It’s About Being Responsible

The intent of this site is to offer an informed perspective on the business of business.  That said, the following, while at first glance might seem to not align, a little further critical thinking places it squarely within the realm of the business of business, more specifically the identification of the responsibility business or more accurately is it a problem of irresponsibility with business as practiced.  

If we continue to ask why, then we often get to the root toward a better understanding.

A Problem 

After a mass shooting event—and there are many each year—the go-to-utterance “our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims”, is heard from the public office holders we see at the other end of the camera.  But then, without missing a beat, their go-to-response to the shooting in the moment they unflinchingly offer their questions of exploration into why this particular tragic event, placing the sole blame on the shooter.  It is the mass shooting version of pilot error, disregarding the entire system facilitating it happening.

Mass killing-by-gun happens so often it is endemic in the U.S.—no other industrialized country comes close!  The U.S. presents the context (a.k.a. system). No, the U.S. doesn’t have a higher incidence of mental illness but the U.S. does have a higher market penetration of gun sales/ownership.  Moreover research has shown that most people with mental illness are not violent and so the link between mental illness and mass shooters is a weak one at best—far more other factors are involved.

The U.S. has the highest per capital firearm ownership in the world.  A PEW Research Center survey found thirty-two percent of U.S. adults are gun owners, yet the number of guns per 100 people is 120—a little over one gun for every person.  Clearly, gun ownership in the U.S. is highly concentrated within a segment of the population.  What a profitable business strategy, getting your customers to buy more of your stuff—now that’s customer loyalty!

Why?

Why do these mass killings continue to happen?  As noted above, the avoidance tactic of placing focus solely on the specific shooter in moment,  diverts attention and effort away from actually understanding the facilitating system that makes it possible, if not probable.  With each individual presenting his unique story, we never really get to understanding the epidemic of mass shootings and gun violence in general.  Yet, increasing the number of guns in the mix by arming teachers, resource officers and additional police presence are offered as the solution.  This will likely increase gun sales, but it doesn’t get at the root.

So, the story line is that there is not enough political will (a.k.a. moral courage) to stop it–to make it so that he can’t or is far less likely to happen!  

Why?

What’s influencing the political will?  Agency theory: Industry money flowing to elected officials with authority over policy transforms elected officials from agents of the public (i.e. care and concern for people’s well-being) to agents of the industry (i.e. care and concern for an industry’s profit ).  

Why?

Why the change in agency? There is just too much money to be had from those in pursuit of profit through growth in market penetration.  We mustn’t forget, how much money one accumulates (a.k.a. wealth) is the measure of success in capitalist society. There is little to be had in caring for peoples’ well-being and a boat load to be had in facilitating the intent of business.

Why?

Why is this continuing to happen?  

The simplest, logical and most obvious answer is because they can: that is to say, the system is facilitating industry, political officials—as well as shooters—so they can?

It’s just business (ah hum, ‘what’s in-it-for-me’), nothing personal!  

The Overarching Question

Since the above applies to all types of industry—all industries have lobbyists—we must ask, what is the meaning of corporate social responsibility when the intent of business is the maximization of short-term profit?  In effect, with the corporate intent not encompassing responsibility to society—actually running counter to it—then corporate social responsibility is an oxymoron. To the business minded a society (of people) is a resource for exploitation, not a responsibility—no different than any and all other resources (think Nature)!  

So here is something to think about: Should business/industry adapt to and meet the needs of people in society or should people in society adapt to and meet the needs of business/industry?

Wrong-headed Decisions

In regard to the health and well-being of society, most decisions made by those in both politics and business are wrong-headed (self-serving) decisions. A narrow focus of attention can’t help but to lead to far too many unintended consequences!

Examples are everywhere and emerge almost daily—in regard to healthcare, climate crisis, education, economy, etc.  Let’s look at just one: the current rise in consumer prices (a.k.a. inflation). Evidence shows that the vast majority of large corporations—those providing products and services to people in society—are realizing remarkable increased profit while at the same time consumers are finding meeting basic needs is costing more. Application of a little logic leads one to conclude that the large gains in profit are the result of increased prices.  Moreover, as Dean Baker’s analysis shows, with a declining wage share of corporate income inflation can’t logically be influenced by wage growth. 

Corporations are profit maximizing entities—the intent of business—and thus it is the primary reason why corporations increase the price of their products and services.  You can rest assured, that the business-minded understand this relationship between prices and profit quite well!  

So what has the political class decided to do in the face of this inflation?  Raise interest rates.  Why? It gives the impression of doing something without (actually) doing anything to address the problem. It is a decision that preserves profit making for corporations while intensifying the negative impact of higher prices on the public. Let’s not forget that price is not automatically/mysteriously set by some dynamic in the ether, but rather by people in the corporations—that is, the corporate decision-makers.

Accordingly, the malarkey unquestioned by the press and offered to the general public is that the reason there is inflation is that demand is too high and so there is a need to place downward pressure on demand.  So who winds up paying for this price hiking profit maximizing scheme (a.k.a. profiteering)?  The consuming public, who repeatedly pays—first for having basic needs (like the demand for food, shelter/housing, transportation to get to work, etc.) and in turn for continuing in seeking to satisfy these basic needs.

Moreover, there is little indication that the cost to consumers informs decisions and that the health and well-being of society is a concern. There is absolutely no evidence supporting the notion that these decision-makers are thinking critically; since doing so would necessarily mean that they’ve considered and assessed a wide range of perspectives.  But to the contrary, in essence, the decision-makers are saying to the general public, it sucks to be you!

What are we to do?  

There are two options:
1) Change minds of the decision-makers
2) Change the decision-makers

The first option is to provide the learning experiences that would change the thinking, knowledge, understanding and values held in the minds of the decision-makers. This of course will only be effective if the mind of the decision-maker is open to learning things that challenge, if not run counter to, the beliefs they’ve long held.  How do you change the mind of someone whose career success depends on no such change happening?

The second option is to replace the decision-makers with decision-makers who are of a different mind. That is, replace a mechanistic material-based minded person with a living system people-caring minded person. Unfortunately, there are so few of these both critical and systems thinking people.  Moreover,  those of such a mind likely have very little interest in business school and/or have a slim chance of rising in the hierarchy—perhaps this is why there are so few people of such minds in business, or politics for that matter.  

Correspondingly, in America’s two-party political system, wherein each party is beholden to their very own group of oligarchs, realizing such a replacement among the political class is very near impossible.  Why is it that a politician espousing business needs is applauded while a politician supporting people’s needs is disparaged and scoffed at?  

I repeat: A narrow focus of attention can’t help but to lead to far too many unintended consequences!

If only people understood!So, what might be a third option?  Could it be that we, the people, need to learn, to think critically?  

Thought and Intent

Upon watching an interview with Alex Gibney about his latest documentary, “The Crime of the Century”, which presents the fraudulent behavior of the pharmaceutical industry in selling harmful drugs, namely OxyContin.  But beyond this the pharmaceutical industry (a.k.a. Big Pharma) is keeping their hold on Covid-19 vaccine patent protection (a.k.a. profit generator) to the detriment of (desperately) needed Covid-19 global vaccine manufacturing/distribution as well as diagnostics and oxygen.  

Yet, I found myself saying wait, wait this is not the only noteworthy crime.  In fact it is but one of many perpetrated upon people of society by industry, all in the name of profit. Here is a list of just a few:  

  • Tobacco industry

Tobacco has killed and continues to kill people

  • Automobile Industry

Multiple settlements  

  • Chemical industry

Forever chemicals have killed and continue to kill people

  • Pharmaceutical Industry

OxyContin is addictive and has killed and continues to kill people

  • Big Tech (Media) Industry

Disseminating public health misinformation has killed and continues to kill people

  • Fossil Fuel Industry 

Burning of fossil fuels has killed and continues to kill by destroying the life supporting environment—water, air, soil, climate–thus making life on earth uninhabitable

It should be noted that, in each case, the potential harm to people was known, so these are probably not from missteps/mistakes but reflect conscious decisions in support of a corporate profit goal absent of any concern for collateral damage/external cost. What’s operative in regard to the conduct of business is external (societal) cost or collateral damage and the internal private profit—the former doesn’t show up on the balance sheet.  

Corporations, in these industries, are often fined– which generally is a very small fraction of the realized profit—thus giving the appearance of justice served but (usually) without having to admit wrong doing or responsibility. Case in point, to put an end to lawsuits J & J and its distributors settled to pay $26 billion as a result of their part in the opioid crisis—a relatively small cost of doing business.  Moreover, to my knowledge, no one in authority within the companies in these industries has been convicted (let alone indicted) due to the criminality of their decisions. 

On the basis of the sheer number of lives harmed or killed, it seems the fossil fuel Industry is in the lead for causing The Crime of the Century (if not in the history of humankind, spanning both the 20th and 21st centuries).  As reported here, between 2015 and 2019 the 5 biggest fossil fuel companies spent at least $1bn in lobbying efforts denying the existence of climate change and investigations showed these companies knew for decades about the causal link between their products and climate change. 

What’s the Commonality?

It appears, crime does pay if you do it through the auspices of a capitalist corporation. The communality lies in the fact that each are grounded in and are practitioners of capitalism. The corporations are doing what is required: Each is seeking to increase/maximize their profit absent of responsibility for external costs. As previously explained here and even here, capitalism has no grounding in morality.  Hence if we are waiting and hoping for those in authority within these corporations (a.k.a. leaders) to demonstrate sound moral judgment, we’ll be waiting a very long time.  Such action requires a very different mindset than that of the current business-minded who occupy the C-suite. 

We do shape the leaders we get—leaders emerge out of our societal values in practice.  Hence the above list!

We Participate in the Reality We Experience

Unless the system changes, the list will grow–nothing will change.  To change of the system requires us to change what we actually care about—change what we think about and what matters–and with it we’ll change the intent of business and the experiences provided.

“For both the rich and the poor, life is dominated by an ever growing current of problems, most of which seem to have no real and lasting solution. Clearly we have not touched the deeper causes of our troubles…the ultimate source of all these problems is in thought itself, the very thing of which our civilization is most proud, and therefore the one thing that is “hidden” because of our failure seriously to engage with its actual working in our own individual lives and in the life of society.” 
― David Bohm

On Management in Crisis

In these times where the emergence of crises is seemingly unending, it might be instructive to step out of the chaos, just for a moment, to critically think about and reflect upon what we’ve experienced for a good number of years in organizations, institutions and society in regard to the phenomenon we call management.  I purposefully avoid the use of the term leadership here simply because it is so misunderstood and too often self-ascribed in an attempt to elevate status. We’ll keep to the use of the term management consistent with that found in W. Edwards Deming’s Out of the Crisis, where he concluded, management is the problem! Continue reading

Who’s for Business?

It seems opposition to proposals intended to help the greater mass of people, such as providing a livable wage or ensuring healthcare for all or having regulations that ensure a healthy and safe environment, quite often is that they would not be good for business. It does seem that business is opposed to being helpful to people in society, which is consistent with Milton Friedman’s (neoliberal) contention that a business enterprise has no responsibility apart from maximizing profit and shareholder value (over the next quarter).

 

So, who’s for business? Continue reading

Results Obsessed

We appear to be obsessed with results (further explained here)—the outcome of our activities—while we generally give little attention to the activity itself. Why? Continue reading

Capitalism Opposes Life

As previously argued, the system of capitalism has captured (or is it co-opted) the democratic system of governance. If capitalism was inherently aligned with democratic principles then this may not be such a bad thing. However capitalism is not only antithetical to democratic governance, the former rests on ‘it being all for me’ and the latter ‘We the people’ but it is destructive to life it self as evidenced by global warming its most far-reaching effect.  Unavoidably there will be hell to pay but not by everyone, at least in the short term.

 

However, Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, said in The Wealth of Nations, “in order to bring up a family the labour of the husband and wife together must even in the lowest species of common labour, be able to earn something more than what is precisely necessary for their own maintenance” and correspondingly spoke against the rentier class whose income he cast as unearned. According to Michael Hudson (author of Killing the Host) the original meaning of ‘free market’ was that of being free from exploitation (particularly by the rentier class), and not as the term is applied today by corporatist to mean free of regulation to do as one desires. So is it the system or the person? Continue reading

Avoid Change in the Extreme

The only thing constant in life is change—Heraclitus. With change being constant in life, change is not avoidable through life.

 

With this in mind, denying (the need for) change, is denying life. Refusing to deal with it in the present is refusing to be life affirming in the present. This way of being doesn’t stop change from arising—given its constancy—it only ensures having to deal with it in its extreme later. Continue reading