My friend, Steven Mintz, better known as The Ethics Sage, has a beautiful new web site which can be found here. For a good number of years now, Professor Mintz has published a blog on ethics, particularly focusing originally on accounting ethics but broadening his focus as time went by.
He also has a Facebook page which like his new web site is quite beautifully laid out.
I highly recommend his work and he is a prolific author. So there is a lot to see and read.
So visit, share and add to your favorites!
This is Steven’s self introduction from his new web site –
Known as “The Ethics Sage” to many, Dr. Steven Mintz is a well-known Professor Emeritus from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. His blog, The Ethics Sage, was voted number 49 out of the Top 100 Philosophy blogs and one of the top 30 blogs on CSR. Steve provides insights on workplace issues with his blog “Workplace Ethics Advice.” He has written articles for various media outlets including the Pacific Coast Business Times, Chronicle of Higher Education and The Magazine of Corporate Responsibility’s Business Ethics Online. Dr. Mintz is an ethics expert and available to speak on a variety of ethics issues including workplace ethics. . He offers courses on accounting and workplace ethics through “Geniecast.”
Sometimes you find a paragraph that says what you would like to say brilliantly and this is one of those paragraphs.
Many times I’ve tried to explain the impact of free market fundamentalism, Hayek, Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, all of whose combined effect might well be summed up by the word, neoliberalism.
I strongly agree and endorse the following statement from George Monbiot in his essay from The Guardian, Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems.
“Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.”
I think Donald Trump is President now due in part to feelings of powerlessness on the part of the middle class due to their loss of economic and political power — and much more due to Hilary Clinton’s embrace of this maniacal philosophy more worthy of a James Bond Villain than someone wanting to be the leader of a free people.
It has only been a few days since Donald Trump saved a thousand jobs or so at Carrier, a company that makes air conditioners and other appliances. I have heard a great deal of criticism directed at the deal but I cannot agree.
It’s just a thousand jobs!
Oh, the criticism is generally quite correct. It’s just a thousand jobs they say and to many like Paul Krugman, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Apparently the damage done to the surrounding community is just collateral damage. There is this assumption that the forces destroying American jobs, American communities and American lives are caused by natural economic forces and simply are a matter of time. This is nonsense. Virtually every aspect of economics is either man-made or a set of policy decisions made by human beings.
The simple fact is those jobs could have been moved to Mexico at any point during the modern era to workers making a fraction of their American brethren. Why didn’t it? Because the belief system that money was a value that trumped patriotism and national borders had not yet taken root and put into policy. The current philosophy of business is that of predators and prey and it is unworthy of America and Americans.
Yeah, Trump’s agreement is a bad deal. It sets a bad precedent. And yet there are a thousand jobs that aren’t going to Mexico. Which part is history going to remember, that this is where the destruction of the American working class might be slowed or even stopped or that is was a bad deal?
And that simple fact is very important. It is a gauntlet thrown in the face of classical economics and the neo-liberal elite who are either cheering on or actively participating in the destruction of the American middle class. And it has been a very successful war for their side. There is hardly a middle class job that offers any form of job security or bright future. It has been taken away.
Paul Mason writing for the Guardian suggests that liberal democracies may be on the edge of collapse comparing them to the Soviet Union in 1989. He writes –
Since Trump’s victory in November 2016, it has become possible to believe a similar collapse will happen in the west, to globalisation and liberal values.
The parallels are obvious. We too have lived for 30 years under an economic system that proclaimed its own permanence. Globalisation was an unstoppable natural process; free-market economics simply the natural state of things.
But when the country that designed globalisation, imposed it and benefited from it most votes against it, you have to consider the possibility that it is going to end, and suddenly. If so, you also have to consider a possibility that – if you are a liberal, humanist democrat – may be even more shocking: that oligarchic nationalism is the default form of failing economies.
The values of lifetime employment, job security, regular hours, pension and medical insurance are doable policy. They are the policies of good people who take their responsibility to their fellow citizens, their fellow human beings seriously.
And that is business ethics, not a careful examination of the narrow subject of shrinkage on the job although that has its place. If we don’t talk about this subject from a moralistic global perspective we are always going to be losing to the amoral scum who assume the Easter Bunny like chimera of the free market will justify their evil.
You see we live in the age of the Chicago School of Economics, a school the school itself would argue is devoted to free men, free choice and the free market. And I would argue is devoted to the destruction of every human value not directly priceable in dollars.
One of their beliefs is that if a company wants to move American jobs overseas, that is just ducky, more power to them. Spross argues in favor of industrial policy, (the same position I take and here is a brief selection from his article directly on this point. –
First off, politics is still politics. So industrial policy still happens, but just on a “pork barrel” basis, changing from industry to industry and locality to locality. Mainstream economic skepticism didn’t kill off industrial policy, it just made it scattershot and incoherent.
It also made industrial policy far more pro-corporate. The U.S. government could use the sticks of higher taxes, tariffs, and regulation, or even the brute force of its own spending power to build up certain industries. But mainstream economics pooh-poohs this approach. So instead industrial policy defaults to carrots: tax breaks and de-regulation that entice businesses to put jobs and investments in certain places. That drives up inequality, makes it harder to pay for social programs, and gives those businesses more freedom to exploit the public. This practice is especially rife at the state level, where governments routinely offer tax breaks and such for companies to relocate within their own borders.
But mainly, skepticism of industrial policy created a world where many Americans feel like the government’s attitude toward their lives, families, and towns is benign neglect. And of course, once we abandoned industrial policy, GDP growth still slowed down, wages stagnated, unemployment became a much bigger problem, and small towns and the countryside began to die economically.
For the last thirty years business and industry have united to move jobs overseas justified by an economic school of belief which thinks it has moved beyond such petty ideas as those of good and evil. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, communities have become impoverished and the resultant concentration of economic power in the hand of the few has perverted our government.
This is evil.
We have a responsibility under Western Civilization, as fellow citizens and human beings to look after one another. We are not atoms bouncing about and only free when self interested. Life has responsibilities beyond economic predatorship.
Please think about these things. The idea that everything has its price is an easy mode of analysis that seems to make sense but do I even need to explain that subtlety, nuance, morality and ethics have their place as well?
A Universal Basic Income is in the pipeline for a trial in Fife. People, regardless of how much they earn, will get an annual basic sum in cash to spend as they please. Experiments over the past forty years have shown that it works. Lucky Fife.
We’re all getting poorer. As it is the economy pretty much everywhere is structured in a way that benefits a tiny minority of the global population, leaving the rest of us to work for a living with stagnant wages in an environment where the cost of living is rising. What was once the dream of science fiction is increasingly becoming reality; smart technology is doing more of the jobs we used to do, giving people free time they can ill afford. Employers are selling the idea that flexi-time and zero-hours contracts suit workers better because these arrangements give us the free time we have always wanted, but there’s a catch – we have less money to spend.
Governments don’t want to broadcast the fact that the majority of people receiving state benefits are the underemployed and the underpaid – the working poor. This trend towards weaker employment contracts, fewer hours, de-unionisation, and lower pay has been developing for a few decades, and right now, all around the developed world, we are reaching crisis point. Here in Scotland this shift in the economy has put an unbearable weight on the welfare system. It is exactly the same story in England and Wales, and the Westminster government knows that it can’t go on blaming the victims for much longer. We have cottoned on to the massive wealth transfer from the bottom to the top, and we’re not going to let them off with it for much longer. Something has to give.
Now, of course, there is more from Jason but I don’t want to spoil your surprise and delight when you visit his web site for the rest.
What does this have to do with business ethics? Unfortunately what is ethical depends in part on circumstances. What is fair pay? What is a fair return for labor? If we are entering a time in which labor is almost valueless and our economy is job based, how are people to make a living and how is economy supposed to function? Is this a solution?
I don’t know. What I have seen is interesting and something along these lines may become necessary. It is obvious to me although not to too many others that modern capitalism is in crisis and perhaps even close to collapse or, more likely, reconceptualization. (Did I just invent a word??) Again, it is obvious to me that free market fundamentalism is based on flawed and nonsensical assumptions. So, reality is busily destroying the modern assumptions of globalization and international elites, and currently there is nothing to replace the current set of beliefs.
Let’s say you make a product, a relatively small item that explodes with such force that airlines are forced to ban them. Of course, this is hypothetical, because, I mean, only a Bond Villain would manufacture millions of exploding for an unsuspecting population, right?
Anyway, our utterly hypothetical company also makes washing machines! Isn’t that cool and they share a common characteristic with the aforementioned hypothetical cell phones – they sometimes explode.
The firm also faces a suit from a US law firm which alleges that some of its “top-loading washing machines explode in owners’ homes,” leading to potential injury or damage, according to attorney Jason Lichtman.
“Users have reported Samsung top-load washers exploding as early as the day of installation, while other owners have seen their machines explode months or even more than a year after purchase,” the firm said in a statement.
It’s nice to know that if you are going to make mistakes, you might as well make a lot of them and endanger as many consumers as possible.
What’s the business ethics here? Well, most product problems revolve around issues of not working and not being a good value for the money. This is a taking a product defect to the next level, active danger – that is, they explode. I wondered why they didn’t pick this up in testing but discovered that according to Samsung, the real culprit is outside heat. And I understand totally, the idea that people would use cell phones where is was hot was totally unexpected. Obviously people who live near the equator, in tropical countries or in temperate locales experiencing heat waves should know better than to use electronics. For goodness sakes, if you live where it’s hot, get a land line or talk to people face to face.
And obviously, no cell phone is ever kept in a pocket or hot car. So, it’s all the consumer’s fault, just like the washing machines. You see as long as you don’t wash anything heavy in the washing machines, they’re fine but run a comforter or some other heavy object, and they can overheat and malfunction, sometimes exploding. So, Samsung has nothing to worry about and those tiny fragments of shrapnel are probably figments of your imagination.
Business ethics suffers by comparison with judicial ethics. Judicial ethics has actual legally enforceable rules. Business ethics floats in a sea of belief systems where morality may or may not exist and the laws are often ignored.
That doesn’t mean that judges don’t make ethical mistakes. It just means that we have a much better idea of when a violation takes place and the significance of that violation.
Should we incorporate a code of business ethics into the law? The “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” are in a way a standard of business ethics applicable from the law but the interpretation and application of this standard vary widely in how binding these standards are.
Today, we deal with an alleged ethics violation by a Judge Robin Cook and it is from the Canadian judiciary rather than the American. Nevertheless, it is very relevant because the mistakes he made has been heard in American courts as well.
In June 2014, Camp took on the second sexual assault trial of his career, that of Alexander Scott Wagar, a homeless man accused of sexually assaulting a homeless 19-year-old Cree woman at a party, atop a washroom sink. When interrogating the complainant, Camp asked, “Why didn’t you just keep your knees together?” and “Why didn’t you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn’t penetrate you?” Elsewhere in the trial, he remarked that “sex and pain sometimes go together… not necessarily a bad thing.” He appeared to question Canada’s rape laws, and he urged the accused male to tell his friends they have to be “more gentle” and patient with women, to “protect themselves.”
After Camp acquitted Wagar, the Alberta Court of Appeal last fall ordered a retrial, writing that the judge’s decision suggests he misunderstood aspects of sexual assault law and bought into discredited sexual stereotypes and myths. He’s not the first judge to provoke outrage once his conduct was revealed. But in the world of judicial tenure and near-untouchability, he’s the first federally appointed judge whose mishandling of a sexual assault trial has placed his job on the line.
Amid Camp’s time-out from Federal Court hearings, he received personal mentoring and counselling from a leading judge, a feminist law professor and a psychologist expert in gender biases and the judiciary. All three women testified Camp earnestly strived to root out his unconscious biases and become self-vigilant. “I wish every judge could have an education as good as that, and I wish they could make it before they make a mistake like the one that Justice Camp made,” says Emma Cunliffe, a University of British Columbia law professor.
Whether or not he will be removed has not yet been decided but this is an important development. The fact that he is in danger of removal for remarks that would not have been considered out of the ordinary a generation ago is significant. Change in our views of rape as a crime have been happening with some rapidity over the past twenty years and I think for the better. In my mind, rape is a criminal violation not something women invite.
I’ve written many times that business ethics are a sub-set of a society’s larger ethics and if I am right in this, an improvement in our understanding of crime and women’s rights are both changes in the larger ethics environment that will have visible reflections in business ethics in time.
Change is not always positive. Nor can it be guaranteed that changes will remain in place. The struggle for morality and ethics is constant and never-ending. There are no permanent victories.
What’s good business ethics? There are a lot of ways to talk about business ethics but let’s simplify. When you buy something, take it home and it works perfectly right out of the box, you are experiencing a form of good business ethics. Unfortunately not all products come in neat boxes or can be unpackaged in a physical way.
Such is writing. We absorb a lot of writing every day. I read at least two hours every day and on most days a lot more.
This morning there was a lot of amazing things on the web. I spent close to thirty minutes reading about the Guardian’s expose on the John Doe investigation in Wisconsin. And there was a lot more. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume and power of the business ethics issues presented today.
There’s another thing, too. As we were becoming friends, I had just become a mother and was still trying to figure out how to put that together with the vagaries of freelance journalism. One of Marjorie’s great subjects was the intersection for women of family and work—she was writing brilliantly about the dilemma I felt I was figuring out badly. One day, stuck at the veterinarian’s office trying to corral my miscreant beagle and my 3-year-old daughter, a Washington talk show appeared on the waiting-room TV, and there was Marjorie. She looked glamorous and was dropping bon mots, and I felt the sharp sting of jealousy. I hated myself for it, especially since I knew that Marjorie’s success was earned. How well I knew this was demonstrated by the fact that before I undertook any writing of my own, I would read something by Marjorie. Not to copy her voice, but to help me find my own, to be inspired by her tart precision.
This is good writing, very good. Follow my advice and go read the whole thing.
So today, instead of or in addition too, writing about various horrors perpetrated on the American people and this is important. I’m going to let it take a back seat to writing about the glory and wonder of doing it right.
Today we begin with a business ethics post from the blog, Lead Today. If you read yesterday’s post, you will note that both Mr. Keating and I are on the same page on this issue. Of course, as one business ethics blogger has complained, I’m shrill. Perhaps Mr. Keating my be considered more measured in his approach. In any case I was delighted with his take on the Wells Fargo Ethics disaster and I’ve included the first four paragraphs from it. However, you really must go and read the whole thing. And please like it and rate it, etc. Give the guy some attention for a fine piece of writing and a willingness to talk ethics in a business climate where people give you knowing smirks while occasionally rolling their eyes when you say words like morality or accountability.
There is then a post about the loss of black teachers followed by some excellent writing from Eslkevin’s Blog. Next, a writer ridicules mainstream economics, a sentiment I very much share. There is a quick link to a clever post from “Hello Kitty, Some Blog,” a site I visit often.
And we close with a remarkable business ethics disaster, the F-35A. Did I say remarkable? Really I’m thinking “legendary.” It’s going to make the Sgt. York Air Defense system, the M-16 and the F-111 into minor footnotes in the Pentagon’s long history of financial and military disasters.
As usual, Please LIKE, Please Share and please subscribe.
We have been presented with two options to choose from. Either the executive team at Wells Fargo is as corrupt as an executive team can be or they are the dumbest group of people ever to run any organization.
5300 Wells Fargo employees were terminated last week for creating millions of fraudulent accounts to meet what has been described as nearly unbearable pressure and demands to add new customer accounts. Progress at some branches was reviewed as many as 4 times a day. The pressure was relentless.
Nothing, not morales, not ethics, not even those little things called laws could slow down the relentless push to meet the Wells Fargo corporate initiative known as “Gr-eight Initiative.” Wells Fargo has a goal that every customer should have eight separate accounts with the bank.
Apparently goals are more important than anything at Wells Fargo. In order to meet the goals of the initiative employees opened new accounts for current customers without the customer’s approval or knowledge. This required forging signatures, creating fake email accounts, and moving customer’s money between these accounts without their knowledge, sometimes causing a customer’s real account to go into the red.
Rizga focuses on the story of one teacher, Darlene Lomax. But the story she tells is about the widespread shedding of black teachers, women and men who were the backbones of their communities. In Philadelphia, almost 20% of black teachers are gone; in New Orleans, 62%; in Chicago, 40%; in Cleveland, 34%. School closings have been concentrated in historically black communities. Black teachers have been disproportionately displaced by “reform.”
(This is really a good piece of writing – this is another one you really should go to the original blog and read the whole thing while browsing all the other writing there. jp)
I say all this because, as a journalist in this crazy year of our lord 2016, on a good day the temptation is to tilt toward cynicism. It’s our job to rake the muck and expose the trolls, to cast light on the wrongdoing and the failings in our society, but it’s up to others to set them right. Today, at this site, Bill Moyers writes about the greatest failing, the true disaster, of our time: the scourge of growing inequality, economic and political. He describes it as “a despicable blot on American politics,” as the very wealthy convert their financial might into political power to guard that wealth while exacerbating inequality further. The statistics Moyers deploys are chilling. Consume enough of them and you’re liable to feel a bit gloomy. But like those undergraduates, Moyers (very distinctly a post-graduate of our difficult political world) holds onto the hope, as today’s piece suggests, that Americans can still fix our world, make it a better place.
The only economic analysis that Krugman and other mainstream economists accept is the one that takes place within the analytic-formalistic modeling strategy that makes up the core of mainstream economics. All models and theories that do not live up to the precepts of the mainstream methodological canon are pruned. You’re free to take your models — not using (mathematical) models at all is, as made clear by Krugman’s comment on King, totally unthinkable — and apply them to whatever you want – as long as you do it within the mainstream approach and its modeling strategy. If you do not follow this particular mathematical-deductive analytical formalism you’re not even considered doing economics. ‘If it isn’t modeled, it isn’t economics.’
That isn’t pluralism.
That’s a methodological reductionist straightjacket.
The 16-page memo,first reported by Tony Capaccio at Bloomberg and then by others, details just how troubled this program is: years behind schedule and failing to deliver even the most basic capabilities taxpayers, and the men and women who will entrust their lives to it, have been told to expect.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is the most expensive procurement program in Pentagon history. It’s been plagued by schedule delays, gross cost overruns, and a slew of underwhelming performance reviews. Last month the Air Force declared its variant “ready for combat,” and most press reports lauded this as a signal that the program had turned a corner. But a memo issued from the Pentagon’s top testing official, based largely upon the Air Force’s own test data, showed that the Air Force’s declaration was wildly premature.
Below is the memo referred to above. Frankly, this is an upper class version of a lower class male frothing at the mouth administering a obscenity laden diatribe that would make an old sailor blush. This is a rain dance of hatred written in officialese.
Let me utterly simplify its conclusions – The plane is not as good as current serving aircraft.
That’s an incredible statement particularly when discussing 400 billion dollars worth of plane. jp
(The document shows perfectly in tests but it looks like it doesn’t always appear when the site is accessed – my apologies. jp)
What is going to happen in 2017? I have some hopefully educated guesses which I will share. So, here is my five guesses for what will happen in the new year.
Many more heads are going to roll at Fox News
Thus far, the Murdochs have tried a middling approach to the aftermath of Roger Ailes, replacing some of the more objectionable of Ailes allies while retaining many others.
It isn’t going to work. The leadership that allowed the business ethics disaster at the network is still dominated by many of the same people. Geraldo Rivera implied in his latest Facebook post that the network still had work to do while Greta Van Susteren was emphatic that there was a failure in leadership.
It is quite likely that that the coming shakeup will not take place until after the election but it has to happen sooner or later.
And don’t get confused, the sexual harassment charges may have started this thing but what’s driving it now is the use of corporate funds for settlements and black ops not to mention an apparently highly aggressive surveillance of employees across the corporation that is driving the need for action.
2. Corey Lewandowski and CNN will part ways
This business ethics disaster is one for the textbooks. It will be studied in later textbooks as a cautionary tale of what can go wrong with both the hiring and employment process.
A quick recap for those who don’t follow the news cycle – Lewandowski was signed as a commentator by CNN in spite of the fact that he had just been bounced as Trump’s campaign manger and has a still active non-disclosure and basically a no criticism clause in his contract with Trump. Since his hiring, he has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for the candidate almost to the point of comedy.
Will they can him after the election or before? After. The network is far too devoted to making Donald Trump and his supporter happy in the pursuit of its demi-god, ratings, than to take any risks.
3. Criminal charges will be filed against some of Volkswagen American executives
Since the feds managed to roll one of Volkswagen’s employees, we can expect some of his fellows to grab a deal while they can while the others form a defensive circle of deniability. But these are big, big fish. This is a multi-year, multi-billion dollar fraud against all Americans but not just that, they tricked several federal agencies and made the them look like incompetent fools. Steal from people, kill people, okay – just another day at the office. But make the feds look silly and blood must flow.
Of course, Barack Obama, the consummate corporatist may yet overrule his angry prosecutorial warriors but his term is about up and he has many fights on his hands. We’ll see.
4. Wells Fargo will fire or allow some top executives to resign
Oh come on, did you really think any intelligent person buys the idea that thousands of low level employees concocted an enormous conspiracy to create false accounts for thousands of unsuspecting customer for more than five years? All by their little selves? Not a chance.
Someone upstairs at Wells Fargo decided to impose clearly impossible goals on the employees and still yet, even in the world of the American corporation, the word, accountability still gets said. It is said timidly, perhaps only whispered but it is still a presence.
The monumental stupidity of the harshly imposed goal system is going to claim some actual villains – probably before the end of the year. Watch for the executives resigning to “spend more time with their families.”
5. The Dakota Access Pipeline will be permanently cancelled
Three federal agencies turned a big thumbs down on the damn thing before it even started. Only the Army Corps of Engineers got the thing going and how do they look now?
Their esteemed corporate pipeline company proceeded to turn a probably manageable public relations situation into repeated disasters. Of course, I suspect that in North Dakota stepping on the Native Americans and extolling the virtues of pipelines is normal for both government and industry, so unleashing the dogs on protesters and charging a presidential candidate with defacing a dozer blade with spray paint made good local sense. But to the rest of us, well – Hicksville on the plains.
The Army Corp of Engineers now knows that the company they went to bat for, can’t manage its way out of a wet paper bag. I have to admit the vision of bulldozers sent out like commandos on a strike mission to destroy Native American burial sites before the state and feds knew what was going on – looks just like a plot from a Billy Jack movie.