January 2007 Archive
January 4, 2007
Every day in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal we see yet another company either under investigation, indicted or sentenced. What is going on? We wonder, in view of the recent corporate scandals, if we are we dealing with a few bad apples or the tip of the iceberg?
Scandals are certainly not new. One of the earliest major scandals occurred in Holland in 1634 with the tulip pyramid investment schemes that left investors with a devastating loss of 96 percent of their investments.
In the Georgia Land Scandal that took place in 1795, every member of the State Legislature took a bribe to approve a land deal selling 35 millions acres for a penny and a half an acre.
In the Panama Canal Scandal that shook up France in the 19th Century, 104 legislators were involved in the corruption, accepting bribes.
Could it be possible that un-ethical behavior is endemic in the corporate world, and that we hear only about those that get caught and exposed? This is not a reassuring thought.
I strongly believe that trust is at the basis of any relationship and that without it society could not function. As Graham Green once said: “It is impossible to go through life without trust: That is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.”
We would never ride an elevator, have surgery, or open a bank account if we did not have some degree of trust in the system. If every corporation defrauded investors, there would be no investors left. Without some degree of trust, our whole system would collapse.
It hasn't yet!
January 16, 2007
Did Rupert Murdoch make the right decision not to publish O.J. Simpson's book or broadcast his interview? I believe he did.
I was pleased, like many, to see on Jeffrey Seglin's excellent ethics blog that he "was relieved when News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch finally pulled the plug on (the) book and television interview about how he might have murdered his ex-wife."
It is unfortunate that the decision was made at the last minute and apparently only because of the public outcry.
It is interesting, however, to think about the reasons behind the outcry. Why were so many people so upset? What were the values that would have been violated had the book been published and the interview aired? Let me list just a few:
Chris MacDonald in his article Ethics Pay (or at Least "lack of ethics costs") believes that "there are limits to the public appetite for sleaze." He is right. Community standards have always been use in determining what is acceptable and what is not, in publishing and broadcast. In this case the community at large has spoken.
The publication and interview would have certainly displayed a total lack of respect for the feelings of the victims' families, and the memory of the victims themselves.
I do not believe anyone would have been interested in figments of his imagination. It was the occult quasi-obscene "confession" that would have motivated people to read.
The Son of Sam laws prohibits anyone who has committed a crime to benefit financially by movie and book rights. In this case, the law would most likely have been circumvented but the idea that he could profit, even indirectly from the publication was abhorrent to many.
Some might object that the decision not to publish was a form of censorship. We usually oppose censorship because of the limits it imposes on our freedom. Ethics is very often a question of limits, of where you draw the line.
In Ruder Finn's Guideline on Ethics we state that:
"we don't want to be involved in any public relations activities that we believe ...curbs free speech."
Does that mean that we oppose all form of censorship? I think not. There are limits as to what is acceptable and what is not. Who today would advocate the publication of a book praising African American slavery, denying the Holocaust, or advocating child abuse?
A peoples' sense of outrage can sometimes be a healthy sign, and salutary to society in protecting it from assault on its values.
January 30, 2007
New York State new Governor, Eliot Spitzer promised that ethics would be high on his agenda. He said in his inaugural speech that one of his “overarching objectives” was to make the government “ethical and wise”
In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister and Presidential candidate promises to “restore morality to public life.”
Can these promises be kept, and will they?
A friend of mine, Philippe Pidoux, an attorney, former health minister and member of the Swiss Parliament used to say: “I make very few promises, because I keep them.”
I try to abide by the same motto. We sometimes make promises that, for one circumstance or another, we can’t possibly keep. It happens. In such circumstances I try to reach the person I made a promise to and ask (or beg) to be relieved of my promise. Until now, my requests have always been granted and I think even appreciated.
There are some promises we make that we are under obligation to keep, whatever the circumstances, such as marriage vows, (unless of course “death do us part.”)
Keeping a promise can sometimes be difficult and costly. King David in the Psalms says that we are to “keep a promise, even when it hurts.”
“Empty promises” is an oxymoron. We should make every effort to honor the commitments we make. Our words have meaning and we should be accountable for what we say and promise.
Immanuel Kant’s “universal test” is applicable when it comes to promises. Could we live in a world where no promises were ever kept?
As Hannah Arendt once said:
“Promises are the uniquely human way of ordering the future, making it predictable and reliable to the extent that this is humanly possible.”