I never read Plato’s Republic when it counted, withinthe confines of ivy covered walls immersed in a class full ofuber-idealistic peers and a like-minded professor to lead them.That’s what happens when you study advanced astrophysics. There’sjust no room for the classics. So, like many in the real world, Ihad to pick up the wisdom of ancient Greek philosophy from the coldstreets and narrow alleys of the matter-of-fact life ofbusiness.

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Here’s all you need to know about Plato’s Republic:It’s a brilliant metaphor for fiduciary. Yes, it speaks of“justice” and “philosopher-kings,” but it’s really about “bestinterest.” In it, Plato seeks to define justice, but only succeedsin explaining no one will be just if he can sin with impunity. Inother words, unless there is a punishment for failing to act in thebest interest of others, people will act only in their own bestinterest. That doesn’t make for a very healthy society.

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In theory, the DOL’s fiduciary rule offers the bestopportunity to punish those who don’t act in the best interests oftheir clients, or, said another way, those that breach theirfiduciary duty. In the Republic, Plato introduces us toGyges, who discovers a ring that allows him to freely commit allseven deadly sins (even though they had yet to be categorized assuch). If this sounds like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings,then you’re beginning to understand.

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In the financial world, Gyges’ Ring can be likened to a DOLexemption that permits service providers to engage in self-dealingconflicts-of-interest merely in exchange for some mild form ofdisclosure. If there’s no enforcement, why not?

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When the Trump campaign declared the candidate’s opposition tothe fiduciary rule (consistent with Trump’s statedopposition to regulation in general), I thought there would be agreat story finding out how financial advisers who previouslysupported Trump (according to one industry-wide poll, Trumpgarnered support of 83% of financial service providers). What Ifound out surprised me (for more details, see “Retirement Advisers Speak Out on Next President:Trump Trumps Fiduciary Rule,” FiduciaryNews.com,October 25, 2016).

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There are advisers who speak like they’re on the Trump Train anddon’t like the fiduciary rule, as well as those who repeat themantra of the Never-Trumpers and support the fiduciary rule. Infact, they express their diametric support with the sameexaggerated vigor one would expect from any political follower.

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On the other hand, it’s much more interesting to speak to thosewho support Trump yet continue to support the fiduciary rule. Howdo they reconcile this seeming contradiction?

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Well, first, they undertake a bit of cognitive dissonance. Theycan hold two conflicting beliefs simultaneously because they don’tbelieve President Trump will be able to get everything he wants.One of those wants he won’t get, so the belief goes, it rescindingthe fiduciary rule. We all know Trump is a demonstrated successwhen it comes to deal making. Much of this success hinges on theability to know when to press for more and when to compromise.Truth be told, killing the fiduciary rule isn’t a priority for him.Based on his 28 policy points Trump outlined in Gettysburg thispast weekend, the highest killing the fiduciary rule could be is29th, and even that’s doubtful.

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To fully understand the second reason this (rather large) groupof financial adviser supports Trump while also supporting a policyhe’s against (the fiduciary rule), we need to return to Plato.Through the mouth of Socrates, Plato never truly answered thequestion of why a man would remain just even if he had Gyges’ ring.Rather, he explained how various – and competing – forms of“justice” would prevail depending on the culture of any particularcommunity. (If this sounds like trying to say it all depends onwhat the meaning of “is” is, then you’re really beginning tounderstand Greek philosophy, or at least Plato’s version ofSocrates).

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What Plato is offering, though, is an early version ofbehavioral decision making. What’s often essential isn’t somearbitrary metric, but the frame of reference one choses. In theRepublic, he changes the frame of reference that definesjustice each time he describes a different city-state. Therein liesthe chief complaint about this seminar work. As his dialogue hopsfrom city-state to city-state, Plato concludes various forms ofgovernments (including democracy) produce unjust results. Onlygovernments ruled by an aristocratic elite (those“philosopher-kings”) can be just. At least according to Plato. (OurFounding Fathers, lucky for us regular folk, held a radicallydifferent opinion.)

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The key to our dialogue, and the ultimate eyeopener when itcomes to “fiduciary” and this year’s presidential election, is“frame of reference.” In the one-dimensional view, financialadvisers who support the “best interest” doctrine as promulgated bythe DOL’s fiduciary rule would see this as a single issue. But ifwe change the frame of reference? This is exactly what wasexplained to me by one of the sources I interviewed.

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His analysis was quite blunt, and quite perceptive. When I askedhim why it didn’t matter that Trump would rescind the fiduciaryrule, he simply said, in terms of Trump’s overall policies,beliefs, and actions, he is the only choice that we can crediblysay would act in the best interests for his clients, for hisbusiness, and for America. This particular adviser set his ownpolitical beliefs aside and decided to act solely in his clients’best interests.

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In one fell swoop, the frame of reference is changed. Afiduciary twist in this year’s presidential election.

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Christopher Carosa

Chris Carosa has been writing a weekly article and monthly column for BenefitsPRO online and BenefitsPRO Magazine since 2011 and is a nationally recognized award-winning writer, researcher and speaker. He’s written seven books, including From Cradle to Retire: The Child IRA; Hey! What’s My Number? – How to Increase the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort; A Pizza The Action: Everything I Ever Learned About Business I Learned By Working in a Pizza Stand at the Erie County Fair; and the widely acclaimed 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions. Carosa is also Chief Contributing Editor of the authoritative trade journal FiduciaryNews.com and publisher of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, a weekly community newspaper he founded in 1989. Currently serving as President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and with more than 1,000 articles published in various publications, he appears regularly in the national media. A “parallel” entrepreneur, he actively runs a handful of businesses, including a small boutique investment adviser, providing hands-on experience for his writing. A trained astrophysicist, he also holds an MBA and has been designated a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. Share your thoughts and story ideas with him through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christophercarosa/)and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ChrisCarosa).