakes.
Power isn’t inherently good or evil. It’s not the size of the company or the scope of the organization that makes it questionable. It’s what it does with that power that makes the difference, and recent history has too many examples of how that has gone wrong. The mortgage collapse. Harvey Weinstein. That diocese grand jury report.
The size and scope can be beneficial, and we can’t penalize an organization just because they are successful. That’s not what this is about. We have to remember that the net worth doesn’t automatically equate to nobility.
In the words of John Dalberg-Acton, a Catholic British baron with ties to Pittsburgh’s Andrew Carnegie, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
There is something about being unchecked that makes people, or other entities, feel that they do not need to answer to anyone.
Sometimes they need to be reminded that they are actually answerable to everyone.