Thursday, June 09, 2005

Morality, Ethics, and Business

It seems to me that we are a country in conflict – not just politically, which has always been the case, but conflicted in some very fundamental ways. Business and businessmen have always been under attack in this country and in many cases these attacks were warranted. I submit Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Gould, et al. and more recently we have the gaggle of CEO’s who have gotten caught with their moral, if not their legal, pants around their ankles. The result of these transgressions has been a concerted and continuing attack on business by those who either have an agenda of their own or people who are simply ignorant of business. But this malaise goes far beyond just business – it has infected people who are outside of business – people who seem unable to understand the role of business and the sources of revenue and jobs. These are the people who seem to think that the money the government spends on welfare, jobs creation, foreign aid, medicaid, social security, and the many other government programs comes from the government. Apparently, the belief is that since the government prints money they can print as much as they want without regard to business or economics. These are the people who are always shouting that the “rich” should pay more, that corporations should pay more, and the “unfortunate” should pay nothing at all. This is Robin Hood economics but it really is only the tip of the iceberg. The conflict is much deeper.

Labor Unions were crucial to breaking the stranglehold of management on labor because the fundamental raison d’etre of the unions is to control the supply of labor. However, these unions today are anachronisms and they no longer work because they can only control the supply of domestic labor and as they raise the cost of that labor the businessman is forced to move jobs overseas in order to remain competitive. The result is that the labor unions are destroying more jobs than they are creating but the attacks are on the businessman not on the labor leaders. The attitude is that the businessman has a moral obligation to retain workers even if they are over paid and the products they produce can only be sold at a loss. Naturally the solution to this problem has been discovered by our European Allies and that is government ownership and restrictive tariffs. What goes unsaid is that the unemployment rate in Europe is roughly twice what it is in the US and that the competitiveness of European products is sinking rapidly. But once again the conflict is deeper.

The crux of the problem seems to be the belief that the businessman has a moral obligation to retain unproductive people, to take a loss, and to share the revenues even if the revenues don’t cover the costs. We see the idea that those who work hard, who educated themselves, and who continue to retrain for the future have a moral obligation to share their wealth with those who failed to get an education, who failed to improve their skills, or who simply those who would prefer to sleep in a cardboard box to working. There seems to be a pervasive attitude that the government has a moral obligation to care for the “unfortunate” by forcing the productive citizens to share their wealth. But the irony of this conflict is that those who espouse this belief also seem to be the same people who are leading the charge against the moral reforms urged by the Christian community. The term “Christian” is almost always said with a sneer and preceded by some denigrating term but it is these same Christians who are attempting to care for the poor and unfortunate. Their crime seems to be that they are trying to do this without benefit of any government program and to be effective the government must be involved – this is the socialist way.

The irony here goes even deeper because when the government attempted to sanction these self-help Christian driven programs the left went into paroxysms of Constitutional interpretation. It seems that while it is necessary that the government confiscate the wealth of some to give to others, this cannot be done voluntarily by Christians or involve Christians in any way. The fact is that 82% of the population consider themselves “Christian” which means the 18% are something else ranging from Atheists to Zen Masters but it is this small minority that is tyrannizing the rest. This leads me to the conclusion that religion and the “separation of church and state” actually have little to do with the situation. It seems to me that these attacks are motivated almost entirely by those who are anti-capitalist, anti-business, anti-religious, and anti-government – not government per se but government by the people. These are the people who want us to be more socially conscious but only in their terms.

Michigan like many states is suffering from budget issues – primarily self-inflicted by the unions – but regardless of the cause the result is a reduction in programs. The state legislature is considering taking adult children off of the roles of welfare recipients and taking those who have been on welfare for more than four years off of the roles altogether. This is creating a major partisan flap since the left consider this morally wrong. Of course the exceptions are always trotted out as the rationale for not changing anything. Naturally there are people with adult children who for one reason or another are unable to work and there are those who can work but who cannot make a living wage (mentally handicapped for example). Of course there are valid exceptions but these exceptions are used to justify robbing the rich to give to the undeserving. And this brings us to another fundamental point and that is “ethics”.

There is really no need to explore the ethical issues surrounding the recent abuses by various executives in too many companies. These are ethically bankrupt people who have used and abused their position and power for selfish reasons, but what about the ethics of the workers, the politicians, and the various extremist groups? What about their ethics? Is it ethical for a union boss to demand higher wages and greater benefits knowing that the end result will be fewer jobs for the workers whom he represents? Is it ethical for a politician to take money from a special interest and support legislation that is not in the common interest? Is it ethical for environmentalists to destroy private property because they don’t agree with how it is being used? Is it ethical for someone who purports to be a religious leader (e.g. Jesse Jackson, Jerry Falwell) to use their position for political purposes? Then what about the ethics of the entertainment industry?

Statistically movies that are rated G are more profitable than movies rated R but yet Hollywood continues to crank out trash. It is now accepted for anyone to use foul language in any social environment and this can only be attributed to Hollywood and the movies they crank out. Free speech has been stretched to the point that anyone can say anything – but is that really true? Is our speech really free? Can we actually say anything we choose? If you believe that try using the word “niggardly.” A young man (obviously educated) lost his position because he used this word which is a perfectly valid word but it sounds like one of those forbidden words. In fact while you can curse at will and in any environment you cannot say anything that might be construed as racial or insensitive to a minority. So we find ourselves in the situation where Hollywood and the movies are exercising their legal rights but fail to see that they have any ethical responsibility or that their actions have coarsened our society.

But it isn’t just Hollywood that has some culpability for the destruction of civility, ethics, and morality we can look to the universities for some of this. Professors are mostly left over from the Viet Nam era when they stayed in school to avoid their duties and responsibilities. Since that war went on longer than expected these incipient draft dodgers eventually became PhD’s with no employable skills so they just hung on as professors. It is these people who have disgraced academia and have turned it into an arena of indoctrination rather than education. Free speech is essentially dead at our universities. Students are expected to be opposed to Christianity, representative government, conservative causes, anti-drug legislation, or the government, except in those cases where the government is exercising its authority to suppress individual rights. We are in the midst of a serious destruction of our moral fiber, ethics, and the representative government we all expect. The time has long past to stop equivocating and to act in our own self interest.

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