Business Ethics Roundup: Sept. 27th – Oct. 3rd

This is the week that the President was diagnosed with COVID19 and sent to Walter Reed Hospital. As an expert on ethics, I have a couple of observations. The President’s behavior after his exposure was reckless and foolish. He pointlessly endangered the lives of his staff and at a scheduled meeting of major fund raisers took no precautions at all. Secondly, the irony of a man who has discouraged intelligent action on the virus and ignored precautions having become infected with the virus is palpable.

It is also important to note that the messaging coming out of the White House that the President has a mild case and is recovering while taking medication for the most serious of cases makes little sense. Once again as an ethics expert I have to note that the White House has so little credibility that some of my friends don’t even believe that he is actually ill!

I would like to believe that those of us who have been critical of the President would forbear from taking pleasure in his suffering. I have had the COVID19 virus and it is an awful experience. I do not wish it on people and I don’t believe that the Almighty smites individuals with disease not to mention earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. For gentlemen and ladies, the only proper response to illness is a sincere wish for a quick recovery.

Some years ago, I taught a class in criminal justice and some of the students hated Obama so much they could scarce answer a question in the course without saying something disparaging about him. I regard Obama as an average President who missed his opportunities to do justice in the economic crisis of 2008, so I’m not a fan but the level of pure hatred was just amazing. I don’t want to do that nonsense. You can oppose the President without hating him. The place for disputes in a democracy is the ballot box and the courts; and we should let those play out.

In other business ethics news, Robert Murray, the former controversial head of now defunct Murray Energy has applied for Black Lung Benefits. His company was notorious for fighting every claim from his workers for such benefits. There is a certain irony at play here.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/former-coal-magnate-battled-mining-214941138.html

“Whose Vote Counts,” premiered this week on Netflix focuses on the problem of voter suppression in the United States. It is definitely an ethics problem. As if to underscore the importance of the film, the governor of Texas issued a proclamation limiting the number of drop off boxes for absentee voting to one per county. Such obvious villainy is not often seen.

https://www.vox.com/21431320/whose-vote-counts-explained-netflix

In this week of intense irony, it is important to note that the three leaders who most denigrated the threat of the virus have all come down with it. Bolsonaro, Boris Johnson and the President have suffered or are suffering from the disease. Will this experience soften their views or teach them wisdom? Don’t be ridiculous. The denial of science, a critical view of experts, this unwillingness to follow the path of experience and knowledge is wired into their political selves.

https://www.vox.com/2020/10/2/21498493/trump-coronavirus-bolsonaro-johnson

The Pope in a new Encyclical entitled, “Fratelli Tutti,” or “Brothers All,” criticized free market capitalism and trickle down economics.

The marketplace by itself cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith,” the pope wrote.

He added that free-market capitalism “reproduces itself” by resorting to the magic theories of “spillover” or “trickle” as the only solution to societal problems.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/04/business/pope-francis-market-capitalism/index.html

In an unusual departure for Fox News, Chris Wallace told the network’s audience to wear masks and follow the science. This was an example of positive business ethics. He was under no obligation to explain this or make a claim often criticized by his own network but he did it anyway.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/business/2020/10/02/fox-news-chris-wallace-trump-covid-19-diagnosis-orig.cnn

In some sad and unfortunate economic news, about 3.8 million jobs in the United States have disappeared forever.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/02/economy/permanent-job-losses-recession/index.html

Jet suits are now being tested in the United Kingdom for use in rescues in rough terrain. My memories of personal rocket propelled suits is confined to James Bond and my recollection is that the suit had very little time in the air and generated monstrous amounts of heat. It appears that personal jet packs have come down in price and have much improved times and efficiency. The world changes!

One of the positive elements of capitalism is innovation and technological development.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/business/2020/09/29/paramedics-jet-suit-gravity-lon-orig-mrg.cnn/video/playlists/business-tech/

It is fascinating to observe that you can tell how well Joe Biden is doing in the polls by observing the international value placed on the Russian Ruble. The higher his poll numbers go, the lower the ruble.

Irony just abounds this week.

https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2020/10/2/how-is-joe-biden-doing-in-the-polls-ask-the-russian-ruble

The Post Office is an American Institution and for rural American, a vital part of the people’s lives.

Across the rural West, the U.S. Postal Service has long been an integral part of everyday life — especially in recent months, ever since the pandemic made residents wary of going to the grocery store or driving to town for necessities. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, the postal service is a literal lifeline: About one in four veterans live in rural communities, and 80% of their prescriptions come through the mail. Additionally, residents 65 and older rely more on mail prescriptions than younger people do. Many rural post offices also distribute packages from private delivery services, such as UPS, FedEx and Amazon. And across the Western United States, residents also rely on the postal service to deliver mail-in ballots.   

https://www.hcn.org/articles/south-election2020-how-residents-rallied-to-get-their-post-office-back

The House of Representatives passed a 2.2 trillion dollar stimulus bill. The Senate and the President are unlikely to allow the bill to proceed. The great mass of the American people are of little concern to our ruling elites.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/second-stimulus-check-600-unemployment-heroes-act/

A Senate panel is moving to subpoena the CEO’s of Twitter, Facebook and Google. This is a bipartisan effort although each party has different issues that concern them about the tech giants.

It is important that these organizations have some responsibility to their users although the Senate is a blunt instrument at best.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/senate-commerce-committee-subpoena-mark-zuckerberg-facebook-sundar-pichai-google-jack-dorsey-twitter/

As Addictive as Cigarettes?

In a House hearing, Tim Kendall a former executive at Facebook testified about its addictiveness.

Kendall, CEO of time-management app Moment and former director of monetization for Facebook, told the hearing held by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce: “Tobacco companies initially just sought to make nicotine more potent. But eventually that wasn’t enough to grow the business as fast as they wanted. And so they added sugar and menthol to cigarettes so you could hold the smoke in your lungs for longer periods, At Facebook, we added status updates, photo tagging, and likes.”

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-addictive-as-cigarettes-former-executive-says/

According to an article in Scientific American, Greenland is melting faster than any time in the last 12,000 years.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/greenland-melting-fastest-any-time-in-last-12-000-years/

Business Ethics Roundup: Week of Sept. 20th – 26th.

“We are going to crush this lady.” 

Seven former employees of E-bay were arrested for sending a bloody pig mask and cockroaches to a couple who ran a small web site which drew the ire of the company. The quote, “We are going to crush this lady,” is from CEO Devin Wenig. This truly ridiculous crimes committed to punish a small independent web site have resulted in several guilty pleas as well as resignations and firings.

The proper response to criticism is to fix the problems in your own house and a due tolerance to the critic. This kind of economic and social “jihad” is both reprehensible, unwise and outside the behavior expected of ladies and gentlemen.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/27/tech/ebay-cockroach-pig-mask/index.html

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/09/ex-ebay-employees-to-plead-guilty-in-bloody-pig-mask-cyberstalking-case/

Singapore has adopted facial recognition for identity verification both public and private. Is this wise? It is too early to tell but this technology can easily be misused and there is certainly a vast imbalance of power between the government and the “identified.” I’m very uncomfortable with this. It’s not surprising that Singapore, long a practitioner of paternalistic control is the first nation to dive all the way to the use of this kind of system.

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-54266602

A new Pew Research Center survey of 13,200 people (a truly excellent sample size) shows that less than half of the 22 million jobs lost due to the pandemic have been recovered. About 1/3 of the sample indicated they had got their old jobs back and another 15% had found new jobs.

The data on those that recovered jobs showed a strong class difference in job recovery rates with of 58% middle and upper class workers finding work again opposed to only 43% of the lower class.

Recovery funds have found their way to the giant corporations and even mega churches but to these 11 million unemployed Americans, our fellow citizens, little has been done and it appears that our ruling class finds the suffering of these “little” people to be beneath their notice.

The national tragedy of the federal government’s failed response to the coronavirus continues. We have the example of many successful governmental responses from around the work to emulate and we don’t. We have conducted a policy based on federal inaction and incompetence coupled with fifty different state governmental approaches often bordering on the moronic. Our individual reactions are shaped by conspiracy theories, exuberant denialism and concepts of personal freedom and free market absolutism that border on lunacy.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/9/27/21458234/coronavirus-jobs-unemployment-rate

Maryland becomes the first state to ban foam food service products.

“Single-use plastics are overrunning our oceans and bays and neighborhoods,” Democratic Delegate Brooke Lierman, the main sponsor of the House bill, told CNN when it passed in 2019.
“We need to take dramatic steps to start stemming our use and reliance on them … to leave future generations a planet full of wildlife and green space.”

I believe that in time more states will adopt this measure.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/27/us/maryland-foam-container-ban-trnd/index.html

Peloton is cutting the price of one of its exercycles. This company was through a fluke of history, the coronavirus, multiplied in its success. Many people unable to jog or walk bought exercycles online. Still too rich for my blood.

I use a rowing machine which I strongly recommend. Unlike a cycle, the rowing machine is a full body workout. But as we age, regular exercise becomes more and more important.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/08/tech/peloton-new-products/index.html

A Massachusetts Veterans’ home combined two dementia wards apparently to save money. Since one was infected with the COVID19 version and the other wasn’t, many veterans died. The decision has been described as “baffling.”

This action and others have resulted in two federal indictments.
There is something horrifying with how casually these veterans were discarded. Weren’t they promised a life time of care? What does this say about us as a nation and a people that this happened.
And  on this same point the treatment, the lack of mourning, for the dead in this pandemic is most concerning. As I continue toward the end of my life, it pains me to think that having reached a certain age, I am expected to perish unmourned and unthought of. Two hundred thousand Americans dead and we continue with our disastrous policies and fail in our duties to the dead – to mourn and remember their lives and contributions.
Lane Unhjem, a farmer in North Dakota, suffered a heart attack while tending his fields. He is in ICU and recovering. But without him, his crops would go unharvested and the money for their sale lost.
Sixty neighbors volunteered to come out and make sure the harvest went as planned. They acted to save his income and thus his farm.
For some, and they number in the millions in this nation, acting to save a competitor without recompense beggars the imagination. Under Ayn Rand’s system of thinking, this altruism, this compassion is a crime against logic and reasonable thought.
Yet, for the time being, there are still those among us who believe in humankind, the values of sharing and civic as well as community duty.
The former head of that vile organization, Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, has been banned from running limited liability companies in England for seven years. The firm offered “unethical” services. Among the unethical services offered were “honey traps’ and “voter disengagement services.” A honey trap is where a woman offers sexual favors which are then used often with covert filming to blackmail opponents. Voter disengagement is a method of using social media to disgust and discourage potential voters from supporting an opponent.
If this strikes you as a small penalty for advertising these disreputable acts, you are not alone. Nix admits no wrongdoing and says he only agreed to the penalty to avoid lengthy litigation.
These kinds of penalties fail to discourage this kind of wrongdoing. What is to become of morality and ethics in the world of business when these slaps on the wrist are all the penalty that violators face?

The agency said it had found that Nix “had caused or permitted SCL Elections or associated companies to act with a lack of commercial probity”.

“The unethical services offered by the companies included bribery or honey trap stings, voter disengagement campaigns, obtaining information to discredit political opponents and spreading information anonymously in political campaigns,” it said in its statement.

A Native American tribe, the Monacans, are fighting to preserve the original site of their capital from the building of a pumping station.
We as a nation are in a period of reckoning when it comes to Native American sites and history and, in particular, native remains. This should form part of the business communities’ concerns when it come to not doing harm as well as pursuing the public good. We are not endangered by recognizing native culture; we are enriched and enlivened by our mixture of cultures and the amazing combination of European, African and Native American cultures have built a vital and active culture.
As we have seen in Brazil, anti-indigenous organizations are becoming increasingly influential and powerful. This is a business ethics concern.
Anti-Indigenous ideologies challenge bedrock human rights through a number of means. Relying on stereotypes, for instance, is a common tactic in almost every country: Indigenous communities are seen as lawless or corrupt and incapable of managing land, water, wildlife or infrastructure — roles that anti-Indigenous activists and fellow travelers argue should be taken on by the state or corporations instead of Indigenous communities. Those same arguments are often extended to the adoption of Indigenous children, access to health care, and payment of taxes. In all cases, anti-Indigenous individuals and organizations argue that Indigenous people are incapable of managing their own affairs by engaging with racist dog whistles and established stereotypes to undermine rights to land, resources, language and culture. (From the article below.)
There is a currently developing scandal in Pakistan alleging that corrupt officials are issuing pilot’s licenses to those unqualified. I’m sure you can imagine the dire consequences of issuing pilot’s licenses for money.

Business Ethics Roundup Sept. 13th – 19th

This week in Business Ethics is marred by the death by ovarian cancer of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She died during the week of Rosh Hashanah which in Jewish lore means she is particularly blessed. Here is a guide for my readers unfamiliar with the surrounding concepts.

Rosh Hashanah 2020 — A Guide for the Perplexed

Currently that American Institution, the Post Office, is under attack. Don’t believe me? A federal judge called the changes: “a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service” It is very poor business ethics indeed to sabotage a public agency, a public good for all Americans, for private gain. I found a good article on the importance of the sorting machines which I include here as well as the article I got the federal judge quote from.

https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/federal-judge-slams-dejoy-s-politically-motivated-usps-attack-n1240453

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mail-sorting-machines-are-crucial-for-the-u-s-postal-service/

Tragically there appears to be increasing violence surrounding requests that people wear masks and practice social distancing. In a particularly callous attack, a 67 year old gas station worker suffered a fractured skull after being assaulted with a pipe. It is a particularly bitter reality that during a worldwide pandemic, many Americans are unwilling to pull together in the wake of the viral threat to protect each other from infection. This generation of Americans is half helpless to act on behalf of the common good. Many believe in the crass nonsense of libertarianism and similar beliefs that the only interest is self interest. The generations of Americans that sacrificed in the face of war and epidemic must be astonished at this willingness to sacrifice our fellow Americans out of simple pig headedness.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/long-island-social-distancing-attack-arrest_n_5f66b573c5b6480e89700af8

Are we entering the Pyrocene, the age of fire? Stephen Pyne suggests in the High Country News that is indeed the case. He says that in previous ages we had ice ages and this current situation is the other side of the coin, that is, ages of fire. It’s a good read and a fairly brief one. It is attached below.

https://www.hcn.org/articles/wildfire-west-coast-wildfires-signal-a-planetary-fire-age

Over the last twenty years, financial institutions including the often mentioned five, HSBC, JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, Standard Chartered and Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon), conducted about 2 trillion dollars in suspicious activity. Rest assured this is a developing story and we are going to hear more as the particulars work their way to the surface.

https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/banks-moved-alleged-dirty-money-red-flags-reports-200920203410592.html

Federal charges of among other charges, commercial bribery, were filed against six individuals who are charged with bribing Amazon employees to gain an unfair advantage. The bribes totaled about $100,000. Temporary suspensions of competitor accounts was one of the means used to gain advantage.

This kind of crime causes people to buy inferior or even dangerous goods. Let’s hope Amazon acts to clean up its staff.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/amazon-marketplace-fraud-scheme-six-indicted/

New York filed a 2 billion dollar lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson for its role in the opoid crisis, that is, encouraging opoid use and downplaying the risks of addiction. Since Oklahoma has already won a case and 500 million dollars from the company, one has to wonder why the state has waited this long and is that the correct amount?
In positive business ethics, a firm from the UK is making protective masks out of peas which is very environmentally sound.
How is it that a video in which a man committed suicide live on Facebook does not violate their standards and is still up? Facebook says it has a policy against suicide and videos showing self harm but isn’t enforcing it.
Very poor business ethics indeed.
Movie Theatres have been open for about a month but the economic returns have been disappointing. Mulan’s crash at the box office could not have helped matters.

Business Ethics Roundup: Sept. 6th – 12th

We begin with the wave of fires creating waves of destruction in the American West. Governor Gavin Newsom says the debate over climate change is finished. He says in these California fires you can see the results of climate change with your own eyes. I strongly agree but I felt that the fires in Australia last year should have ended the debate. This is further evidence.

Climate change is going to be a continuing issue in business ethics. How are businesses, particularly, the international corporations, going to act on this issue? Their responses will be as important as that of many medium size nations.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54128872

Sir David Attenborough tells us in his latest documentary that 60% of the vertebrate animals have disappeared since 1970 and the rate of natural extinction has been accelerated 100 times.

Many businesses impact species extinction. The international trade in animals and animal parts is savagely destructive of the earth’s species. And we have only a limited time to act.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54118769

Let’s segue to a somewhat nostalgic and yet current note, that is, vinyl records have outsold CD’s for the first time since the 1980’s. That may be just a chimera though since streaming services are seizing the lion’s share of the market.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/13/tech/vinyl-records-cd-sales-riaa/index.html

There is a famous insurance fraud case making the rounds on social media. A woman in Slovenia cut off her hand with a band saw claiming it was an accident that happened while cutting branches. Unfortunately for her claim, she had just taken out five insurance polices which would have resulted in an award of more the equivalent of more than a million US dollars. This was certainly suspicious but her boyfriend’s internet searches on artificial hands done before the loss clinched the case for fraud.

Apparently another case of stupid criminals but a very sad one (although the hand was reattached).

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54125770

California’s legislature faced with a shortage of firefighters and inmates showing bravery and tenacity fighting the wave of fires has passed a law making it easier for them to expunge their records and become firefighters.

As a form of positive business ethics, I am impressed by the act. It seems to me simple justice that those on the frontline of fighting these terrible and now increasingly regular fires should be rewarded.

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2020/9/12/21433678/wildfires-california-law-inmate-firefighters-fire-departments-release

Rio Tinto’s CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques, is going to resign following the destruction of sacred aboriginal sites. The company attempted to deal with the crisis by canceling bonuses but considering the harm done this was a non-starter.

This was an appalling crime and there is no real penalty. Under the law, they could destroy at will any cultural artifact on the land they controlled. The Juukan Gorge rock shelters had shown evidence of continuous human habitation for 46,000 years. They were an irreplaceable evidence of human history completely unique.

What kind of people are these to disintegrate and destroy cultural artifacts at will? And what kind of nation allows its cultural treasures to be annihilated without a hint of caution or penalty?

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-54112991

And finally, I would like to add my voice to Emily Stewart‘s writing in Vox. She is calling for providing all citizens of the United States with Internet. I strongly agree. If we are going to advance as a nation, that is a minimal requirement. Further, in a crisis like the current pandemic we have already seen the importance of being connected.

But please read the article, the author is detailed and impressive.

James Pilant

 

 

Why We Should Publicly Mourn Our Dead

Why We Should Publicly Mourn Our Dead

“Commonwealth” is an old English word, charming in its implications. It is the idea that we have a political organization based on developing and preserving our common goods.

As of this day, 190,000 Americans are dead as a result of the COVID19 infection. The international pandemic has hit us hard.

One of the functions of a moral commonwealth is to deal with this kind of society wide pain. Historically massive death tolls are not unusual. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are reliable producers of death and disorder.

Truly a wall of death is marching across this country. We often remark on the raw numbers and remark on the death of a significant casualty from time to time but the real toll, the absence and sorrow over these lost lives seldom appears in the public discourse.

Public mourning is one of the duties of the President. It is a vital part of unifying the nation in the face of external and internal threats. For instance, a National Day of Mourning was declared for the death of former President George Herbert Walker Bush.

Yet, no such day has been declared for the many victims of the virus.

I believe that one of the basic elements of business ethics is pursuit of the common good. Another is solidarity in the form of citizenship. Businesses should be regular and committed participants in pursuit of the public good.

This also applies to politics. Celebrating and remembering the lives of the fallen is an act of unification, a public ritual that defines us once again as members of a greater whole, The United States of America.

Would so many deny the reality of the COVID 19 outbreak if we had mourned our dead publicly? Would people refuse to wear masks in the mass numbers we have now if all over this nation there had been public ceremonies honoring the dead?

I don’t think so.

The failure to mourn has been a national catastrophe and has directly contributed to the division and pain in this country.

When our leadership changes, there will be an opportunity to once again celebrate the lives and contribution of the fallen. We should not miss that chance.

James Alan Pilant

 

 

The First Principle

The First Principle of Business Ethics?

Should the inherent value of human life be the first principle of Business Ethics? I believe so and what is more, I believe we should teach it that way. And we should start teaching it now.

Surely, there is enough intellectual thrust in the idea of human life as a value that we can teach it to our students. Not teaching it is wrong. It is a base concept in our ideas of civilization. The depth of the idea in every major religion provides further evidence that it is something of a universal concept. But there is much philosophical support for it as well.

We do no honor to the separation of church and state by claiming neutrality in regard to the importance of human life.

It needs to be in every book of business ethics enshrined as a basic concept.

Current events demonstrate the need for a greater focus on morality and ethics in training our youth.

There are more than 140,000 dead and millions infected in this nation as of today. We may have according to one estimate by the CDC, 300,000 dead by the end of the year.

We have not properly mourned these people. And for many of our leadership and political class they might be road kill in terms of significance. Not only have we failed to celebrate their lives, many believe that the disease is a hoax and there fore their deaths are some kind of “fake news.”

What kind of society have we become where humans are discarded with little thought and an obvious contempt for their lives? When did we arrive at the point where the basic fact of 140,000 dead have so little effect on policy? How did we get to a place where significant portions of the population have become deniers of reality and followers of bizarre conspiracy theories such as Qanon.

If we were to be engaged with some foreign threat akin to the Second World War, are there enough of us willing to act in concert as fellow Americans to put up a fight? You find that an exaggeration? How many Americans are refusing the simple precaution of wearing a mask to protect themselves and others?

How does our society view people now? Basically they are seen by our ruling class as consumers and workers, and if you pare that down, money.

I don’t believe that healthy cultures, healthy nations, consider people only in terms of how much money value they produce and how much burden they are when they are old.  

Healthy cultures value human life, pursue the common good, regulate the excesses of capitalism and have a sense of solidarity, what we used to be brotherhood.

We can bring business ethics teaching more in line with that of a healthy society. Getting the basic concepts of morality and ethics out in the business community would be very helpful in building a better society.

James Pilant

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