From Snooki to Spitzer, a Market Imbalance in Character
Markets go through all kinds of cycles. Overdemand produces massive bubbles in some cases. Lack of demand produces an imbalance in others. In America, we are in a market with a lack of demand for a very important commodity: character.
Being a good person used to carry a huge value premium. You were rewarded and admired for honesty, for being a man or woman of your word. Showing respect wasn't an exception but the rule. We now have become a society in which the rewards for bad behavior are so rich that it has killed the market for character.
For example, on reality TV shows, we see those with the most outrageous and often disgusting behavior bestowed with fortune and fame, and even—as is the case with Snooki of "Jersey Shore" fame—New York Times best-seller status.
But to correct this imbalance, we need to change it from the top down, as it truly does start at the top.
Don't Call It A Comeback
Just a few months ago, Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina, who had abdicated his office to chase his mistress, was re-elected to represent the state in the House of Representatives. He had disappeared, lied and been implicated in misuse of funds (which he never agreed had happened, though he reimbursed some expenses "just in case"). But his egregious behavior was rewarded with another position of privilege and power.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York quit after lewd social-media posts that he sent to a woman who wasn't his wife were made public. He recently entered the New York City mayoral race. Astonishingly, despite his actions and his lying about them before his resignation, Weiner is competitive and even leading in some polls.
And there's Eliot Spitzer. The disgraced former New York attorney general and governor left that office after just more than one year when it was revealed he had broken the law by hiring prostitutes (although oddly, no criminal charges were ever brought against him). He has now thrown his hat into the ring to be New York comptroller. This elected job is an important and powerful one as it manages and invests $139 billion in assets for the city's pension funds. It's a job, in my opinion, better held by someone with a deep history of buying assets rather than a history of buying the services of prostitutes.
(Read More: Spitzer's 'Madam' to Run Against Him)
By allowing those who have shown disrespect for their families and constituents, and sullied their own names, to again have the privilege of representing and leading the American people reinforces the message that character no longer counts.
Some will argue that a person's private life doesn't impact his or her ability to do a good job. I disagree. The decisions we make, whether private or public in nature, demonstrate our ability or inability to properly evaluate risks and rewards. In all the cases mentioned, the individuals have failed miserably at that simple calculation or have ignored it altogether. Either possibility is problematic. Moreover, demonstrating a lack of ethics and concern when you are conducting affairs as a public figure—including breaking laws you are expected (and sometimes have sworn) to uphold—should immediately disqualify you from future public service.
Ignoring this reality shows that we don't value character, which translates into the society we have today. The absence of accountability permeates our national psyche—and that's not the nation America is or wants to be.
Of course, people make mistakes. I am far from perfect, as are you. When it comes to our leadership, though, we can forgive but must not forget. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors and ourselves to insist that representation should be by, of and for the people. That requires individuals with the highest standards of character. We have to be able to trust them, and if that trust is broken, it is time to find another qualified candidate, one who understands the importance of character.
As in any market, the participants determine the value. When it comes to our nation, let's give a higher multiple to integrity and honesty. It will produce the highest return on investment for our future.
Carol Roth is a CNBC on-air contributor, former investment banker and author of The New York Times best-selling book, "The Entrepreneur Equation." You can learn more on her website; and follow her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth.