Our Guiding Light

A few days ago, the White House press secretary said that Science shouldn’t stand in the way of re-opening schools. You get the impression that “science” is wrong to figure in our decision making. I disagree.

Rationalism is the idea that we should make decisions based on facts and using reason to get the best possible results from those facts. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, a crisis whose like we haven’t seen in the last hundred years.

We have a choice here. We can go with patent medicine cures, internet conspiracy theories and the wishful thinking of politicians whose devotion to economic continuity continues to amaze. Or we could look at the facts of the situation, that is, the science of pandemics and what experience we have of them.

We live in a conflicted society. While there are many who believe in facts and science, there are millions of Americans who long for authoritarian direction. They believe that optimism and hope placed in a strong man ruler can overcome the complexities of our age. Some hope in divine guidance from a current politician who they believe resembles a flawed “David” or a useful “Cyrus.”

However, for the moment although we may have to work to keep it, we live in a flawed democracy and the very idea of a government for and by the people is from the age of Enlightenment. An age in which the uses of reason and logic were exalted.

Just now, we are confronted with the decision whether or not to open our schools. There is great variation in how the virus is spreading geographically and how many resources can be employed in one school or another.

I realize that for some office holders in this nation, a full reopening of the schools would be advantageous. I don’t care.

We should protect our children as much as possible. Let us move forward as fellow Americans basing our decision on the facts at hand using human reason as our guide.

In the United States, we are confronted with many serious problems ranging from the current need to decide how schools should reopen to more long term difficult problems about policing and racism. Let us remember that we were once a revolutionary society that challenged the divine right of kings based on our belief in human judgment and self determination.

Let us place the guiding lights of reason and logic before us and move ahead with confidence that even if we err that we are making every effort to make the best decisions possible.

James Pilant

Three Moral Codes

If you had never had read a book on business ethics published in the United States, you might assume that the first thing they would discuss would be American codes of Conduct or at the very least our informal codes of conduct. The fact is they don’t discuss it at all, and I think they should.

Our teaching of business ethics would be more effective if we didn’t imply that all moral beliefs are basically relative to time and place – and spend so much time implying that the moral minimum is all that is necessary. Most human beings believe in higher values and have a strong sense of morality.

If we start with a baseline of common American morality, our teaching will be more effective.

American do have some common beliefs about morality. Our informal codes are things like you shouldn’t overcharge or be rude to customer or damage the environment. I believe using some polling data you could with a little research generate a generalized American sense of morality.

That would be a nice start but there are two more codes common in this nation. Many Americans belong to one religion or another. Current data says that — 43% of the Americans polled identify themselves as Protestants and 20% identify themselves as Catholic. These religions have highly developed moral codes.

If you wanted to talk about Protestant codes of conduct you could use the one advocated by the Lutheran Church. The Lutheran World Federation publishes these basic premises:

Dignity and justice

Each and every person is created in God’s image, is gifted with talents and capacities, and has dignity, irrespective of social status, gender, ethnicity, age, ability, or other differences.

Compassion and commitment

Inspired by God’s love for humanity, we seek to show care and compassion toward people who are suffering—the poor, the vulnerable and marginalized, and minority populations and faiths, who experience discrimination, violence, and hardship in different contexts.

Respect for diversity

Differences among us express the richness of God’s creation.

As a global communion of churches we value and seek to understand our differences in culture, history, and context.  

We also cherish the way in which these have shaped our theological understandings, our perspectives on moral and ethical questions, and our practice of ministry, mission, and service.

Inclusion and participation

We are committed to being inclusive and enabling the full and equitable participation of women, men, people of all ages and people with disabilities.

Our commitment to inclusion encompasses church life and society, and the decision-making processes, activities, and programs of the LWF itself.

We understand that power dynamics, cultural norms, access to resources, and other factors create barriers to participation and we work to overcome these.

Transparency and accountability

We are a responsible steward of the resources and responsibilities that God has entrusted to us.

We are committed to transparency in our aims, processes, decisions, and use of resources. We strive to being accountable to the people we serve, including our member churches, partners, and donors. 

If you wanted to start with a code of ethics this would be a good one.

Now, the Catholic Church has a huge set of teachings on business ethics clearly implied from their voluminous teaching on social issues. From time to time Popes issue encyclicals on social issues. They are not small documents and the first dates to 1891 and the most current one was published in 2015.

To summarize very, very briefly, there are four core elements:

  1. The Dignity of the Human Person
  2. The Common Good
  3. Subsidiarity (there is a lot on this)
  4. Solidarity

So we have informal poll driven moral rules, that we can derive from general behavior and beliefs. We have a culture with a code of ethics associated with Protestantism and we have Catholic Social Doctrine.

None of these are hiding but you seldom (never) see them in business ethics text books.

Maybe it is time that changed and we start discussing some basic rules of morality before we get into our examples and case studies?

If we are going to talk about business ethics, let’s start with rules of ethical behavior.

James Pilant

—- The Lutheran World Federation’s web site contains a good deal more information – and is generally a good read.

—- The Faith Initiative Home Page has voluminous amounts of data on Catholic Social Teaching and I heartily recommend it.

A Common Act

Macy’s cut 3,900 jobs then awarded its top executives 9 million dollars in bonuses.

We see this all the time. But there was a time when cutting employment at a company was among the very last options considered. Why do see this all the time now?

First, shareholder value is a doctrine that has wide acceptance in the United States.

Second, the power of the managerial class has grown to catastrophic proportions over the last few decades.

Third, our sense of moral outrage has decayed to the point it has little effect.

Peter Drucker said the business of a company was to make customers. I strongly believe that. Something vital was lost when companies adopted the shareholder model and focused purely on the money. That something vital was in most cases morality and social responsibility.

The shareholder model allows you to abandon patriotism, mistreat your workers, abuse your customers, and take your company overseas — or any combination of those. One of the wonderful things about this nation – is that I know a good number of business people who know they could do those and won’t.

But for every corporate stakeholder, the focus on corporate shareholders is a disaster, except one, the managerial class. If you are a manager you get to decide what the shareholder’s interest is. And I am not exaggerating. I’ve seen many shareholder battles over what the company should be doing with its money where the managers pound the shareholders into mush.

And what do these wondrous wizards of finance believe that the corporate shareholders want? They want buy backs to build up stock values and they want highly paid professionals to run their company and if these highly paid professionals are in some way successful they should be loaded with stock options and bonuses!

Obviously this only sounds self serving, because after all they are only serving shareholder interest. — Yeah, right.

And lastly our sense of outrage has faded. We in the middle of the United States lived in the carved out and exploited part of American that used to make stuff. We see closed factories, shuttered businesses, and lost opportunities. It was easier to be outraged when there was more to fight for. The business press calls this creative destruction – which is a fancy phrase for simple destruction. And don’t forget that in thousands of cases we didn’t get just a closed corporation we also got a mountain of contaminated water, land and air – another gift from maximising shareholder interest.

Let me tell you. Corporations and the other forms of business are in many ways government creations. You can’t incorporate without a government. Articles of incorporation give a company a lot of powers like possible immortality and tax benefits and some legal immunities. It is okay for we the people to ask for something back from the these companies with their government privileges and myriad methods of support from our communities like an educated workforce and roads and bridges.

We could start by expecting loyalty to the communities they live in and the nation that gave them birth.

James Pilant

Simple Honor

Some years ago two friends made an agreement, a pact so to speak, that if either won the lottery, they would share it equally.

Their names are Joe Feeney and Tom Cook.

A few days ago, Tom Cook won the lottery. He called up his friend and told him he was sharing the money.

And so they have.

Both the philosophies of Ayn Rand and the Libertarian Party celebrate greed and self interest. By their standards these men are fools to be pitied.

I beg to differ. I believe that these men are what makes America worthy and great. Doing what you don’t have to do because it is right has been, is and should continue to be an American value.

It is the cumulative actions of millions of Americans that establishes the moral posture of our nation. And that is important.

But the battle of doing what’s right takes place individual by individual. It would be so nice that every time an ethical dilemma we had an opportunity to think and search the internet and maybe get some good advice before we acted. Most ethical decisions take place in seconds or with out any thought at all based on our previous decisions.

So, in my opinion, Tom Cook made his decision thirty years ago to do what he thought was right and never varied from it.

I am so proud to live in a country with human beings like Tom Cook.

James Pilant

Doing What’s Right!


Let’s start with a story. (The one linked to above.)

A Conservation Officer was fired for refusing to kill two bear cubs. Bryce Casavant was ordered to kill a mother bear and her two cubs. The mother bear had been eating garbage and had become habituated to humans. However, Mr. Casavant saw no evidence that the cubs ate garbage or had become habituated to humans so he placed the two cubs with a wildlife group that raised them and released them in the wild.

For not killing the bear cubs as ordered he was fired.

This story in a way had a happy ending. Going back to work in a job environment where you have been fired and there was a legal process that took roughly five years that your employer lost, — well, don’t expect a cake on your birthday.

In high school we are assured that talent and merit are rewarded. Sometime television and certainly fairy tales support the idea the we should always do right because we will be given benefits.

That was all nonsense. The simple fact of the matter is that doing right is hard. It is seldom rewarded and often badly rewarded.

Should you do right? Absolutely.

Why? For the good of your soul. And not just that it is a cry of significance of self importance and the fact that you made a difference.

When you look back upon your life, those times when you did what was right without reward are the times to be treasured, the times when your life gained its full meaning.

James Pilant

Dead and Unimportant?

We like to think that we are personally important, that our lives have meaning and that if something happens to us, people will be upset. But for much of our leadership class we are less than numbers, less than cattle, routinely dismissable and unimportant.

For a portion of our leadership, the fact that many of us are sheltering at home and protecting ourselves is an unacceptable assault on prosperity and all other economic activity.

Doubt me? What about the politicians quoted in the article below?


If you have children and I have a son, the words of the Governor of Missouri are particularly chilling:

“When they go to school – they’re not going to the hospitals. They’re not going to have to sit in doctor’s offices. They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it … We gotta move forward,” Parson said in an interview on local radio.

The most casual reading of the symptoms and effects of the coronavirus and the occasional press reports of dead children might give one pause from such claims. But what is the life of your child compared to “we gotta move forward?”

If you can’t read between the lines here, let me explain it to you. Your children’s health and lives are secondary and I mean really secondary to the economy of the State of Missouri or the larger nation for that matter. And that is what this politician and the other politicians in the article are clearly saying.

Now, I don’t have to explain to you the economic positions of these statesmen. You can reason out the political party and how the basic precepts of making money for our ruling class became their focus whatever the penalties imposed on American citizens including their and your deaths.

Some have found a way to speak out for their dead relatives and sometimes the dead leave messages. Here, read this article:


People are using their and their relatives’ obituaries to cry out their significance and their contempt for the political leadership that helped end their lives. Here’s a quote.

“Isabelle was a giant, and powerful in her kindness. She made a difference each and every day in many people’s lives. And like hundreds and thousands of others, she should still be alive today,” Tulip wrote.

“Her undeserving death is due to the carelessness of the politicians who continue to hedge their bets on the lives of healthcare workers through a lack of leadership, through a refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis, and through an inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize the risks of the coronavirus,” she said.

I applaud these individuals who claw back some kind of significance from those to whom their deaths were and are unimportant.

I never really thought that I would hear politicians say out loud how little important our lives had for them. But they are not even shy about it. I suppose expressing public loyalty to the health of the business community is more effective in recruiting campaign funds than expressing concern for dead citizens who after all have little money to spend.

It is unethical to place economics ahead of human life.

It’s wrong.

Every elected official is a public whose first concern should the welfare of the American people and the preservation of our lives.

James Alan Pilant

I am a COVID 19 Long Hauler

It has been weeks since I had the flu and I still suffer symptoms, some new and some old.

I got the virus back in May and figuring two weeks of suffering from my internet research carefully counting the days in a notebook. Once past the two weeks, I added another week of quarantine again according to my sources on the internet. And in a general sense, I am better but I still stay at home avoid all social interactions go out only for food.

However each day is a surprise. Some days are good and some days bad. And I get new symptoms and lots of old ones. My perception is that I’m taking liver and kidney damage. Since my chest aches a lot of the time, my heart is probably also involved and since I’ve had episodes of confusion I may have brain damage.

Before I explain any further, I want you to know that an intelligent and capable response to the virus like they did in many other countries would have saved me from this ghastly experience. Our national buffoon through his incompetence has severely injured me and may yet kill me.

The up side is my intelligence is slowly recovering. I know this because I could only read a paragraph or so before losing the thread. This was back in June. Now I can almost get a chapter down before I get to tired to continue and it seems every day that I can cover a little more ground. I believe that his mirrors my physical status and I am recovering but it may take months.

There was a time when I worried that this state of affairs would be permanent.

Writing about business ethics and the failures of companies and individuals has had a certain detachment. I wasn’t a victim and I didn’t know anyone involved nor was I in sight of the effects.

Now I am on the frontline of an epic failure of governance, an abdication of responsibility without equal in the history of the nation. We may lose as many as a hundred thousand more Americans before a new President in January can impose federal leadership over this nation and stop the spread of the pandemic.

But there was more to this disaster than the buffoon in the White House. I was astonished to discover politicians who proudly announced that the elderly as well as many others must be sacrificed on the alter of profit. As a bit of a historian and raised in the church, the fact that I was actually seeing human sacrifice to the golden calf of the Old Testament was difficult to absorb.

I knew as a writer of business ethics that American businessmen and corporate officials are not a very worthy bunch – and their bought political servants merited and still merit little more than contempt. But to actually allow people to die for profit, for commerce, demonstrated an absence of Christianity as well as basic human morality that was stunning in its scope.

That some politicians actually suggested that the elderly sacrifice themselves for a strong economy made the predictions of “Brave New World” and “1984” pale by comparison.

But that wasn’t and isn’t the bottom. Fueled by Fox News and the irresponsible policies of tech giants like Facebook, Americans have indulged themselves in denialism, conspiracy theories stupid beyond all human belief and crass willingness to sacrifice the lives of their fellow Americans so they can go maskless, drink alcohol and live their lives as if nothing is wrong.

The spirit of rationalism and the belief in science and expertise is under attack all over this nation. We are an object of pity across the planet as our uninformed and uneducated factually challenged class of bloviators tells us to disregard the evidence of our eyes and ears and embrace lives of meaningless aggrandizement.

As a victim of the disease, the idea that it is a fraud cooked up by the deep state must be pretty comforting but only if you haven’t got it yet or none of your loved ones has died or having the most passing of acquaintance with actual health care workers whose outrage at our national lack of action and their consequent suffering and casualties may have made them a little angry.

This is a turning point in the history of the United States. I may not get to see much of it, but some of you will. Treasure the new beginnings and changes that come of the deaths of so many who were so precious to so many others but valueless obstacles to a strong economy for some of our political class. Remember the names of these wicked people and their enablers. The blood of the dead cry from the earth for justice.

James Pilant

Facebook Refuses Change

In America there is a view that capitalism fixes things. In Britain, government usually acts. The Lords select committee on democracy and digital technologies last week was correct to say it was a mistake to allow social media firms to grow unimpeded by regulation. This, the peers said, had “become acutely obvious in the current Covid-19 pandemic where online misinformation poses not only a real and present danger to our democracy but also to our lives”. Facebook cannot be allowed to remain beyond the restraints applied to the rest of society. This message has been received by the UK’s competition authority, which has proposed forcing Facebook to give consumers a choice over whether to accept targeted advertising and even suggested breaking it up.

From – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/05/the-guardian-view-on-facebook-and-democracy-real-and-present-danger

And so the Guardian pleads with us to act, to stop Facebook from being a real and present danger to our democracy and our lives. And it is essential that we act.

Certainly, capitalism is not going to solve this problem, Facebook makes money from conspiracy, hatred, misinformation and lies. The more the merrier, so to speak. When we ask them to change, we are asking them to change a business model that while subverting our government and our lives has made them many billions of dollars.

Members of the organization, Stop Hate for Profit, met with Zuckerberg on the 7th of July:

“#StopHateForProfit didn’t hear anything today to convince us that Zuckerberg and his colleagues are taking action. Instead of committing to a timeline to root out hate and disinformation on Facebook, the company’s leaders delivered the same old talking points to try to placate us without meeting our demands,” Free Press Co-CEO Jessica J. González said in a statement.


In the past I have expressed my doubts as to Facebook’s willingness to change, and as I predicted, confronted by serious critics with valid claims, he has nothing more to offer but empty platitudes.

And just in case, you have any doubts about Facebook’s inability to control and limit hate speech, you can now see a two year audit of the platform’s performance. Let me quote once again:

The report blistered with criticism of Facebook for prioritizing free expression over civil rights concerns such as equality and nondiscrimination. It raised concerns over the social network’s policy of treating speech by politicians as exempt from rules other users are required to follow.

“Elevating free expression is a good thing, but it should apply to everyone,” the report said. “When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices.”


It may very well not be possible to change Facebook by boycott or pubic activism. So what’s left?

The law — we change the legal environment so Facebook is penalized repeatedly and with serious monetary penalties for subverting our democracy and our lives.

For instance, if Facebook could be held liable for lives lost due to the COVID 19 misinformation on its platform, I would bet real money that content will disappear.

If appealing to Facebook’s better angels is unavailing, then what else is left but regulation and penalty to bring it into line with civilized behavior?

James Pilant

Can Facebook Find a Soul?

There’s an old joke about a man who sold a mule. The buyer harnessed the mule but no matter what he said or did, the mule wouldn’t go. So, he got the seller and he said, “What gives? You sold me a mule that doesn’t do anything.” The seller didn’t say a word. He picked up a great big board and wacked the mule right between the eyes. Then he said, “Now tell it what you want it to do.” The buyer said go and the mule went. The seller said, “It will do what you tell it to do, you just have to get its attention first.

And so it is with Facebook.

Facebook often features content that damages the nation, its people and their sanity. Here take a look at this article:


Is this not just disgusting? Conspiracy mongering dimwits are spreading the idea that the virus is a hoax but not stopping there they want you to believe that the killing of George Floyd is a staged event to take away their freedoms. And this is just a temporary aspect of Facebook’s continuous flow of online sewage.

Facebook is the go to place for every kind of lie and nonsense. Hate speech clogs it from minute to minute, hour to hour and day by day. But all this hate speech and all this nonsense just serves to get Facebook more hits, more attention, and more money. But that money flow may no longer be that secure.

Here we see – Pepsi stopping its advertising on the platform – Starbucks ending its advertising – and today, Microsoft stopped its advertising on Facebook.



So, have all these advertisers gotten Facebook’s attention and convinced them there is a problem? Yesterday, Facebook agreed to an audit of its hate speech controls. There is supposed to an online announcement to advertisers this morning.


In America, we use the corporate model indiscriminately. We try to run schools, colleges, social services, etc. like some kind of profit making scheme. But it is not always appropriate. In the case of Facebook, there’s nothing wrong with Facebook profiting from running some kinds of ads. But there is a lot wrong with indiscriminate practices in content and advertising.

An online service that provides sharing and commentary has to be regulated. You can’t let Nigeria use it for scams, Russia to disrupt elections and lunatics to smear and subvert.

The corporate model of Facebook has no soul. That’s pretty obvious but is there enough leadership to make the necessary changes?

That we will see.

James Pilant

June 21 – 27: Business Ethics Roundup


In a week of a dramatically increasing rate of infection and federal government inaction and incompetence, I want to start with positive story.

A community in India was hit by a powerful cyclone, yet unlike the other cities hit, it kept its power on. How? The community had invested and continues to invest in solar power and the micro-grids used to store energy were still able to function in spite of the storm.

Apparently solar power uses smaller and more diverse grids that store power independently. Hurricanes and other storms as well as sabotage can knock modern grids down totally across hundreds of thousand or maybe even millions of residents and businesses.

But a more modern grid based on solar and wind power is more resilient and more immune to these kinds of shut downs and attacks. This could end much of our power grid’s vulnerabilities.


As anti-racism action happens all over the world in one corporate board room after another. The legendary European cosmetics firm, L’Oreal, is removing the word, whitening and many of its adjectives from all of its products.



Woodrow Wilson’s name will be removed from the Princeton University building where it stood.

There is a lot to like about Woodrow Wilson. He is one of the greater American speakers of his era and I often find his writing delightful.

On the other hand, he brought the “Jim Crow” system to the federal government and he was an unapologetic racist.

That’s hard to forgive.


In New Mexico, a rich person can take possession of mile of river and own it. He can then barb wire the whole thing and deny entry to everyone except his friends or people willing to pay him.

The public powers of the state used to enhance the ownership abilities of rich private citizens.

Gonna’ have to go with probably more organized theft than anything else. I could see a state lease for environmental purposes but outright possession is a huge power grab from citizens of the state.


I always want to include at least one example a week of positive business ethics. Doing more than what is legally required because of a moral or ethical stance — and here is a good one.

This tattoo shop will cover racist tattoos for free. People often make mistakes when they are young and many of those mistakes are tattoos. The little firm will help you solve that problem. Wonderful!


Facebook reacting to widely developing boycott throws a band aid on the problem. Not enough. Facebook is the home of conspiracy theories, flat earthers and anti-vaxers. Why? Because the company has a product that was supposed to enable families and friends to share experiences but is now basically a giant outrage machine where every kind of vicious libel and nonsense has a home. With just a little bad luck, in time Facebook may end this nation’s experiment in democracy.

So, Facebook – take some real action to fix your problems. Anything else is compromising with evil.


The Stop Hate for Profit movement is building steam as more advertisers quit Facebook. Good for them, they are on the side of the angels.


And here, Coca Cola, joins the boycott. Let’s see what Facebook does now.


There were some positive ethical actions in week but they pale in significance with our rising rate of infection here in the United States. This is could have all been avoided if the federal government had taken effective early action and it did not – and because it did not, thousands are going to die.

My kind readers, please stay safe, wear a mask when you got out, and remember to do the right thing – not because it’s rewarding – not because someone might see you do something wrong – not because you might be rewarded — but just because it is right.

God Bless.

James Alan Pilant