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Black Lives Matter, the police, and free speech T-shirts

Those who regularly read my work know that I have next-to-nothing nice to say about Black Lives Matter. It’s a movement based on the lie that all blacks are treated differently by the police and the judicial system solely due…

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Black Lives Matter, the police, and free speech T-shirts

Those who regularly read my work know that I have next-to-nothing nice to say about Black Lives Matter. It’s a movement based on the lie that all blacks are treated differently by the police and the judicial system solely due…

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Continue reading Black Lives Matter, the police, and free speech T-shirts

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Conservative Comedy Friday – 1/29/16

As John McCain would say, “Allahu Akbar It’s Friday!” And of course that means it’s time for some conservative comedy. As I do every Friday, I bring you some of the best conservative political and religious comedy, jokes, and satire…

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Conservative Comedy 1/22/16

As John McCain would say, “Allahu Akbar It’s Friday!” And of course that means it’s time for some conservative comedy. As I do every Friday, I bring you some of the best conservative political and religious comedy, jokes, and satire…

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Why did Walmart close 5 stores for ‘plumbing’ issues? (Must Watch Video)

H/T tomfernandez28’s blog Advertisement 

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Mike Rowe with a warning to high school seniors and their worried parents, and an apology to my kids

Parents like my wife and I… My youngest is 18, just finishing high school, and ready to move on to…what? There was a time not too long ago, I felt that in being an American we had unlimited potential. You could be anything you wanted, providing you were willing to work for it. If you […]

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Wal-Mart and American Business

Gawker ran a letter from a Wal-Mart manager lately, well probably, it’s anonymous, but it fits fairly well with what one can see of the corporation. In fact, he sounds like he is a pretty good manager, doing his best to take care of his people and the corporation as well. That’s never easy. The […]

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Business Ethics Through Rose-Colored Glasses

The claim that the vast majority of business practitioners are good-intentioned, or ethical, is an empirical statement that requires verification. I suspect the claim is factually incorrect. Off the top of my head, two industries come to mind that are likely widely infected by a sordid mentality that is highly unethical–namely, Wall Street’s mega-banks and the hospitality industry  (i.e., hotels and motels). The sheer ease with which managers and employees at the hotel level blatantly lie to customers, or “guests” (a term whose misapplication is enforced by omniscient herd animals and their task-masters working not only in hotels, but also restaurants, such as Golden Coral, and even retail stores, such as Target) never ceases to amaze me. 
 
Dwarfing unethical managers and employees, entire industry-level systems, such as that of rating agencies and that of all-you-can-eat buffets, are intrinsically unethical in their design, by design (i.e., kein Zufall). The typical franchise agreement fails so miserably in terms of the corporation being able (or even willing) to hold a local franchisee/manager accountable for having lied to customers that the arrangement itself can be considered unethical (e.g., violating Rawls’ justice as fairness–to the customer).  
 
Particularly problematic are the institutional conflicts of interest that undergird the design of entire industries, such as that of rating agencies and public accounting firms. We have become so accustomed to the legal-fictions behind the ethically-warped incentives that reside in these designs that we regard the institutional role-conflicts that are so easily-exploited by opportunistic, self-aggrandizing worker-bees and primped managers as necessary evils. What we presume to be necessary is often only mislabeled convenience that can be jettisoned if we as a society are willing to take the candy away from the spoiled children who pretend to be adults (e.g., Richard “tantrum” Fuld, who was both CEO and Chair–another conflict of interest–at Lehman Bros).

                                                                      Richard Fuld, formerly CEO and Chairman at Lehman Brothers.

If we are to seriously confront the epidemic of lying (or not keeping one’s word) to customers [oops, I mean “guests,” who strangely enough must pay for the privilege] and evading formalistic accountability-mechanisms, we only kid ourselves by doing so with rose-colored, idyllic glasses. Lest it be said that a company’s corporate social responsibility program makes up for unethical conduct at the store-level, just try to convince an offended customer!  Does Starbucks’ “profit-sharing” with coffee growers or support for gay marriage make up for a store manager over-charging customers in spite of a company policy to the contrary? Do Wal-Mart’s CSR programs “in the community” make the company’s atrocious labor practices, which include terminating employees who try to unionize, somehow acceptable?  
 
Moreover, to equate CSR with business ethics is to make a category mistake as well as to commit Hume’s naturalistic fallacy. That is to say, norms and ethical principles are different things, and the “is” of social norms cannot justify as ethical principles can. To say that an existing social norm justifies a certain corporate culture or policy is not to justify the latter ethically. Alignment with society’s norms and values is admittedly in a company’s long-term interest (as a going concern), but such congruence does not justify the alignment ethically (i.e., in terms of should).

 
 

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Why Would an Author Write Kids’ Books about the Vietnam War?

“Why on earth would an author write kids’ books about the Vietnam War?” I’ve been confronted with that question countless times as I’ve endeavored to write a children’s historical non-fiction series titled, “The Heroes of the Vietnam War: Books for Children.” Remarkably, children’s books about the Vietnam Era comprise a literary niche that is very limited. […] . . . → Read More: Why Would an Author Write Kids’ Books about the Vietnam War? . . . → Read More: Why Would an Author Write Kids’ Books about the Vietnam War?

All Hail Wal-Mart

I’d been thinking that I need to write a defense again of capitalism but, I haven’t gotten around to it. But somebody else did, and did a better job than I would have. I readily admit to being the same kind of snob-I dearly love my custom lineman’s boots, and have been known to show […] . . . → Read More: All Hail Wal-Mart . . . → Read More: All Hail Wal-Mart

“No Loans” on Gun Sales: G.E. as Socially Responsible or Financially Savvy?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newton, Connecticut that took place in late 2012, General Electric announced that the company would no longer finance consumers’ gun purchases. Russell Wilkerson, a G.E. spokesman, wrote in an email that the new policy was being adopted “in light of industry changes, new legislation and tragic events that have caused widespread re-examination of policies on fire-arms.”
                                                               Do business principles mandate treating this product like any other?  Source: NBC News
In other words, the policy shift was not simply a reaction to Sandy Hook. Rather, the company’s executives were adapting to changes in the organization’s environment, including the industry itself. This opens up the question of whether the new policy can be classified under the rubric of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Perhaps the adaptation was simply good business, with the appearance of “CSR” adding some reputational capital through a good public-relations campaign.

Well-meaning moralists in particular may have a tendency to project their own salient sense of obligation onto other people, and even pets. Rather than feeling a sense of loyalty, for example, your dog may simply be keeping close by because it is hungry and is accustomed to being fed by you. Once while I, a mere ten-year-old in the forest behind my house, was setting up what I optimistically thought could be a rabbit trap out of a waist-high old wire cage, my first dog walked up to me holding a rabbit in its mouth. I have no idea how to explain that—certainly not by positing any moral obligation. Perhaps my dog had merely been hungry. An organization can be similarly thought of as an economizing organism.

Generally speaking, an organization, like an organism, must adapt to its changing environment, or risk being replaced by a competitor that has achieved a better fit and thus can operate more efficiently in order to survive. Does such adaptation, which renders a company more fit by means of a sort of competitive natural-selection process, involve obligation manifested as responsibility to that environment?

After all, to do one’s duty is not typically said for what a person wants to do anyway. You would quickly see through my claim that it is my duty to eat the remaining chocolate sundae (so not to waste food). “Someone should eat the ice-cream before it melts; I suppose I’ll have to force myself.” People do not typically fall over themselves to do something out of a feeling of responsibility. For the sense of obligation or responsibility to be the primary motivator, the person (or persons, as in the case of a company) must not otherwise be inclined, as from the anticipation of a benefit, to act. When stimulated, self-interest tends to eclipse the felt-duty of responsibility. This thesis can be applied to GE’s policy on financing firearm purchases. Can the policy fall under the rubric of corporate social responsibility if the costs and nugatory next to the benefits? In other words, what if marketing the policy is simply good business?

As for the costs, GE Capital Finance had already stopped providing consumer financing for new gun-shop customers in 2008. The policy change in 2013 merely extended the ban to existing customers. It is not as though potentially new customers would be discouraged. Even if new and existing gun customers had been eligible for financing before the policy change in 2013, we would still be talking about a small fraction of GE’s revenue. It might simply be good business to end such a small revenue stream. Wells Fargo had stopped financing gun purchases in 2004 “for business reasons,” according to company spokeswoman Lisa Westermann. Perhaps it was just good business behind GE’s decision to extend its ban in such a way that the policy would be good publicity without much cost in the sense that the company could still make money lending to firearms purchasers in spite of the ban!

According to USA Today in 2013, GE’s “decision affects fewer than 75 retailers, which GE says is about 0.001% of all gun retailers.” This is because the policy “affects only retailers that sell firearms exclusively.” General merchandise stores, which sell other products as well as guns, are excluded from the company’s lending ban. Walmart is such a store. This represents a gaping loophole, making the policy as publicized misleading, and therefore suspicious as to the motive behind it. Put another way, GE would still be financing guns—just not through stores that sell only guns. Were the executives at GE really feeling a responsibility not to encourage gun sales after what had happened at Newtown, Connecticut, they would not have made the distinction unless they were legally obligated with retailers like Walmart to cover any big-ticket item. In that case, GE should have objected to storylines such as the one in USA Today, “GE Won’t Make Loans to Buy Guns.” Especially if the company was making this misleading claim, the gap between the publicized CSR and the actual policy could mean that the intent had been to use “marketed CSR” for reputational capital with little cost (i.e., good business).  

If most of GE’s lending on gun purchases was through multi-merchandise retail stores, GE could capitalize on sympathy from the school shooting without having to give up much financially. Interestingly, the shooter’s father, Peter Lanza, was a GE executive at the time—the company being based in Fairfield, Connecticut. If GE executives had felt obligated, being at such close range to the tragedy, to stop contributing to gun sales, why then the loophole and misleading storyline? Something is not quite right here. Taking rather than using a difficult decision on the basis of CSR would not involve manipulation. Were extant contracts a temporary obstacle, this would have been noted publically because the objective would have been to stop lending on gun purchases rather than to grab as much good public relations as possible without much cost.

If risk or cost is of concern, being socially responsible may not be the best option. As in the case of gun control, entering a controversial debate puts a company at risk for being negatively viewed by the “other side.” A USA Today poll taken at the time of the policy change in 2013 found public support for new gun-control legislation “slipping below” 50 percent. GE risked many people agreeing with John Meek, the owner of a gun store in Illinois, who called GE’s policy “an injustice” because the instrument rather than the user is being blamed. In other words, being socially responsible may not be as “politic,” and thus as good in terms of cost (i.e., lost non-gun-purchasing customers who disagree with the company’s position on gun control) and reputational capital as managers may suppose. Where to executives’ motive is based on a societal obligation, these hits are willingly taken, but where CSR is being used for image purposes, unanticipated costs are highly relevant.

Put another way, a company whose policy is forged out of CSR principles “puts its money where its mouth is,” whereas a company whose policy is good business including the marketing of CSR does not depart from business principles. There is reason to suppose that GE falls in with the latter rather than the former category, given the loophole, the “CSR marketing” benefits, and what little the company stood to give up. GE’s policy decision can be characterized as ethically misleading, likely not primarily motivated by a sense of social responsibility to curtail gun sales, and good business. I suspect that the vast majority of corporations are like this, rather than being truly socially responsible, and yet are viewed as such by good-meaning mortals who innocently project their own moral values on to what is actually effective, rather than “good,” marketing.

Source:

Paul Davidson, “GE Won’t Make Loans to Buy Guns,” USA Today, April 25, 2013.

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