Pilant's Business Ethics

Business Ethics Blog

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The Real Continuity Edition

The Real Continuity Edition

The brief selection below is from an article by Zach Carter from the Huffington Post called: Wall Street Is Even More Craven Than We Thought and sub titled: The new alliance between financial executives and Donald Trump.

Democrats used to see Jamie Dimon as one of the good guys on Wall Street. Once hailed as a “progressive” by The New Republic, the JPMorgan Chase CEO counted himself friends with two different chiefs of staff to President Barack Obama and traveled to the first black White House no less than 16 times. In 2009, The New York Times described him as “Obama’s favorite banker.” He has publicly supported same-sex marriage and the legalization of undocumented immigrants.

Dimon gave hundreds of thousands to Democratic Party candidates, the party itself, and even the Center for American Progress, a think tank advancing the ideas of Bill Clinton and Obama.

But there was Dimon on Friday, sitting at a table surrounded by other wealthy corporate executives, being praised by President Donald Trump ― a man who publicly supports war crimes and is already flirting with a constitutional crisis as he implements a campaign promise to impose “a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

In my case, the title is wrong, I was under no illusion that the giant investment banks had any limit on their willingness to cut deals with anyone, anywhere, anytime. The only difference is that they were already part of the new government if it had been Hilary and now have to scramble. I find it hard to sympathize with their plight.

!!!i_00i_009_tnBut this is the American way of banking. Homeowners may be cheated out of their possessions, economies crashed, strange overseas deals and money laundering take place and yet, the American Investment banks dwell at the heart of our government shaping laws and policies. It’s like Mom and Apple Pie, if Mom and Apple Pie were immoral cancers eating out the heart of our democracy.

Let me point out that many of these Investment banks have pleaded the equivalent of no contest to charges that would put a normal human being like you or I in prison for millions and millions of years. Yet, there they are at the heart of our government cutting a new set of deals making the world safe for financial speculation of the American kind.

If Obama had pursued criminal prosecutions against the banks in the aftermath of the financial disaster of 2007, their political power might very well have been broken as they were in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Instead for many years to come they will play politicians against each other like chess pieces on a board while preying on the poor and the middle class. Obama’s failure to pursue justice against the malefactors who came within an ace of destroying our economy is his greatest failure.

The “What Now?” Edition

The “What Now?” Edition

And so we arrive at the end of the Barack Obama administration by my account and that of objective reality – a business ethics disaster. The villains who almost destroyed the world economy found not justice but money and friendship in the Obama Administration. The financial criminals who did so much to destroy the fabric and any sense of honor in this society walk the streets as free men and, in fact, take their places at the highest levels of government in our new administration. Barack Obama failed at one of the most critical duties of the President of the United States. He failed to bring evil men to justice.

And now some of those same evil men will be making policy in the new administration. That was easily predictable.

I refused to support Hilary Clinton because many of those same bankers were part of her campaign and would have been part of her administration. When given the opportunity to speak to the criminal scum that endangered our society and have destroyed the economic lives of millions – this was her approach:

Far from chiding Goldman Sachs for obstructing Democratic proposals for financial reform, Clinton appeared to sympathize with the giant investment bank. At a Goldman Sachs Alternative Investments Symposium in October 2013, Clinton almost apologized for the Dodd-Frank reform bill, explaining that it had to pass “for political reasons,” because “if you were an elected member of Congress and people in your constituency were losing jobs and shutting businesses and everybody in the press is saying it’s all the fault of Wall Street, you can’t sit idly by and do nothing.”

Of course, she tried to keep this boot licking approach secret by refusing to release the transcripts of the speeches. In the foolishly moral like me, it would seem speaking in secret with a message of government servitude to the banking industry while saying something different to us would be wrong but her lack of ethics and morality were apparent to only people like me. There were many that were willing to overlook this kind of behavior on the grounds that the other guy was worse. I decline to do so. And I made the right decision. This administration will be terrible but the kind of sustained think tank, contributor controlled, Democratic Leadership Council inspired oligarchy, could have continued for decades. She could very well have made this Neo-liberal monstrosity a permanent part of our institutions.

I do not think it is irrational behavior on my part to wait for a candidate who is willing to enforce the law against the banking industry. I do not think that expecting a President to defend the nation from those whose financial excesses endanger the common good and the economic lives of millions should be surprising or outside the bounds of our politics.

So what now, am I willing to hold Donald Trump to the same standards I expected of Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton? Yes I will. I do admit there is a level of strangeness in the new President that I find daunting. Let me explain.

I have taught for many years and I have my students write essays. A good portion choose to do no research before writing, not even the most casual internet browse. And it’s like talking to your neighbor over the offense or in the bar with a fellow drinker. They just write their gut feelings which are very often just ill conceived nonsense. And that is the sense I get from President Trump. Further, I sense no intellectual depth at all. His behavior is almost primal.

People often want to put me in some kind of ideological box. I am supposed to be a liberal or a progressive or something. People are astonished at my criticisms of Obama because “Well, isn’t he your president?” He was President of the United States and I voted for him the first time and refused to vote for him the second time. In my mind, following the party line is wrong whether it is that of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party or any other party. I am a passionate advocate for women’s equality and I have come to a point where I consider racism such despicable nonsense that those espousing it are no longer in my judgment ladies or gentlemen.

I have no illusions that the stranglehold of contributors on the Democratic Party establishment will be broken or that the Republicans will find a sense of purpose beyond winning and servitude to the wealthy.

I speak for business ethics and that is enough.

James Alan Pilant

The Steven Mintz Edition!

The Steven Mintz Edition!

The Ethics Sage

The Ethics Sage

My friend, Steven Mintz, better known as The Ethics Sage, has a beautiful new web site which can be found here. For a good number of years now, Professor Mintz has published a blog on ethics, particularly focusing originally on accounting ethics but broadening his focus as time went by.

He also has a Facebook page which like his new web site is quite beautifully laid out.

https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics

I highly recommend his work and he is a prolific author. So there is a lot to see and read.

So visit, share and add to your favorites!

James Pilant

This is Steven’s self introduction from his new web site –

Known as “The Ethics Sage” to many, Dr. Steven Mintz is a well-known Professor Emeritus from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. His blog, The Ethics Sage, was voted number 49 out of the Top 100 Philosophy blogs and one of the top 30 blogs on CSR. Steve provides insights on workplace issues with his blog “Workplace Ethics Advice.” He has written articles for various media outlets including the Pacific Coast Business Times, Chronicle of Higher Education and The Magazine of Corporate Responsibility’s Business Ethics Online. Dr. Mintz is an ethics expert and available to speak on a variety of ethics issues including workplace ethics. . He offers courses on accounting and workplace ethics through “Geniecast.” 

Dangerous Neoliberalism Edition

Dangerous Neoliberalism Edition

Sometimes you find a paragraph that says what you would like to say brilliantly and this is one of those paragraphs.

Many times I’ve tried to explain the impact of free market fundamentalism, Hayek, Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, all of whose combined effect might well be summed up by the word, neoliberalism.

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Dangerous Neoliberalism Edition

I strongly agree and endorse the following statement from George Monbiot in his essay from The GuardianNeoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems.

“Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.”

I think Donald Trump is President now due in part to feelings of powerlessness on the part of the middle class due to their loss of economic and political power — and much more due to Hilary Clinton’s embrace of this maniacal philosophy more worthy of a James Bond Villain than someone wanting to be the leader of a free people.

James Pilant

The Globalisation Collapse Edition

The Globalisation Collapse Edition

It has only been a few days since Donald Trump saved a thousand jobs or so at Carrier, a company that makes air conditioners and other appliances. I have heard a great deal of criticism directed at the deal but I cannot agree.

It’s just a thousand jobs!

Oh, the criticism is generally quite correct. It’s just a thousand jobs they say and to many like Paul Krugman, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Apparently the damage done to the surrounding community is just collateral damage. There is this assumption that the forces destroying American jobs, American communities and American lives are caused by natural economic forces and simply are a matter of time. This is nonsense. Virtually every aspect of economics is either man-made or a set of policy decisions made by human beings.

The simple fact is those jobs could have been moved to Mexico at any point during the modern era to workers making a fraction of their American brethren. Why didn’t it? Because the belief system that money was a value that trumped patriotism and national borders had not yet taken root and put into policy. The current philosophy of business is that of predators and prey and it is unworthy of America and Americans.

Yeah, Trump’s agreement is a bad deal. It sets a bad precedent. And yet there are a thousand jobs that aren’t going to Mexico. Which part is history going to remember, that this is where the destruction of the American working class might be slowed or even stopped or that is was a bad deal?

i_00i_077_tnAnd that simple fact is very important. It is a gauntlet thrown in the face of classical economics and the neo-liberal elite who are either cheering on or actively participating in the destruction of the American middle class. And it has been a very successful war for their side. There is hardly a middle class job that offers any form of job security or bright future. It has been taken away.

Paul Mason writing for the Guardian suggests that liberal democracies may be on the edge of collapse comparing them to the Soviet Union in 1989. He writes

Since Trump’s victory in November 2016, it has become possible to believe a similar collapse will happen in the west, to globalisation and liberal values.

The parallels are obvious. We too have lived for 30 years under an economic system that proclaimed its own permanence. Globalisation was an unstoppable natural process; free-market economics simply the natural state of things.

But when the country that designed globalisation, imposed it and benefited from it most votes against it, you have to consider the possibility that it is going to end, and suddenly. If so, you also have to consider a possibility that – if you are a liberal, humanist democrat – may be even more shocking: that oligarchic nationalism is the default form of failing economies.

The values of lifetime employment, job security, regular hours, pension and medical insurance are doable policy. They are the policies of good people who take their responsibility to their fellow citizens, their fellow human beings seriously.

And that is business ethics, not a careful examination of the narrow subject of shrinkage on the job although that has its place. If we don’t talk about this subject from a moralistic global perspective we are always going to be losing to the amoral scum who assume the Easter Bunny like chimera of the free market will justify their evil.

James Pilant

Industrial Policy Edition

The Industrial Policy Edition

I was reading an article in Internet Magazine, The Week, by Jeff Spross (one of my very favorite writers),  entitled “Donald Trump is already picking winners and losers in business. Good,” when I realized I had found a very pointed comment regarding business ethics.i_00i_281_tn

You see we live in the age of the Chicago School of Economics, a school the school itself would argue is devoted to free men, free choice and the free market. And I would argue is devoted to the destruction of every human value not directly priceable in dollars.

One of their beliefs is that if a company wants to move American jobs overseas, that is just ducky, more power to them. Spross argues in favor of industrial policy, (the same position I take and here is a brief selection from his article directly on this point. –

First off, politics is still politics. So industrial policy still happens, but just on a “pork barrel” basis, changing from industry to industry and locality to locality. Mainstream economic skepticism didn’t kill off industrial policy, it just made it scattershot and incoherent.

It also made industrial policy far more pro-corporate. The U.S. government could use the sticks of higher taxes, tariffs, and regulation, or even the brute force of its own spending power to build up certain industries. But mainstream economics pooh-poohs this approach. So instead industrial policy defaults to carrots: tax breaks and de-regulation that entice businesses to put jobs and investments in certain places. That drives up inequality, makes it harder to pay for social programs, and gives those businesses more freedom to exploit the public. This practice is especially rife at the state level, where governments routinely offer tax breaks and such for companies to relocate within their own borders.

But mainly, skepticism of industrial policy created a world where many Americans feel like the government’s attitude toward their lives, families, and towns is benign neglect. And of course, once we abandoned industrial policy, GDP growth still slowed down, wages stagnated, unemployment became a much bigger problem, and small towns and the countryside began to die economically.

All of which is a big part of why Trump won.

For the last thirty years business and industry have united to move jobs overseas justified by an economic school of belief which thinks it has moved beyond such petty ideas as those of good and evil. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, communities have become impoverished and the resultant concentration of economic power in the hand of the few has perverted our government.

This is evil.

We have a responsibility under Western Civilization, as fellow citizens and human beings to look after one another. We are not atoms bouncing about and only free when self interested. Life has responsibilities beyond economic predatorship.

Please think about these things. The idea that everything has its price is an easy mode of analysis that seems to make sense but do I even need to explain that subtlety, nuance, morality and ethics have their place as well?

James Pilant

The Universal Basic Income Edition

The Universal Basic Income Edition

i_286My good friend, Jason Michael McCann, has taken on this difficult topic and says this on his blog, The Random Public Journal

A Universal Basic Income is in the pipeline for a trial in Fife. People, regardless of how much they earn, will get an annual basic sum in cash to spend as they please. Experiments over the past forty years have shown that it works. Lucky Fife.

We’re all getting poorer. As it is the economy pretty much everywhere is structured in a way that benefits a tiny minority of the global population, leaving the rest of us to work for a living with stagnant wages in an environment where the cost of living is rising. What was once the dream of science fiction is increasingly becoming reality; smart technology is doing more of the jobs we used to do, giving people free time they can ill afford. Employers are selling the idea that flexi-time and zero-hours contracts suit workers better because these arrangements give us the free time we have always wanted, but there’s a catch – we have less money to spend.

Governments don’t want to broadcast the fact that the majority of people receiving state benefits are the underemployed and the underpaid – the working poor. This trend towards weaker employment contracts, fewer hours, de-unionisation, and lower pay has been developing for a few decades, and right now, all around the developed world, we are reaching crisis point. Here in Scotland this shift in the economy has put an unbearable weight on the welfare system. It is exactly the same story in England and Wales, and the Westminster government knows that it can’t go on blaming the victims for much longer. We have cottoned on to the massive wealth transfer from the bottom to the top, and we’re not going to let them off with it for much longer. Something has to give.

Now, of course, there is more from Jason but I don’t want to spoil your surprise and delight when you visit his web site for the rest.

What does this have to do with business ethics? Unfortunately what is ethical depends in part on circumstances. What is fair pay? What is a fair return for labor? If we are entering a time in which labor is almost valueless and our economy is job based, how are people to make a living and how is economy supposed to function? Is this a solution?

I don’t know. What I have seen is interesting and something along these lines may become necessary. It is obvious to me although not to too many others that modern capitalism is in crisis and perhaps even close to collapse or, more likely, reconceptualization. (Did I just invent a word??) Again, it is obvious to me that free market fundamentalism is based on flawed and nonsensical assumptions. So, reality is busily destroying the modern assumptions of globalization and international elites, and currently there is nothing to replace the current set of beliefs.

James Pilant

The Exploding Washer Edition

The Exploding Washer Edition

Let’s say you make a product, a relatively small item that explodes with such force that airlines are forced to ban them. Of course, this is hypothetical, because, I mean, only a Bond Villain would manufacture millions of exploding for an unsuspecting population, right?

Anyway, our utterly hypothetical company also makes washing machines! Isn’t that cool and they share a common characteristic with the aforementioned hypothetical cell phones – they sometimes explode. So, exploding washers and exploding cell phones – all from the same manufacturer.

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The Exploding Washer Edition

From BBC news

The firm also faces a suit from a US law firm which alleges that some of its “top-loading washing machines explode in owners’ homes,” leading to potential injury or damage, according to attorney Jason Lichtman.

“Users have reported Samsung top-load washers exploding as early as the day of installation, while other owners have seen their machines explode months or even more than a year after purchase,” the firm said in a statement.

It’s nice to know that if you are going to make mistakes, you might as well make a lot of them and endanger as many consumers as possible.

What’s the business ethics here? Well, most product problems revolve around issues of not working and not being a good value for the money. This is a taking a product defect to the next level, active danger – that is, they explode. I wondered why they didn’t pick this up in testing but discovered that according to Samsung, the real culprit is outside heat. And I understand totally, the idea that people would use cell phones where is was hot was totally unexpected. Obviously people who live near the equator, in tropical countries or in temperate locales experiencing heat waves should know better than to use electronics. For goodness sakes, if you live where it’s hot, get a land line or talk to people face to face.

And obviously, no cell phone is ever kept in a pocket or hot car. So, it’s all the consumer’s fault, just like the washing machines. You see as long as you don’t wash anything heavy in the washing machines, they’re fine but run a comforter or some other heavy object, and they can overheat and malfunction, sometimes exploding. So, Samsung has nothing to worry about and those tiny fragments of shrapnel are probably figments of your imagination.

Good Luck!!

James Pilant

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The Judge Robin Camp Edition

The Judge Robin Camp Edition

Is what Judge Robin Camp did forgivable?

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The Judge Robin Camp Edition

Business ethics suffers by comparison with judicial ethics. Judicial ethics has actual legally enforceable rules. Business ethics floats in a sea of belief systems where morality may or may not exist and the laws are often ignored.

That doesn’t mean that judges don’t make ethical mistakes. It just means that we have a much better idea of when a violation takes place and the significance of that violation.

Should we incorporate a code of business ethics into the law? The “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” are in a way a standard of business ethics applicable from the law but the interpretation and application of this standard vary widely in how binding these standards are.

Today, we deal with an alleged ethics violation by a Judge Robin Cook and it is from the Canadian judiciary rather than the American. Nevertheless, it is very relevant because the mistakes he made has been heard in American courts as well.

Sex and Pain sometimes go together?

From MACLEANS

In June 2014, Camp took on the second sexual assault trial of his career, that of Alexander Scott Wagar, a homeless man accused of sexually assaulting a homeless 19-year-old Cree woman at a party, atop a washroom sink. When interrogating the complainant, Camp asked, “Why didn’t you just keep your knees together?” and “Why didn’t you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn’t penetrate you?” Elsewhere in the trial, he remarked that “sex and pain sometimes go together… not necessarily a bad thing.” He appeared to question Canada’s rape laws, and he urged the accused male to tell his friends they have to be “more gentle” and patient with women, to “protect themselves.”

After Camp acquitted Wagar, the Alberta Court of Appeal last fall ordered a retrial, writing that the judge’s decision suggests he misunderstood aspects of sexual assault law and bought into discredited sexual stereotypes and myths. He’s not the first judge to provoke outrage once his conduct was revealed. But in the world of judicial tenure and near-untouchability, he’s the first federally appointed judge whose mishandling of a sexual assault trial has placed his job on the line.

Amid Camp’s time-out from Federal Court hearings, he received personal mentoring and counselling from a leading judge, a feminist law professor and a psychologist expert in gender biases and the judiciary. All three women testified Camp earnestly strived to root out his unconscious biases and become self-vigilant. “I wish every judge could have an education as good as that, and I wish they could make it before they make a mistake like the one that Justice Camp made,” says Emma Cunliffe, a University of British Columbia law professor.

What is the significance of all this?

Whether or not he will be removed has not yet been decided but this is an important development. The fact that he is in danger of removal for remarks that would not have been considered out of the ordinary a generation ago is significant. Change in our views of rape as a crime have been happening with some rapidity over the past twenty years and I think for the better. In my mind, rape is a criminal violation not something women invite.

I’ve written many times that business ethics are a sub-set of a society’s larger ethics and if I am right in this, an improvement in our understanding of crime and women’s rights are both changes in the larger ethics environment that will have visible reflections in business ethics in time.

Change is not always positive. Nor can it be guaranteed that changes will remain in place. The struggle for morality and ethics is constant and never-ending. There are no permanent victories.

This is a small step in the right direction.

James Pilant

The Emily Yoffe Edition

The Emily Yoffe Edition

i_00i_248_tnWhat’s good business ethics? There are a lot of ways to talk about business ethics but let’s simplify. When you buy something, take it home and it works perfectly right out of the box, you are experiencing a form of good business ethics. Unfortunately not all products come in neat boxes or can be unpackaged in a physical way.

Such is writing. We absorb a lot of writing every day. I read at least two hours every day and on most days a lot more.

This morning there was a lot of amazing things on the web. I spent close to thirty minutes reading about the Guardian’s expose on the John Doe investigation in Wisconsin. And there was a lot more. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume and power of the business ethics issues presented today.

And then I came across an article in the online magazine, Slate, “The Woman Who Taught Me Prudence.” 

Here’s a paragraph –

There’s another thing, too. As we were becoming friends, I had just become a mother and was still trying to figure out how to put that together with the vagaries of freelance journalism. One of Marjorie’s great subjects was the intersection for women of family and work—she was writing brilliantly about the dilemma I felt I was figuring out badly. One day, stuck at the veterinarian’s office trying to corral my miscreant beagle and my 3-year-old daughter, a Washington talk show appeared on the waiting-room TV, and there was Marjorie. She looked glamorous and was dropping bon mots, and I felt the sharp sting of jealousy. I hated myself for it, especially since I knew that Marjorie’s success was earned. How well I knew this was demonstrated by the fact that before I undertook any writing of my own, I would read something by Marjorie. Not to copy her voice, but to help me find my own, to be inspired by her tart precision.

This is good writing, very good. Follow my advice and go read the whole thing.

So today, instead of or in addition too, writing about various horrors perpetrated on the American people and this is important. I’m going to let it take a back seat to writing about the glory and wonder of doing it right.

Emily Yoffe wrote well today.

James Pilant

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