The Justice Department’s $3 billion judgment against GlaxoSmithKline for criminal actions in their marketing of prescription drugs is a minor penalty to pay relative to the tens of billions they made in the process. Chock it up to the cost of doing business! What did GlaxoSmithKline do? The business of GlaxoSmithKline involved the promotion of drugs for unapproved patient populations and for unapproved purposes and lobbying doctors to prescribe their products by offering trips, tips and other perks in return. Seemingly they don’t believe in markets. They don’t believe markets will be effective and efficient in satisfying their needs, so they interfere with it. Clearly, there is no trust in markets here!
As revealed in a recent article by Robert Reich, the GlaxoSmithKline case is but one of several perpetrated by big pharmaceutical companies. Is there a pattern suggestive of a culture or mindset by Big Pharma? Well, in the words of Yogi Berra, it is too coincidental to be a coincidence! The fact that everybody is doing it makes it—in the mind of the one doing it—an accepted practice, so one doesn’t give it a critical second thought. The ethics or morality of the action is never questioned.
So what is causing corporate executives to do it? An addiction to unlimited growth and larger profits year-to-year! In abundant times, accomplishing growth and profit goals within the rules of the game is quite doable, but in times of scarcity—when there is very little to be had—then it is (only) by hook or crook that the corporate goals can be met. In a finite world, which ours is, with the maturation (and saturation) of markets scarcity is inevitable. Rules, be damned!
When results are all that matters then the principle of the ends justifying whatever means becomes the necessary guide to action. The same is seen in other industries as well—Big Oil, Big Finance, Big Agriculture. The recent JP Morgan and Barclay experiences provide clear evidence of a culture of hook or crook in Big Finance. When the business of business is profit, then eventually hook or crook will emerge as the means to feeding an insatiable appetite for unlimited growth and profit.
So how do you stop this from happening, again and again? Address the cause of the addiction. And so what is the cause? It is the system itself, egoistic capitalism. But unfortunately no one has the mettle to do what is needed—egoic self-interest won’t allow it. So we are left with attending to symptoms along with tough talk singling out and blaming (other) individuals for their transgressions. Oh and there are efforts by a few to establish regulatory constraint all the while those with leverage render the regulatory bite toothless. It’s not only wonderful theater it has become the way of business!
Of course we dare not criminalize what the system demands because that would mean we’d need to change both our self and the system. Moreover by (erroneously) assuming the system was divinely inspired most don’t even consider that it could be misguided and ultimately detrimental. The system is never at fault; it is always the individual (person or company) that is to blame. After all the belief is that human beings are flawed; but if this is really true then no one in their right mind would expect (or even work toward) a better future.
So instead of critically thinking about the system we simply try to re-calibrate or normalize to the boundary breached by the most recent transgression. As we continue in this way—just as rules 3 & 4 of Deming’s Funnel Experiment predict—we are left with a system drifting toward runaway.
In essence we’ve come to expect such breaches—it is no longer a surprise—and so we accept them and proceed with business as usual. Though the water is getting hotter, like the frog we don’t sense it is coming to a boil, so we do nothing—a little warmer water is okay, a little greed is good. And so the drift toward (self) destruction continues.
As with all addictions, we become highly dependent and powerless. As a result, the system is no longer serving us we are serving it! Our addiction to unlimited growth and profit has made us slaves to the system. Our love-hate relationship with it is making us slightly mad—round and round we go. If only we could stop this merry-go-round. People need to put their foot down!
If Only There Was Courage to Care
Just imagine if someone with the legitimate authority over a business organization cared enough to commit to no longer being complicit with this ultimately destructive way of conducting business. If only someone would step up with the courage to realize that the business of business is quality—no matter what the business this is what people expect. By ensuring quality to those served by the organization—employees, customers, owners, suppliers, and society—everyone benefits. It need not be all about ‘me’.
And now imagine if another person with authority, seeing the heroic decision of the one who previously stepped forward, had the courage to do the same. What if another and then another, and another? Leaders after all have the courage to show they do care, do they not? Oh if only those in authority would put their foot down!