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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

BIG U.S. BUSINESS FLUNKS ETHICS AND MORALITY

"I know of no other country where love of money has such a grip on men's hearts or where stronger scorn is expressed for the theory of permanent equality of property."
- Alexis de Tocqueville -

"Every evil, harm and suffering in this life comes from the love of riches."
- Catherine of Siena -



Tell me something new, you say. It's no secret. Big American business flunks ethics and morality. It is obsessed with short-term profit and will engage in any practice to obtain or maintain it. One man's (or corporation's) pursuit of happiness is, more often than not, his (its) workers' and even community's end result of misery. Examples of this abound: the recent minimg disaster at Massey Energy Co. in West Virginia which claimed 29 lives, and in which the company had been fined more than $382,000 last year for numerous repeated safety violations; the way our health insurers exclude millions from coverage and routinely remove others from their rolls at will, (even lying to the public to prevent any real competition from weakening their stranglehold on the market), and the way thousands of other companies have systematically moved millions of good-paying American jobs to cheap, overseas slave labor markets. American corporations repeatedly pollute our air and water, often fighting any attempt to prevent or clean up such pollution. It has been going on for years, so why stop now?

We like to think of ourselves as an educated and civilized people. Our common mythology professes that the reason we have become such a strong and prosperous nation is that we had unparalleled freedom to pursue our economic goals and are a nation built on individuality and entrepreneurial zeal. You may note that a moment ago I used the word mythology. This word is entirely accurate, because many of our common assumptions concerning our economic growth are in fact based on misconceptions. Many free market zealots today conveniently overlook the fact that, in the late 1500s when settlers first arrived here from Europe, they landed on a huge territory of virtually untapped resources. Our forgetful free marketers also never mention the fact that these early settlers eventually butchered entire nations of indigenous Native American peoples, stealing their land and resources in the process. As for our vaunted individuality, this country was not built by a population of individual supermen or through big business action. This nation was built COLLECTIVELY, by groups of individual citizens banding TOGETHER, in COMMUNAL effort, to develop land, and build barns, churches, homes, and businesses. None of that individualistic every-man-for-himself stuff. People shared meager resources as well as family and community joys and sorrows. Free market enthusiasts want little or no government regulation in the marketplace. They claim that the market itself will correct itself and not go out of control. But that has not been the case. The small businessperson, the average worker, and the poor all need government to protect them from the invariable excesses foisted on them by big business and concentrated capital. Yet free market advocates still defend and support an unhindered marketplace, regardless of the large numbers of unnecessary victims it can and does create.

Today, much of that prior communal togetherness and camaraderie no longer exists here. Our people are, by and large, fairly well educated and have had a rich and varied array of past experiences to learn from regarding economics and foreign affairs. I asked myself, "how then is it that we are again having market speculators make many of the same kinds of mistakes which led to the Great Depression? How, after the debacle of the 1920s and the failure of repeated tax cuts for the rich to create prosperity across the board, do we continue to pursue such ridiculous policies?" The answer, of course, is that we have become addicted to individuality and individual profit. In the process of being swallowed by this addiction, we have created a tiny, vastly wealthy economic elite, and the widest disparity of income in the history of the world. I asked myself, "ARE we as educated as we seem to think we are?" How can we be continuaslly producing yuppies and businesspersons whose actions are self-serving and basically harm our society? Why are we producing droves of corporatists and CEOs with no thought about society's well being? I went looking for answers.


I Googled "Top 10 American business schools." I wanted to find out what business majors were actually learning at our supposedly best business schools. Harvard was ranked # 1 in a newly-released listing by U.S. News and World Report. I looked at their curiculum. I saw all the expected courses for an MBA seeker: Accounting, Business Management, Business Law, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Marketing, etc., etc. But I saw only ONE course dealing with ethics, which was titled "The Moral Leader." There were a couple other courses which seemed to hint at social responsibility by business, but with titles like "The Strategic Value of Corporate Social Responsibility" and "Business at the Base of the Pyramid", it certainly appeared that these were of more an exploitative rather than corrective or ethical bent.


My next stop was the # 2 school, Stanford. I saw more of the same here, plus an emphasis on Global Marketing. There was also a limited, ELECTIVE section called "Public Management" which included a course on "Strategic Issues in Philanthropy" and "Environmental Science for Managers and Policy Makers." Very little else that I could see in the area of corporate good citizenship or social responsibility, though.


# 3 on the list was MIT (Sloan). Try as I might, I could locate very little on curriculum specifics online, and nothing at all in the area of social responsibility or business morality.


Having drawn basically a blank so far, I skipped down to #8, the Columbia Business School. Call me stupid, but I was unable to find specific course offerings for their MBA program that had anything even remotely related to ethics and such. I was very disappointed to find only very limited attention paid toward developing a responsible corporate conscience in 4 of our nation's top 10 business schools!

Given the all-out war that big banks and corporate America are now waging on our country's workers and poor, it is shameful to see our top learning institutions failing to instill a moral consciousness and some degree of social responsibility in our future leaders of business and finance. Perhaps ethics and morality courses are featured more in undergraduate programs, but in the graduate degree MBA programs they are all but nonexistent. The economic status quo we have today is immoral and unjust. The transferring of wealth from the shrinking middle class and the poor to the very richest is unsustainable and must stop. But this won't happen until more of our businesspersons develop some clear and fairer thinking and stop being stamped out of our schools as corporate stooges.

I urgently call on all of our business schools and colleges to begin developing some humane and ethical thinking in their students. Failure to do so will ensure that big U.S. business will always flunk ethics and morality. And that cannot be allowed to happen!

13 comments:

mud_rake said...

You ought to know by now, Jack, that a sentence ought not contain both 'big Business' and 'ethics' because the reader will expect a punch-line.

Jack Jodell said...

That's kind of my point, mud_rake. It IS a joke the way we're pumping out corporate stooges, all without conscience and all obsessed only with attaining their own wealth. A new mindset needs to emerge, and the seeds for this mindset should be planted at the school level.

amadmike1 said...

Yup! Big business(ethics)=outhouse (lots of crap)=Republicans....etc. etc.

Manifesto Joe said...

I only took a couple of business administration courses in college, but I have a vivid memory of something from "business communications." I had been carrying an A average up until the finals. That week, I turned in a paper and took the final exam.

I got a B in the course.

As though to explain why, the professor actually approached me with a sad look and said to me. "I really thought you were with us." She was gone before I could ask her, "With you on what?"

Jack Jodell said...

madmike1,
That's about the score, for sure, and it's terrible.
---------------
Manifesto Joe,
Your story sounds familiar. In college, very briefly, I had considered a major in business. But that fantasy didn't last long, and I'm glad. I had an Accounting prof who "cured" me. He was so materialistic, anti-labor, and full of himself I couldn't stand him. He insisted we all subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, which I hated even back then. The guy looked like Alfred E Newman (but with coke bottle glasses) and kept bragging about all his possessions. I thought, "hey pal, if you're such a hotshot and have all the answers, what the hell are you doing teaching here at a two-year community college?" Needless to say, I very quickly changed my fields of study to History and Poly Sci, and I'm glad.

Beach Bum said...

Given the offhand comments I have heard some of my wife's colleagues make the study of ethics is also lacking for attorneys. Some are positively Machiavellian.

Jack Jodell said...

Beach Bum,
Interesting you should say that. I always thought the study of ethics was an integral part of getting a law degree. Of course, there are undoubtedly many who consciously choose to ignore ethics. As for being Machiavellian, those are the conservative Republican ones, right? :-)

Lisa G. said...

Jack,
You have to understand that only the wealthiest of the wealthy can afford to send their kids to these schools. How did their parents get wealthy in the first place? Two ways 1)old money or being the very jackholes that exist in the corporate world right now and screwing the little people.

Jack Jodell said...

Lisa G,
What you say is very true, although a small number of students can and do gain entrance to Ivy League schools via scholarships awarded due to academic excellence. But remember, these schools pump out the leaders in fields of business and finance and therefore are representative of the mores being set for business from the very top. That's why I focused on the top 10 schools.

TomCat said...

Jack, as always you have put together a superior article, well researched, reasoned and organized. From graduates that I know, I think most of our better universities do a credible job at teaching ethics to undergraduates. Perhaps the problem is that when a young executive transitions from academia to the corporate world he/she quickly learns that the ethics learned at school conflict with any ambition they may have. I'm sure that some remain true to their ethics. These invariably end up pushing papers in cubicles. If they are lucky, they might learn enough to become whistle blowers. But only those who are willing to act boldly and unethically will rise to the top in US Corporate culture. Perhaps it is not so much what is taught as it is what is rewarded.

Jack Jodell said...

TomCat,
Your very last sentence says it all, and that is why I have been a lifelong critic of corporations and their mindset, and why I will continue to be. In their lust for quick and easy profit at any and all costs, they behave as virulently malignant cells, posing a deadly threat to our body economic and body politic.

Beach Bum said...

As for being Machiavellian, those are the conservative Republican ones, right? :-)

This might be giving to much information away but most of the attorneys I know working with the state government here are card carrying conservatives who have a strong "will to power" if you get my drift.

As for the rare and endangered Democratic-leaning attorney I am sure they still exist but sightings have fallen to the point that I know none although my wife does not take me out in public anymore. The Che Guevara T-shirt I wear is a fashion no-no.

TomCat said...

Thanks, Jack. Of course, I agree. Inhuman corporations do NOT rate human rights. Money does NOT equal speech.