My Year End Assignment

My Year End Assignment
Today was one of my last classes before I move away from Arkansas, I was showing a film, My Life in Ruins, a Nia Vardalos film, probably, the greatest business ethics film of all time. As I tell my students, it literally rains business ethics problems as it tells the story of a disillusioned American tour guide in Greece beset by a scheming competitors, bizarre tourists and Greek inefficiency.
I couldn’t stop thinking that I would never get to share the film again, that the laughs and smiles at the jokes would be the last I would ever get out of the film. As of tonight I am still recovering. I’m afraid that I’ve found a film that illustrates a host of business ethics issues and that maybe no one will ever see it as I do and use it again.

Here is the trailer from You Tube –

MY LIFE IN RUINS – Official Trailer – YouTube

The assignment is in the following form. Each students writes down the ethical problems as they appear and  identifies the problem as business or not. If it is a business ethics problems, the student tells me what should have been done instead. Today, in the first hour, one of my students identified more than fifty business ethics problems. Of course, she’s an over achiever, but even the most average of students can usually spot twelve. I’ve seen hundreds of films and never have I seen one where business ethics problems appear so often.

James Pilant

Another Reason the Media Fails

Another Reason the Media Fails

The media fails us constantly and that wouldn’t be so bad if it had always been the case.

There was a CBS documentary on Vietnam called Vietnam: the Thousand Day War.  (You can watch it here on You Tube.) I lived during the Vietnam War although I was too young for the draft but a few years ago I decided to revisit that era and watched the documentary. I challenge you to watch it as well. For portrayed in that documentary is an aggressive, intelligent and courageous set of news people on an important mission acting with deep ethical concerns.

What is even more amazing is the politicians from the period who don’t seem to mind tough pointed questions and newsmen doing their jobs.

But today with the corporatization of the media, we have just another entertainment division focused on profits shorn of any duty to God or man. From a public duty enforced by law, the Reagan Administration freed the network from any restraint, and not we live in a world of news which makes the movie, “Network,” appear as a prophesy.

What new reason do I have today for the media’s consistent failure to act as professional journalists?

Narrative and aesthetics.

Here, let another author phrase it beautifully for me:

But the biggest reason the media seem to have so little interest in what should be the biggest scandal out there may just be an aesthetic one: voter suppression doesn’t conform to the scandal narrative the media prefer. News reporting is defined as “stories” for a reason — that editors (and presumably readers) want strong narratives with good guys and bad guys, high stakes, identifiable victims and various plot twists in their news no less than in their entertainment (if there is a difference now between the two).

Essentially, they want movies. This is hardly furtive. Stories are nearly always prioritized over information. I can attest from personal experience that writers are asked by editors all the time to spice up story elements. Good stories get good play.

Apparently, if the story can be summarized simply emphasizing good guys versus bad guys, it can’t be sold.

No matter how important the story, no matter how central to whether or not democracy can function, if it isn’t in such a simple pathetic format, it won’t sell and since it can’t be marketed, it will not appear.

raining hard on FranklinWe need Edward R. Murrow and a return to journalism integrity. Can it happen? The wheel of destiny is in motion and it has turned in the Neoliberal pursuit of profit to such an extent the Les Moonves says of the current political campaign this: “Man, this is pretty amazing. Who would have thought this circus would come to town? It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. [Laughs] The money’s rolling in …. This is fun.”

“… may not be very good for America,” He says it but he doesn’t seem to care and I don’t think he does. If he doesn’t care than as far as he is concerned, the United States and its citizens can go straight to hell as long as CBS makes a profit. Aristotle did not quite mean this when he spoke of citizens of the world. He did not mean those who had divorced themselves from the concerns of their fellow citizens.

Media journalism should be “good for America.” And we need a return to the moral high ground and an understanding of the corrosive effect of money in journalism.

James Pilant

A Second Chance?

A Second Chance?

I looked at the blood pressure machine twice, not quite believing what I was seeing – 200 over 110.

“That’s not good.” I thought to myself.

It was a little after eleven at night. I was about to moisturize my face. When you reach the age of fifty-nine, your face attempts to dry out, locking in a scary expression and probably eventually sliding off your head. It’s just like everything else at this age that seems to be going badly wrong. I looked at myself in the mirror and noticed a clearly visible blood vein under my left eye. “Never saw that before,” I thought. So, I went and searched in the back of a drawer until I found my blood pressure monitor.

200 over 110 – what to do?

I remember thinking. “You’re going to die, James. Maybe not this minute but probably soon, and if you don’t die, you’ll probably have a debilitating stroke, and live the life of a plant. You know, spoon fed lots of jello and rice pudding, if they remember to feed you.”

A Second Chance?
A Second Chance?

I had suspected that fear of death focused the mind but once I was there looking at death from the range of a close acquaintance I knew I was fiercely concentrating and focused.

I spent the next twenty minutes researching on the Internet and developing a plan. The hardest part of that night wasn’t studying and planning, it was trying to go to sleep. I kept thinking that I might not wake up.

The next day, I purged salt from my diet discarding a variety of canned and frozen foods. I went to the store and bought fruits and veggies. I decided red meat had to go but fish would probably be okay.

It was at the store I found evidence that God had a deep and abiding fondness for me. I had been looking for a reclining exercycle for months, and had repeatedly refused to buy one at full price. And yet, here I was ready and determined to buy one at full price and the store had a dinged one for half off, which I immediately purchased, hauled home and assembled.

While at the store, I tried out their blood pressure machine to see if I could get a different result. It declined to give me blood pressure numbers, merely putting up a message that I should get to a hospital immediately. “I already know that.” I observed to myself.

Since then, it has been a struggle. On the positive side, eating fruit everyday has been nice although grapes are just way too expensive. On the negative side, food choices are a little bland and I crave salt particularly in the form of potato chips. I can’t figure out what to eat guacamole with, if not chips? I put the exercycle next to the computer and move it into viewing position, watch a nice you-tube video (usually a history documentary) for about twenty or twenty-five minutes at a time.

I didn’t re-check my blood pressure for the first week and the next check showed a drop of about twenty points. After that, I splurged and bought a little wrist blood pressure monitor. I test my blood pressure like I’m supposed to, after ten minutes of sitting quietly but after a while I became curious and starting testing it after exercise and meals, in the morning, at night, etc. I wanted to see how much it varied and why. It became readily apparent that the most important factor in whether it was high or not was my salt intake.

So, currently I’m getting readings at my usual time and after proper rest of about 140 over 90. That’s not great but it is more in the yellow zone of taking care of yourself and less of the “my head is about to explode” zone.

So, is this a second chance? – a new lease on life? I don’t know. I know it changed my behavior. I look, feel and live a lot harder, a lot more intensely, and that remains. Sometimes when I walk out a door, I pause and just look at the sky and the trees and the people. I let the wind blow my hair and feel the warmth. I marvel at my students who seem half asleep and walk the halls like zombie extras but then I wander down to the mall and see their elders are even deader, consumers studying the products, eyeing the next bargain ignoring any and all human interaction.

I’m blunter, more friendly and probably a much more engaging lecturer than I have ever been before. I listen a lot better because I want to know what other people are saying and thinking because I’m curious why they keep going on living when I have doubts that I should or can.

One theory has been advanced. My Tuesday-Thursday Business Law class claims that I was preserved among the living so that I could give them all A’s. I told them that should a celestial choir awaken me from sleep to tell me of me of my grand purpose, it was highly unlikely that giving them all A’s would be the name of the tune.

I think that maybe I should go back to where I began in Northeastern Oklahoma and remember what my beginnings were, try out the old trails once again. Maybe that is my purpose, but even if it is not, it is still a path with heart, and that sounds pretty good right now.

James Pilant

Pundit Admits Mistake!

Pundit Admits Mistake!

When you think of a pundit, people like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, etc., come to mind. Of course, there are other figures in other parts of the political spectrum that might be mentioned. I would suppose Bill Nye might be considered a pundit and Rachel Maddow would certainly fall into that category.

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Pundit Admits Mistake!

And pundits have been wrong, sometimes, a little, sometimes, a lot. However, just as the chief protagonist in Love Story says, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” there is a similar rule in the world of punditry that indicates a mistake should be quickly forgotten and ignored.

Jordan Weissmann writing in Slate magazine is defying the conventional wisdom and admitting that a previous column was a mistake.

His essay entitled: How I Got the Democratic Primary Very, Very Wrong is an example of good business ethics.

He writes:

This was wrong. And in the interest of pundit transparency, I wanted to take an opportunity to admit as much. 

And then later in the essay:

So, again, I was wrong. And the reason why is fairly straightforward: Like a lot of writers, I never expected Sanders to attract the kind of support he has. I expected him and Clinton to debate. I didn’t expect them to debate for the soul of the party. But they have.

So, he doesn’t admit he was wrong, he admits he was wrong twice. That’s incredible and even better business ethics than before when I thought he was admitting he was wrong once.

Now, you should read his whole essay. It is well worth it. And reflect that all pundits tend to be full of pride but at least one has a genuine touch of humility.

James Pilant

You Don’t Get Leg Room!

(Satire) A MESSAGE FROM THE AIRLINES TO ALL OF YOU

We’re the airlines.

1-05-006There aren’t many of us.

That gives us monopoly power.

Let us make this clear to you.

We make the rules and you pay us money.

Don’t be crying to your congressmen.

We own them.

You want leg room.

Pay us more money.

That’s the rules.

You don’t live in a free market.

If you did, we would compete and there would be leg room.

You don’t live in a democracy.

If you did Congress would stop us from denying you leg room.

So be obedient,

and give us the money.

And, in case, you forgot, we are the makers, the creators of value in this country and you are the takers.

Stop whining.

I firmly believe that is how our “benefactors,” in this case, the airlines feel about how things work in this country. Yes, I’m shrill and mean. But Americans have to sit in cramped seats for hours because the airlines exert monopoly power and they own our gerrymandered representatives the way farmers used to own cows and chickens.

Millions of Americans ride the airlines and because of how this system is constructed, their voices are of no importance.

And let me remind you, that because of the miraculous powers of the invisible hand and the free market, none of these leg room problems are happening or can happen. The market should have provided leg room for all at good prices because of the wonders of competition.

Neoliberal economics is simply a fantasy for the well to do.

James Pilant

From the BBC:

In recent years, airlines looking for cost savings have reduced the sizes of seats and cut the amount of passenger legroom, among other changes.

Passengers have often complained about the increasingly cramped quarters.

Some flights have been disrupted after disputes broke out among passengers because of seating arrangements.

“It costs you an arm and a leg just to have room for your arms and legs,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, who sponsored the amendment, which was attached to a broader aviation bill.

Many airlines now charge passengers if they want more legroom.

Are Shifting Cultural Values Creating an Entitlement Society? (A Guest Column From the Ethics Sage!)

Are Shifting Cultural Values Creating an Entitlement Society?

(This is a guest column by Steven Mintz, the Ethics Sage. I am proud to have one of his columns appear on my site. I strongly recommend you visit his site (listed below), favorite it and visit regularly. jp)

We often hear that an entitlement society has developed in the U.S. over a number of years. In a casual sense, the term “entitlement” refers to a notion or belief that one is deserving of some particular reward or benefit—if given without deeper legal or principled cause, the term is often given with pejorative connotation (e.g. a “sense of entitlement”).

Philosophically, entitlement theory comes from the Theory of Justice. John Rawls argued that the state should have whatever powers are necessary to ensure that those citizens who are least well-off are as well-off as they can be(though these powers must be consistent with a variety of basic rights and freedoms). This viewpoint is derived from Rawls’s theory, one principle of which is that an unequal distribution of wealth and income is acceptable only if those at the bottom are better off than they would be under any other distribution. Hence we have the viewpoint to tax the rich and transfer resources to the least well off amongst us. This view of Justice Theory would justify the reallocation of resources in society.

The issue I deal with here is what is behind the entitlement mentality. I am not saying some people do not want to work and feel entitled to benefits from the government out of a sense of justice. Rather, I believe the entitlement notion stems from a shift in cultural values brought on, in part, by what we see on television and in social media. People with wealth flaunt it. TV shows glorify it. Social media exacerbates the feeling of jealousy for those without it. It’s in our face all the time from the housewives of wherever to the grossly over-the-top CNBC program The Secrets of the Super Rich.

What is the average person expected to think when they see such a television program that glorifies over-the-top wealth? Last Wednesday one segment featured a $200 million-plus ridiculously lavish yacht. The reality is that if that amount was split between 5,000 people it could clothe, house and feed them at the rate of $40,000 per year.

The entitlement mentality also comes from the way in which many Millennials were brought up and given just about anything and everything they wanted. Moreover, today we are debating whether children should be rewarded not for winning a competition but for just competing, even if they come in last. They are entitled to be recognized for their effort. But, is that how the real world works? Do you think in China and other Asian countries youngsters are rewarded for finishing behind the pack or last? I doubt it.

The Ethics Sage
The Ethics Sage

Students on college campuses feel entitled to voice their views in a way that shuts other voices down. The administration of many such colleges give in for fear of alienating one person or one group without thinking about the rights of others.

So, the key becomes how to define “entitlement.” In this regard we can turn to the theory of “moral rights.” Rights theory provides that human beings have certain fundamental rights that should be respected in all decisions: the right to free consent, privacy, freedom of conscience, free speech, and due process. A right is a capacity, a possession, or condition of existence that entitles either an individual or a group to enjoy some object or state of being. For example, the right to free speech is a condition of existence that entitles one to express one’s thoughts as one chooses.

The moral force of a right depends on its strength in relation to other moral considerations applicable to the context in question. According to rights theory, as long as the distribution of wealth in society is achieved through fair acquisition and exchange, the distribution is a just one regardless of any degree of inequalities that may ensue. The morally correct action is the one that a person has the moral right to do, that does not infringe on the moral rights of others, and that furthers the moral rights of others.

So, in my view entitlement is linked to having a fair and equitable opportunity to reach one’s God-given potential within the free exercise of one’s will. The goal is best achieved through persistence and practice. As the ancient Greeks knew, we develop good habits and ultimately success by applying them in a variety of situations.

Especially in a capitalist society, people must be free to develop their God-given talents without interference from the government. All well and good but does this occur by giving those who may not have earned it a reward or other form of recognition? No, but it does, in fact, occur because of our social-media conscious society which reflects a shift in cultural values.

All too many act in a way to achieve their fifteen minutes of fame whether it is a You Tube posting or other form of social media exhibitionism. We want what we want and no one should get in our way less they violate our rights. Unfortunately, the pursuit of wealth and fame take over and shove hard work and responsibility into the background. This is a narcissistic approach to life and one that leads to the entitlement mentality. I believe it is dangerous and threatens the values we have long aspired to such as to act with integrity and develop a strong work ethic.

Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He blogs at: http://www.ethicssage.com.

Minimum Wage Dispute?

Minimum Wage Dispute?

Classic economics would suggest that raising the minimum wage will kill hiring. I had my basic economics class in 1974 and the book set up a graph showing virtual mathematical certainty that increased wages meant decreased hiring.

Classic economics deals with wages, prices and employment as if they are some kind of “natural forces” like wind and rain. When I was 18 and 19, that kind of thing was persuasive. The young like certainty. And today, many both young and old find the certainty of that kind of free market fundamentalism very attractive. The Utopian vision of the invisible hand dispensing economic justice to the deserving and undeserving is a kind of pre-final judgment. An invisible but very equitable economic deity is the kind of idea that only someone desperate for simple solutions to complex problems can find believable.

There is nothing natural about an economic system. It is made up of fallible human beings. Everything about it is artificial, human created.

Let’s examine the economics in regard to Seattle’s minimum wage increase. This is from Huffpost Business:

Basic economic theory suggests that when you increase the price of something, demand decreases. In minimum wage terms, that would mean when it’s more expensive to hire people, businesses won’t hire as many people. But in practice, the research doesn’t bear that out. Studies show that small minimum wage increases don’t affect employment that much. 

Adam Ozimek, an economist at Moody’s Analytics and a frequent economics blogger, wrote Monday about some of the initial results out of Seattle, which started phasing in a $15 minimum wage in 2015. Very early results seemed to indicate that the higher minimum wage, which is only $13 as of Jan. 1, 2016, led to people losing their jobs. But more recent revisions to the local data more or less erase that dip.

“So far there haven’t been any smoking guns” to prove that higher minimum wages kill jobs, Ozimek wrote. 

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Minimum Wage Dispute?

This should simply not be possible. Under classic economics, there is no dispute. Higher wages produce job loss and reduced hiring. Yet, here the numbers do not show that.

I want you to remember this very clearly. Classic economics does not in practice seem to work. And we have been using the rules of classic economics for decades. What price have we paid for this “science” and its predictions?

I think the price has been enormous. I believe that millions of Americans are paid less, our economy smaller and financialization adopted as a national policy based on the predictions of classic economics.

It’s time for second look. The data from the Seattle minimum wage demonstrate serious weaknesses in the theories of classical economics.

James Pilant

Our Incompetent Pundits

Our Incompetent Pundits

This week Peggy Noonan decided based on her math skills that there are sixteen million jihadist sympathizers and 1.6 million actual jihadists out there stalking us. A reader who took this stuff seriously could be excused if that locked themselves in an interior room and refused to come out. Fortunately for all of us, the actual number of terrorists depending on which estimate you use range from less than a hundred thousand to almost two hundred thousand.

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Our Incompetent Pundits

So, it seems to me that those recalcitrant students of mine who refuse to do Internet searches to verify their data have a future writing for the Wall Street Journal.

This wouldn’t be so bad if this kind of nonsense didn’t have legs. I promise I’m going to run into someone blogging or commenting on Facebook who are going to be talking about these bogus numbers. It’ll run something like this –

“How dare you talk about good and kind followers of Islam in your blogs? There are one point six million jihadists out to kill us – KILL US – Don’t you get it! We are in a war for survival here. A terrorism expert writing for the Wall Street Journal said that as many as 160,000,000 Muslims want us dead.”

Peggy Noonan gets paid a lot of money to write this nonsense, and it is an excellent example of the intellectual bankruptcy of our pundit class.

But why stop there! Let’s quote another famous pundit saying something bizarre –

This is a wonderful moment to be a conservative. For decades now the Republican Party has been groaning under the Reagan orthodoxy, which was right for the 1980s but has become increasingly obsolete. The Reagan worldview was based on the idea that a rising economic tide would lift all boats. But that’s clearly no longer true.

A wonderful time! That’s right. Donald Trump is highly likely to be the nominee of the Republican Party for President of the United States and could very well win. But these are wonderful times.

You might ask where David Brooks is going with this. Oh, please ask. You see, our friend, Mr. Brooks, has been reading Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (I’ve read the book myself and still own a copy.) Brooks believes based on his understanding of the book that conservatives are on the verge of a new paradigm generated by their failure to deal successfully with Donald Trump and the issues he has raised.

I suppose you could argue that something positive will come out of the Trump candidacy and its collision with Republican orthodoxy but the idea that a sunny new paradigm will result is Pollyanna on massive steroids.

Brooks would likely be right if the Republican Party and conservatism were some kind of intellectual community but that hardly defines what we have right now. If I may remind you, modern conservatism is a product of Republican politicians, a vast network of think tanks, campaign consultants, and political action committees, a network of rabid talk radio shows, Fox Television, and a vast number of madder than hell voters. Thomas Kuhn would have never considered this bizarre grouping a community of scholars like he was describing in his book. I don’t either.

And what happens now to conservatism and the Republican Party is certainly not predictable. Political parties can become more expansive, more insular or just die. I don’t know what is going to happen but I can’t see this as a sunny time to be a conservative.

This appears to me to be a blatant misapplication of a Kuhn’s ideas to an irrelevant situation. So, here we have once again a pundit in over his head

He might do better to remember the example of revolutionary France. In 1789, members of the new republican government believed they were on the verge of a new world of human reason and justice. In 1804, Napoleon is the Emperor of France. Politics is more than just ideas.

Noonan and Brooks are supposed to be the great intellectual arbiters of our age based on their status and placement.

Right now we need real intellectual depth, not made up fearmongering statistics and half read books.

There are several hundred million Americans. A lot of them write. Many have written for years. Can’t the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal find some or is this just the kind of nonsense they want to see propagated?

James Pilant

NFL Research Flawed

NFL Research Flawed

From the New York Times Article entitled – In N.F.L., Deeply Flawed Concussion Research and Ties to Big Tobacco

For the last 13 years, the N.F.L. has stood by the research, which, the papers stated, was based on a full accounting of all concussions diagnosed by team physicians from 1996 through 2001. But confidential data obtained by The Times shows that more than 100 diagnosed concussions were omitted from the studies — including some severe injuries to stars like quarterbacks Steve Young and Troy Aikman. The committee then calculated the rates of concussions using the incomplete data, making them appear less frequent than they actually were.

Since the beginning of the American colonization, tobacco has been a powerful business. Because of tobacco’s addictive qualities profits were assured and these were not small profits, the tobacco industry made several trillion dollars over the past two centuries.

In the latter half of the 20th century, it became evident that tobacco use was dangerous to both the user and anyone exposed to the second hand smoke. Yet, in spite of the clear weight of the evidence, the industry was able to stall regulation for decades. It did this by a powerful public relations campaign designed to cast doubt on the science. It created studies and paid “scientists” to write a counter narrative. These delaying tactics made the industry many billions of dollars of profits and enabled them to buy up profitable businesses while moving much of their tobacco sales overseas.

Here we see the Tobacco industry playbook in use once again.  Often using the very same people that enabled the tobacco industry to stall and confuse the science, the NFL created a set of self serving studies that downplayed the dangers of concussion.

Like the tobacco industry, the NFL bought time, in this case, 13 years to continue to rake in the money as if nothing was happening. The human cost will never be fully calculated.

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NFL Research Flawed

Here, the NFL will have to diverge from the tobacco industry strategy. Tobacco tended to kill long term users who tended to be from the lower economic classes and they died quietly and painfully but generally outside the glare of publicity. Former NFL players do not perish quietly and their heartbreaking stories of brain damage find a ready market in a celebrity obsessed culture like ours.

So, the NFL is going to change. How? Presumably to something more low impact? I don’t know but it is going to change.

James Pilant

Self Regulation in 1819

Self Regulation in 1819

Labeling poison as, well, poison, might strike you as an obvious social good. That wasn’t always so obvious as the selection below indicates –

Stratmann’s portrait of the age of arsenic (by far the most frequently used poison) is more than a string of grisly tales, and more relevant to our age than you might think. Two hundred years ago, lethal substances were readily available in a way that now seems utterly perverse. Arsenic was used widely in medicine, agriculture, industry and the home. It was employed to dip sheep, kill rats, anoint fly papers, and could be purchased in powdered form from grocers, no questions asked. In 1819 a bill was introduced that would have made the labelling of deadly poisons compulsory, but it was opposed by the Society of Chemists and Druggists as potentially damaging to their business. It never passed.

From http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/18/poison-arsenic-gun-control-crime

Has it always been this way and will it always be this way? Every attempt to do the most obvious necessary thing that might conceivably cost a business man money will be opposed by trade organizations, corporations, chambers of commerce and laissez faire conservative of all stripes regardless?

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Self Regulation in 1819

Yes, the dollar always has a constituency and never lacks for friends. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrong, the dollar will still scream out in pain and let us all know of its suffering.

But we have a responsibility too. The dollar has friends but so does humanity. Humankind is not always valued as much as money but should be and if money always has friends the some brave souls will have to volunteer to stand up for all of us and sometimes the least of us.

James Pilant