In the article Three Things to Know to Hold Wells Fargo Accountable the author Lynn Parramore (Senior Research Analyst at Institute of New Economic Thinking) relays what William Lazonick (Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts Lowell) identified as the three things we need to know: 1) American businesses have become stock manipulation machines; 2) focusing on short-term stock prices leads to corruption; and 3) punishment means little until executive pay is understood. The first essentially speaks to the profit maximizing intent of business and its executives and the second to the importance of it happening now if not sooner while the third is that the entire scheme is ultimately profitable because of the enormous size of the gains. So now that we know these things, what are we to do about it?
Misplacing The Cause
The cause of Wells Fargo’s actions, according to Lazonick, as reported by Parramore is “before 1982, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) considered stock buybacks to be a potentially unlawful form of stock price manipulation. But that year, under the sway of Reagan-era enthusiasm for unfettered markets, the SEC loosened its rules. This change, plus a shift toward stock-based compensation for top executives, has exacerbated economic inequality by pushing pay at the top into the stratosphere while shortchanging workers.” Consequently, the fix is to change the law back to what it was pre-1982, making this current practice illegal.
But wait, the 1982 actions that changed the law making legal what was unlawful is not the root cause. This action made legal the behavior but it didn’t cause the behavior. Let’s think more critically, why was the change enacted? Let’s remind ourselves—in the capitalist system—the business of business is profit maximization and—since the early 1980’s thanks to Milton Friedman—of creating greater and greater shareholder value. The 1982 change in the law just advances this intent. It seems obvious that the change was enacted to do exactly what it had done; to afford greater material gains by major shareholders and executives of publically traded corporations. So re-instituting the law would only cause those with the capitalist intent to seek other means of getting what they desire—profit maximization is the meaning of their existence.
Endemic in Capitalist Society
Capitalism worldview is one of objects, necessarily rendering everything and everyone as such, to be used as tools in service to one’s material self-interest. The fact is, whether we are consciously aware of this or not, our behavior is influenced, if not guided, by the very system of orientation within which we live.
We are social beings—not objects—and the very nature of the society we live in influences how we will be in society. What we become is encouraged if not guided by what society values. In industrialized society, especially in the U.S., the system that circumscribes how life is structured is capitalism. A system that both requires and creates competition and as a consequence winners and losers.
We all act within a system, within a context, and in the capitalist context we are seeking to be winners and avoid being a loser. Why? To be successful in this context individuals, generally speaking, tacitly learn what and how to be-in-this-context. We learn what success looks like and how to become successful; social learning helps us acculturate through operant conditioning and observational learning.
Winners (a.k.a. the haves) are enabled to exercise their superior position and power to influence if not intimidate the losers (a.k.a the have-nots), in order to maintain and further their position as winners. That is winners need losers: winners use losers as their tool to get what they desire. In the case of Wells Fargo Bank, the executives forced or leveraged as tools low-level employees to sell unneeded services to commercial banking customers to generate revenue for the organization and themselves. This is in essence a form of non-physical bullying through manipulation, deception and exploitation in service to one’s self-interest.
Sociologist Charles Derber and Yale Magrass (authors of Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society) explain that the problem of bullying in the U.S. has a systemic cause—it is not about separate individuals in separate situations. Capitalism requires a competitive atmosphere, where one is either a winner or a loser and where class inequality is an essential. As a society we tacitly learn to accept and justify it—making it part of our culture—by believing winners deserve to be in power because they are winners and those who lose deserve their fate because they are losers. Moreover the U.S. is a militarized society characterized by violence, aggression and submission to authority making the bullying more prominent if not severe.
Hence Derber and Magrass argue, “children are raised to blend into militarized capitalism…both the militaristic and capitalist elements of the system create bullying—and the synergy creates super-bullying.” They go on to say “when kids or adults bully, they are responding to the norms or incentives of their companies and their militarized society.” In short, they are simply fitting into the norms of society having been socialized but clueless in a human world. In this way we shape the leaders we get both in our organizations and in government.
In American society our context is the capitalist system: a system of orientation wherein value is material value and everything in the environment is for exploitation to this end. Capitalism rests upon—or more accurately emerges from—a materialistic mechanistic worldview where maximizing one’s material gain is life’s goal. Accordingly, the psychopathic behavior—of individual CEOs and of the organization as a collection of individuals—is happening within the context of capitalism. Capitalism—the unbounded (if not unfettered) pursuit of material self-interest along with its associated value orientation—not only influences and guides behavior but also what we become.
Research by Paul Piff (Professor of Psychology, Berkeley) found, “Americans may be more narcissistic now than ever, but narcissism is not evenly distributed across social strata…higher social class is associated with increased entitlement and narcissism.” What this means is the greater the sense of entitlement and narcissism that one has the more likely one will deceive, manipulate and exploit others in service to their interests. With a feeling of being superior comes an increase in the likelihood of acting upon others, for they are mere objects, less than human. From the perspective of corporate psychopath we are all tools to be used for their own gain.
Metaphorically the capitalist the world is a vast billiard ball table—with balls bouncing into each other—but with winners being superior than losers, the billiard balls are of quite unequal size and weight. In this world growth in size matters, since the bigger the more weight that can be thrown around for one’s own gain. Accordingly we see organizations acquiring (gobbling up) other organizations, getting bigger to better control others for greater gain but not better in providing quality in service to others. Bullying others—because you have the power, strength in size or position of authority—is the way to get (a.k.a. force) others to do what you want then to do.
Moreover, in this system, there is no We only Me; in fact a whole bunch of individual Me’s bouncing into and off of each other seeking their own gain. So with no sense of We there can be no moral sensibility to guide behavior. The rule is: gain for your self what you can, as much as you can and as soon as you can! In this worldview we are all potential psychopaths—life is but a competition and nice guys finish last.
Free Yourself, Think Critically
Unless and until the underlying materialistic mechanistic worldview, upon which capitalism rests, is cast aside as the value system upon which (our) life is structured, such corporate psychopathic behavior—institutionalized bullying—will permeate throughout society.
Through the capitalist system’s value orientation we each are influenced to act in very self-serving and competitive ways—once internalized this is rarely if ever questioned. We’ve come to believe that we, as human beings, are nothing but self-interest maximizing beings. It is a system of individualism that discounts if not ignores care and concern for others—the collective is something to disdain. In fact we are encouraged to be and become the kind of individual that acts upon other individuals without regard for anything other than our own gain—the measure of success is the wealth we accumulate. These thoughts reside in our mind and guide our perceptions and actions. Profit acquiring characters (a.k.a. PAC-men) each moving about as if independent individuals seeking to gobble up whatever one can.
Unfortunately, the vast majority don’t or won’t recognize the influence of this worldview. Perhaps, we can understand this better through the analogy where fish are unlikely to recognize that they are in and surrounded by water.
Further, though we may believe our selves to be self-starters/self-directed individuals, we fail to acknowledge that much of our actions especially in the workplace are largely initiated and directed by rewards/punishments. Employment means that is if you do what management wants you will get what you need or if you don’t do as management desires you won’t get what you need.
More to the point, in the workplace most of us experience management methods that are based on Skinnerian operant conditioning—yeah as if we were lab rats—wherein our basic deficit needs (i.e. healthy physiological and psychological human needs) satisfaction are met conditional on us doing as others desire. Yet because it is happening all around us we are unlikely to see this as being an affront to our humanness, and more likely to see it as the way life must be. Though the use of these fear-based methods is a form of bullying we fail to cast it as such. We are told or led to believe it is just managing for performance and so we don’t recognize it for what it is—the manipulation and exploitation of one’s self by another in a superior, more powerful or authority position.
Wells Fargo used their performance management system in setting numerical goals for the number of services sold by lower-level employees as condition of the employee remaining employed and satisfying his/her basic deficit needs. They bullied their employees to get them to do what they desired.
Fortunately, it is not our destiny to be as fish or lab rats—the situation isn’t hopeless. However, unfortunately context is not something that our education teaches us how to explore and understand. If only we were taught to be critical thinkers, to learn how to learn.
But the puppet masters are doing whatever they can to ensure that the education of the public is all about standardized test taking and doesn’t involve learning how to learn and finding joy in the very process of learning. A person who actually thinks for him/her self—one who can and does think critically—is next to impossible to manipulate, control and exploit. So what we get are people running away from learning, seeing it as unfulfilling and an energy drain. When you treat people as objects you deny them their capacity to learn. Just imagine what people would be enabled to do with their life if they came away from their elementary and high school years in public education with a sense of joy in and thirst for learning!
So the fewer of such people there is in society the easier it is to manipulate, control and exploit through misinformation. We are a society of the misinformed! The 2016 U.S. presidential election cycle—yeah the one where we are to choose the unfit for the position or the other unfit for the position—provides stark evidence of the profit and control realized by keeping the citizenry misinformed and constrained in choice. To paraphrase Josh Billings, the trouble with people is not that they don’t know but that they know so much that ain’t so.
Until the intent of business changes, which requires a change in worldview to one where life is most important, wherein life is honored, nothing can or will change for the betterment of all life on earth. But again this change requires one to know and understand the difference between truthiness and truth.
We must critically think about and examine the thoughts we hold in our mind if we are to free ourselves from the life destructive beliefs—especially the beliefs we have about ourselves as human beings—that’s been misguiding our way-of-being. We do in deed create the reality we experience by the very way we choose to be-in-the-world.
Acknowledging and knowing that you have the power to be a self-directed human being is the first step to acting with that power of your humanness. Being and becoming more human is what we all need for ourselves and for each other.