Reason is Basic to Decision Making in Business Ethics

I was on Facebook the other day, and one of my relatives posted about Obama’s visit to Oklahoma. I spend the first 44 years of my life there and many of my relatives still live there. Some of the comments were, in my mind, bizarre. Obama was evil incarnate according to these individuals. One comment stood out. The writer claimed that anything whatsoever that Obama said was a lie. That is really over the top. It’s simply not possible to lie about every single thing. How would a person who believed such a thing have any opportunity, the smallest chance of analyzing a federal policy in terms of logic or benefit or usefulness with that kind of idea in mind?

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Reason is Basic to Decision Making in Business Ethics

I remember a few years ago, a famous cartoonist came out against Obama. He said it was because Obama was enforcing the federal marijuana laws against states where it had been legalized. I always thought that he had formulated a reason that made sense, not only that, he had taken a stance that the President or his administration could take notice of and change that decision if they so desired. You can change policy but if someone just hates you, there really isn’t anything you can do.

I have opposed Obama since the middle of the first term. I write about business ethics and his stance on that issue has been disastrous. Millions of Americans, who had been misled about the prospects of home ownership, often by deliberate fraud, had their homes taken from them. The government failed to act to save them or prosecute the venal thieves who took the most valuable thing that these people would ever own in the lives. And besides overlooking these crimes, the government under Obama’s leadership, failed to use the criminal law to prosecute the banks for their crime.

I taught business ethics against a backdrop of the federal government of the United States taking the law and making the biggest corporate crimes in the history of the world, a matter punishable by fines, a cost of doing business that has resulted in nothing but a wave, a moving wall of wrong doing that could right now take the world into a second financial catastrophe. It is a dereliction of duty that I cannot forgive or forget. Instead of taking the opportunity to make the international banking system a safe bulwark for the wealth of peoples and nations, it is now an international casino wreaking havoc upon weaker nations and constantly searching for the next shill, the next big score, knowing with absolute certainly that if they make a mistake they will be rescued with public money and at worst penalized with a fine. They have taken a nation of law that was often imperfect and created a two tier system where the wealthy and well connected walk free no matter what they have done.

But, once again, I, like the cartoonist I mentioned earlier, have an actual reason to oppose the President. I oppose him on a policy basis. This is principled upon the idea that in a democracy, we can stand for different things.

I’m a business ethics writer. So, it is entirely appropriate to ask, what about business ethics am I trying to say?

Very simple, for a few hundred years, Western Civilization, in particular, the United States, has been conducting an experiment in whether or not people can rule themselves. Democracy is a difficult process and the American example has features that made it even more difficult: for instance, a bifurcated legislature and three part government beset by “checks and balances.” This form of government requires opposing parties to cooperate in at least a minimal manner for government to function. Unreasoning hatred makes this impossible. 

And there is another factor, the Enlightenment. The founders believed that their dramatic compromises (they clearly understood the foolishness of the two house legislature) would be mitigated by the enlightenment values of knowledge and reason. This nation, its businesses, its corporations, its legal systems, ad infinitum is meant to operate in a thinking environment of reason and logic. 

How do you talk about ethics and good decision making in regard to the Presidency or any other issue, when human reason is removed from the equation? If instead of talking about the facts, we just emote?

Don’t for a minute doubt the temptation to hate in business ethics. When you review the millions of Americans who have and will have their property stolen by banking institutions most commonly investment banks, it is difficult to write without emotion. The knowledge that conscious evil wrong doing is not only tolerated but rewarded by billions of dollars in salaries, stock shares and other benefits is difficult to take.

This is what I want to say. Business ethics cannot function in an environment of unthinking emotion.  We can only find our way as a free people by thinking with reason and facts and only then acting.

I know that reason and logic are often slow and they are often tedious. They often lack the black and white certainty of 1940’s Western or the latest article in any of countless blogs but they are the means by which the best decisions can be made.

James Pilant

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