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?  

When Profit & Power Matter Most

The lack of action, on the part of adherents of capitalism (in its many versions), in the face of today’s life-threatening situations (climate change, COVID-19, nuclear proliferation) parallels a Jack Benny comedy bit between a street robber and Jack Benny, which went something like this:


Street Robber: “don’t make a move, this is a stick-up!”

Jack Benny:  “what?”

Street Robber: “you heard me!”

Jack Benny: “mister, put down that gun!”

Street Robber: “shut up, now come on…your money or your life!”

Jack Benny:  there is an extended period of silence

Street Robber: “look boss, I said your money or your life!”

Jack Benny: (slight pause) ”I’m thinking it over!”

Think this is a stretch?  Think again!

Facing the impending doom with (our) time running out, no meaningful significant change has taken place on climate change.

COVID-19 vaccines have not been universally produced and distributed to all to stop the spread and emergence of mutations.

Nations are not cooperating and collaborating to dissolve our common problems, but rather competing and showing/exercising (their) muscle over others toward gaining more wealth and power.

Yup, the adherents of capitalism are thinking it over, as they double-down.  

Could it be that capitalism has captured us all?

Recanting The Common Good

Of late there are two global issues—climate change and COVID-19 pandemic–that make quite clear what those who are in charge of human society truly care about and are concerned with.

As twenty-six climate summits have come and gone, humankind has yet to truly commit to doing what is absolutely necessary to avert our very own destruction—think self-annihilation, suicide. So, why is global warming not seen as the existential threat that it is? Having this understanding with its corresponding action will hurt the economy and thus impinge upon profit-making.

So, again, why is global warming not seen as an existential issue but a (business) problem nonetheless?
 It offers the potential for increased environmental regulation (government overreach is the problem)
 It increases the cost of doing business (but of course will be passed on)
 It increases companies’ healthcare benefit cost (but of course will be passed on)
 It impinges upon profit
.
.
Similarly, environmental cancer-causing pollution is a concern, because:
 It offers the potential for increased government—e.g. EPA/OSHA–regulation (government overreach impinges on profit)
 It shortens the life of productive workers
 It reduces the labor pool
 It increases companies’ costs, such as healthcare benefit cost (which can be passed on)
 It impinges upon profit, unless your business is in the symptom relief/treatment business

Today’s other global issue is the COVID-19 pandemic. Why haven’t the COVID-19 vaccine producers, as well as elected officials, enabled vaccine manufacture and thus distribution world-wide that would (likely) stop the spread of the virus and the emergence of future mutations?
 There’s relatively no material gain in doing so
 Belief that maximizing (their) profit is a right—patent protection
 Demand must continue to exceed supply (for maximum profit of course)
.
.

In The Mind of Those In Charge
Why do the business-minded (which includes elected officials) continue decision-making as they do?
 Economic (self) interests!
 Pursuit of unlimited material growth requires it!
 Mustn’t let indisputable scientific facts get in the way of pursuing what we want!
 There is so much more (yet) to exploit!
 There is so much more profit (yet) to accumulate!

Are the business-minded behaving rationally?
 To be rational in behavior essentially means to act in accordance with one’s intent
 If the intent is to pursue unlimited material growth—material self-interest—then of course the behavior is in relation to this intent: it is rational behavior.

But the essential question to explore is, is the intent rational in the context of life itself?
Rational, or in relation to what? Sustaining one’s viability as a living being?
 With the overarching intent being the pursuit of unlimited economic growth, and given a finite Natural world, the intent is not sustainable or as the business-minded like to say, it is not scalable.

Then, why don’t these people simply stop?
 Their worldview/system of orientation—the basis of capitalism—is about economic growth, not the common good and human progress, so their reasoning makes sense. That is, in the context of capitalism it is quite rational.
 They are addicted to material gain/profit

Need to Kick the Habit
The following question explains the above while answering itself:
Why is it that in the US (at least) the issue that its expensive we can’t afford it is raised when it comes to policy/legislation addressing the common good (e.g. climate change, universal healthcare, education) yet when it comes to policy/legislation benefiting the wealthy class (e.g. tax cuts for the wealth, funding war) the policy/legislation passes without the issue ever being raised?

This recanting of the care and concern for the common good, for humankind, is not an inevitability in human society. It is a human made phenomenon grounded in the worldview of capitalism, but it is not the only worldview upon which human society can be ordered. Contrary to what some have claimed way back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, there are alternatives.

The intent of life doesn’t have to be material self-interest maximization—a Hunger Game existence—which only serves the wealthy class. It is not our destiny to experience life in a society of competing individuals each seeking his/her self-interest—of a bunch of MEs wanting it all–with total disregard for the effect upon others. Isn’t this the kind of behavior you’d expect from an addict?

Acknowledging the need to kick the habit, to cease supporting (and cooperating with) business as usual means rejecting the maxim that ensuring the profitability of the corporation outweighs sustaining the viability of life itself. It means that you understand that conducting business as usual intensifies our problems, that it is suicidal to continue to do so. In the larger scheme of a life affirming worldview, human life is not merely a resource for the economic-engine.

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

Presence of Fear Requires Courage

Fear is an emotion, a type of energy we all have available to us to help protect us against threats and danger. Thus the emotion of fear can be quite useful, unless of course it is the only or predominate energy that animates us. A fearful person—one largely motivated by it—will likely see danger and threats to him/her self everywhere and in most every other person. Moreover, when every other person is a potential threat to ones’ success toward fulfilling one’s goal in life, then fear of others—especially those not like oneself—inevitably emerges. Continue reading

Potential Psychopaths Us All

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? Continue reading

Clueless in a Human World

The authors of a recent HBR article, Wells Fargo and the Slippery Slope of Sales Incentives, provided the answer “to meet sales quotas and earn incentives” to the question “why they (they being the lower level employees of Wells Fargo) did this in the first place.” The “this” being unethical if not illegally selling and charging customers for services they did not need or request. It seems that the perspective here is that the employees where at fault, after all they are the ones who acted fraudulently! Continue reading

There’s No Substitute for Understanding

In a December 3rd Harvard Business Review article (Rescuing Capitalism from Itself) Henry Mintzberg noted “since 1989, the United States has experienced some alarming changes, for example the massive infiltration of corporate money into public elections, disquieting levels of corruption in business, rising income disparities, and the decline, of all things in this country, of social mobility.”

 

How have these alarming changes come about? Are these the result of outside forces or are they the result of the economic system itself? Continue reading

A Theory for Leadership for a Human World

Leadership, according to Peter Northouse (2010, p 3), is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. So then is evidence of leadership the achievement of a goal by a group? Does the goal matter? Do the means matter? Continue reading