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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sitting U.S. Presidents Are Not above the Law

Imagine the following hypothetical: a U.S. president, while in office, sneaks out of the White House in a tunnel, walks a few blocks further, and shoots a passerby in the head. The president returns to the White House as if the incident had not occurred. The only hint of the murder lies in the pardon that he gives himself for any crimes committed while in office. Would such a president be on solid legal grounds? 

The full essay is at "Not above the Law"

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Unenforceable E.U. as Poland Legislates to End its Judiciary’s Independence

With a state government rapidly moving on legislation that would end the independence of that state’s judiciary, the E.U. Commission announced that it would invoke Article 7 against that state. An independent judiciary is a staple of democratic governance, and is thus required of a state (as well as at the federal level, in regard to the independence of the European Court of Justice from the other branches of the federal government).  If invoked, Article 7 of the E.U.’s basic (i.e., constitutional) law would deprive the state of Poland of its voting rights at the federal level. The independence of state courts is that important in the E.U., and yet for the article to go into effect, the European Council’s vote, excepting Poland, must be unanimous. Already, the governor of the state of Hungary had made clear that he would vote against invoking the article—that state having its own constitutional troubles with the E.U. Commission and being friendly with Poland.  In other words, two conflicts of interest came into play immediately, even as the Polish legislature was still voting on the proposed judicial reform.

The full essay is at "The Unenforceable E.U.."

Essays on the E.U. Political Economy: Federalism and the Debt Crisis

The collection of essays comprising The E.U. Political Economy looks broadly at the E.U.'s federal system, with particular attention to the states, including the matter of "Brexit," which refers to the secession of Britain from the Union. The text then turns more narrowly to the government-debt and banking crisis that occurred in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. The backdrop of federalism is meant to convey the point that weaknesses in that political system hampered the E.U.'s handing of its states and banks that were in trouble with debt. Lastly, several essays are presented on some more general aspects of the E.U.'s political economy. Rather than being heavily theory-oriented, the essays draw on contemporaneous news reports to quote from practitioners from business and government.

Essays on the E.U. Political Economy is available at Amazon.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Referendum on Euro in Latvia: Core of Europe

Two decades after leaving the Soviet Union, Latvia was in 2012 an E.U. state preparing to adopt the euro currency. “We want to be a part of the core of Europe,” Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said. Noting that the GDP was forecast to rise 5% in 2012, he could boast that his state would be an asset to the “Eurozone.” Indeed, only three of the 17 states using the euro—Finland, Luxembourg and Estonia—were expected to have budget deficits of less than 3% of GDP and debt of less than 60 percent—the two key requirements for joining the euro, which Latvia was poised to meet.
  Latvia's PM Valdis Dombrovskis wants to push forward on the euro without a referendum. At what cost politically though?         Getty Images

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

The Regensburg Domspatzen: Systemic Abuse of Kids in an Established Religious Institution

The utility from beautiful music for many does not justify the physical and sexual abuse of a relative few. Even though utilitarianism goes by the motto, the greatest pleasure (and least pain) for the greatest number, the severity of the pain to a few can, I submit, outweigh a more widespread, yet relatively superficial, pleasure for others. Surely the intensity of pleasure and pain must enter into the ethical calculus. I have in mind here the Regensburg Domspatzen, a Roman Catholic boys choir, in the E.U. state of Germany. This case points to the default power of established institutions and a religious psychology.

The full essay is at "The Regensburg Domspatzen."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

U.S. Senators: Falling Short in Representing their States

Like the European Council of the E.U., the U.S. Senate has polities rather than citizens as represented members. That is to say, in both cases, the states are represented. In the case of the E.U., the chief executives of the respective states represent them. In the U.S. case, the citizens of the states elect senators directly, who in turn are tasked with representing their respective states. From the standpoint of representing the polities, the E.U. case is tighter, for a U.S. senator is susceptible to the temptation to vote in the interests of the state’s citizens who voted rather than of the state itself. The two interests may overlap, but they are not identical, for citizens of a member-state may or may not be interested in protecting the prerogatives of the state (government). The Republican legislative responses to the Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”) are a case in point. 

The full essay is at "U.S. Senators Falling Short."

For more on the U.S. Senate and the E.U. Council, see the book: Essays on Two Federal Empires

Friday, July 14, 2017

Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the Ethical

The spiritual business leader who searches for personal and profes-sional integration is the chief beneficiary of this booklet, which can also be taken for a way to promulgate meagerly a new theory on the phenomenon of religion that stresses its uniqueness and distinctiveness. I begin with spirituality in order to find cleave distinctive nature off any reduction to ethics. In distinguishing spirituality from ethics, I look at religious experience of transcendence as a more suitable basis for spirituality. Next I’ll look at the business literature on spiritual leadership—scholarship that conflates such leadership with ethical leadership. I extract residue from that extant literature that can serve as a launching pad for an account of spiritual leadership that is grounded in transcendent religious experience.

Essays on the Financial Crisis

The financial crisis that peaked in the United States during the fall of 2008 is an excellent case study of what can go wrong with leadership and corporate governance in business, financial ethics, government regulation directed both to the firm level and that of the financial system itself, and legal accountability for the culprits. The collection of essays begins with a series of essays on Lehman Brothers, with particular attention on its last CEO, Richard Fuld. Given the fraud surrounding subprime-mortgage bonds at numerous banks, the second part of the book looks at why legal accountability was so elusive in the United States. Weaknesses in the financial regulation, with particular attention to whether agencies had been captured by their respective regulated firms, comprises the third part. The fourth part examines the culpability of the Federal Reserve Bank, which had perhaps been too close to its regulated banks to anticipate the crisis. The book concludes with essays on why business ethics had been so very weak. The careful reader will take from the book a sense that the financial system remained vulnerable even after government attempts to reduce the systemic risks of a big bank going under. 

Essays on Two Federal Empires

This collection of essays suggests that the E.U. and U.S. are both cases of modern federalism at the empire political-level and scale. Distinct attributes and dynamics apply, which do not apply at the state level. Unfortunately, too often today, people treat a state in one union as equivalent to the other union rather than to one if its own states. This category mistake ignores vital differences, and thus is apt to result in sub-optimal public policy and even governmental design. To be sure, each union faces its own risks--dissolution being a threat for the E.U. and consolidation for the U.S. Though correcting for the passage of time, dissolution is/was a risk for both the early E.U. and the early U.S. Such a basis of comparison is optimal. Americans and Europeans can indeed learn from each other, with more perfect unions resulting. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Bribery at Barclays: Can an Unethical Culture Be Changed?

Amid the financial crisis in 2008, Barclays raised $15 billion from Qatar and other investors. The infusion of capital saved the European bank from needing a government bailout. Unfortunately, the bank may not have disclosed the $390 million paid to the Qatari government for “advisory services” as part of the fund-raising, and the $3 billion loan facility that Barclays made available to that government.[1] The bank, along with three of its executives at the time were charged in 2017 with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, and providing unlawful financial assistance—in other words, paying a bribe to avoid needing an E.U. or state-level bailout. According to Amanda Staveley, a European financier, Barclays improperly favored the Qataris in the fund-raising. The relationship between the bank and the Qatari government rings of “mutual back-scratching.” Admittedly, any business deal involves both parties benefitting, and in much of the world bribery is de facto necessary cost of doing business. Nevertheless, Barclays may have had an organizational culture similar to that of Wells Fargo in which anything goes in pursuit of profit.

The full essay is at "Essays on the Financial Crisis , available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

1. Chad Bray, “Former Barclays Executives Appear in Court Over Qatar Deal,” The New York Times, July 3, 2017.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

E.S.G. in the Boardroom: A Recipe for Confusion

What would business do without its faddish buzzwords? Is the bottom-line really so boring? Transformational leadership was once in vague, with little actual attention to raising subordinates’ moral compasses. Decades later, everything was about drivers—a power-aggrandized version of cause. Then consultants, dreaming perhaps of their kids’ little league, turned the profession into an analogy and suddenly became coaches. One difference is of course that most actual coaches have been players in their respective sports, whereas how many leadership coaches have been business executives or sat on a board? “Leadership assistant” is better, if in-house, otherwise "leadership adviser," assuming sufficient study or experience in leadership. Then amidst global warming and activist stockholders, “E.S.G.” could be heard in boardrooms with the frequency of a trope.[1] Must business be led by a herd-mentality? Such leadership is internally inconsistent, for leaders are by definition ahead of the crowd, leading it rather than squawking like lemmings. In the case of E.S.G., which stands for “environmental, social, and governance,” the chatter eclipses recognition of the befuddled condition of the combo. With such different things in the mix, it is no wonder that a study attempting to quantify E.S.G. came up with mixed results. So the metric and purportedly related financial performance may not be very useful after all.

1. Andrew Sorkin, “Can Good Corporate Citizenship Be Measured,” The New York Times, June 26, 2017.

The full essay is at "E.S.G. in the Boardroom."

The E.U. Goes After Google: Where Was the U.S.?

In fining Google a record 2.4 billion euros (2.7 billion dollars) in June, 2017, for unfairly favoring its advertisers in its online shopping service, E.U. officials went “significantly further than their American counterparts.”[1] At the time, Google held more than 90 percent of the online search market in the E.U. Why would the E.U. go further than the U.S. in pressing anti-trust violations against a technology company that could be expected to gain monopoly profits? Presumably Google was favoring its advertisers on searches in the U.S. as well. Americans would mind too when an advertiser’s higher-price product comes up rather than a comparable product at a better deal. Was the E.U. more interested in protecting consumers and less concerned about pleasing a large company? The company’s sordid, self-serving practice nullifies any contending claim that the government’s motive was to go after a foreign company. I submit that the E.U. government’s action unwittingly points to a pro-business bias in the corresponding American government. 

The full essay is at "E.U. Goes After Google."

1. Mark Scott, “Google Fined Record $2.7 Billion in E.U. Antitrust Ruling,” The New York Times, June 27, 2017.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Religion as Metaphysics: A Category Mistake

The claim that God is real, or even that God's existence is reality, is problematic chiefly because it incurs the category mistake of treating religion as through it were metaphysics. Rather than being an atheistic argument, obviating the mistake privileges God's radical transcendence.

The full essay is at "Religion as Metaphysics."

Related: Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the Ethical, a short book that is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.

Hedge Fund Set to Hack Nestlé Up: A Case of Sensationalistic Over-Kill

Does the fact that an earnings-per-share figure has not meaningfully improved over, say, five years justify an overhaul pushed by a hedge-fund activist investor?  Put another way, is a steady earnings-per-share tantamount to failure? Especially for an established company, steady numbers do not evince bad performance. An airline would only foolishly fire a pilot for not climbing once having attained a cruising altitude. Maintaining such an altitude during a flight is hardly a reason to turn a plane around or set it in a radically different direction. 

Dan Loeb of Third Point. Relax, Dan, Nestle is not on a nose-dive.

The full essay is at "Hedge Fund Activist."

Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere Outstripping the Planet’s Absorption: A Major Turning-Point

The human species has reached such a size—and with the population of Africa expected in 2017 to double by 2050 from an incredulous and oblivious fertility rate (i.e., as if there were no tomorrow) in spite of life-threatening impacts on that continent already from global warming—that profound changes to the planet can from now on hardly be avoided unless or until nature’s swift hand acts through pestilence, famine, or over-crowding conflict. Making matters worse, we are flying without having bothered to detail a navigation flight-plan, for even homo sapiens’ cognitive wiring has been outstripped by not only our inherent selfishness and preference for instant gratification, but also our sheer presumptuousness. In hindsight, we can say we have acted rashly in having polluted so in the twentieth century—the benefit of hindsight being shown in our shortcomings even in being able to keep tabs on the extent of the damage. 

The full essay is at "Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere."