Monday, February 11, 2013
I recently received a letter from the IRS alerting me that it had made changes to my 2011 tax calculation. I've received such notices in past years. They usually affirm that, upon further evaluation, the IRS has concluded that I've underpaid my taxes by a few hundred dollars, and I obediently write a check for the required amount.
In this case, however, the change was in my favor. Significantly. A check just arrived from the U.S. Treasury, for $161,392.00.
Now what? ...
[F]riends have offered conflicting advice on what I should do. Some argue that, since I normally pay when the IRS demands more, in this case I should take the windfall. ... Others say that would be unethical. It's surely a mistake, and therefore it would be sleazy to try to keep the money. ...What would you do?
The moral aspect is clear. This would be an ill-gotten gain. But I suspect most of us have a greedier inner self that would at least entertain rationalizations for profiting from an opportunity like this.As a leader of my organization, however, I feel added pressure not to succumb to such rationalizations. Although this only concerns my personal finances, the fact that I serve as editor in chief of Harvard Business Review means I've implicitly accepted not only responsibility for defending the integrity of the institution, but also for having integrity myself. That means erring on the side of doing the right thing, even when the challenges may seem more gray than black or white.
(Hat Tip: Bob Kamman.)