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The Sugar Industry Follies

The Sugar Industry Follies

I was reading an article from the web site, The Week, entitled: How sugar became Public Enemy No. 1.

The Sugar Industry Follies

The article tells a story of an industry that shapes our diets with its products and its advertising. A couple of decades ago this industry had a factual problem, that is, sugar makes you fat and you should probably avoid it in almost all eating. According the staff at The Week, the sugar industry decided to create research indicating that fat was the real culprit and then induced the federal government to get on the scent like a bewildered blood hound chasing the wrong villain and launch a nation wide campaign against fat that had no discernable affect on Americans’ weight.

Here’s an excerpt:

The industry launched an aggressive advertising campaign in the 1970s to convince Americans that sugar actually helps you lose weight by suppressing the appetite. “Sugar can be the willpower you need to undereat,” one ad asserted; another recommended eating a cookie before lunch each day. That campaign, combined with work by the Harvard researchers, helped muddy the scientific waters enough to keep dietary sugar guidelines vague. The American Heart Association approved of added sugar as part of a healthy diet, and millions of Americans embraced low-fat, high-sugar diets. Consumption of added sugars soared 30 percent between 1977 and 2010. It’s no coincidence, many nutritionists say, that obesity rates more than doubled over that same period.

If the article is true and I believe it to be, then the industry and the federal campaign it inspired resulted in Americans gaining weight.

This is what I call “negative business ethics.” You do the wrong thing with planning, skill and certainty in execution and you make bundles of money. It’s the kind of immoral lesson conveyed almost incessantly in the business press and much of the media. Yes, the industry did a bad thing but its leadership got multi-million dollar retirements and get to choose among multiple homes how to spend their lives. Their influence in government is immense and people flock to work for them.

Yes, they behaved badly and their actions diminished the lives of millions of Americans and almost certainly led to many deaths but what’s a few Americans compared to the wonders of the free market in action? After all, there is no apparent illegality in misleading the government as to the cause of obesity and, of course, you can always pretend like global warming deniers that the science is still up in the air.

Where is justice in this case? There is none. And businessmen and business schools will absorb the lesson of this. And the lesson is that if you make a product that should or is regulated, you can finance some studies, contribute to some politicians and maybe even get the government to act on your behalf and not only can you evade regulation – you can increase your market share.

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

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