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Friday, February 25, 2011

Online Privacy and Advertising Databanks: Kant, Societal Norms, and Regulation

$26 billion-a-year by 2011, the internet advertising market is lucrative to venture capitalists who want to invest into companies that help target online advertising. Between 2007 and 2010, venture firms invested $4.7 billion in 356 online-ad firms. "Its a huge market and it's growing," Chris Fralic at First Round Capital says. Fralic's company has backed 33Across, which analyzes users' social networks, and Demdex, which has a "behavioral bank" of user profiles. Ethically, user on-line privacy is at issue. I contend that user privacy can be protected from dangers of concern to users while willing users can benefit as consumers from information regarding products that they want and would not otherwise know of.

The full essay is in Cases of Unethical Business, which is available at Amazon.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Society Based on Corporate Culture: A Case of Sickness behind Fakeness?

Scripted "conversations" for employees.   Some customers as "members," and the others "not."   A larger cup of coffee being an "upgrade."   It occurs to me that a blue collar worker would simply laugh in the face of a chain retail store employee using any of these misappropriations as if they were natural and fitting.  That the rest of us don't laugh and the employees are not even likely to be aware of their own fakeness, much less stop it, tells me that modern society has to some extent adopted the corporate practice, even if tacitly.  That is to say, many of us have been mindwashed into accepting fakeness as authentic in the public square.

The full essay has been incorporated into (or swallowed up by) On the Arrogance of False Entitlement: A Nietzschean Critique of Business Ethics and Management, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

Executive Stature: Glimpses of the Man Behind the Curtain

One of the perks of corporate office is the presumption of stature and legitimacy.  In other words, the general public typically brings all sorts of assumptions along when reading about the behavior of a CEO.  I contend that the reality of the person behind the curtain is far different from what is portrayed.  That is to say, at least with respect to how CEO's typically want to be viewed in terms of corporate responsibility, I suspect that the reality in the executive suites is far different.  In fact, the reality can be downright childish.  Richard Fuld, who was the CEO at Lehman Brothers, may well have behaved like a six year old when upset. Had the general public been given a view of Fuld's antics, we would have shaken our heads not simply out of utter disbelief that such immaturity could be in such a position, but also in recognition of the gap between public and private persona.  Such a gap is dangerous in a republic wherein the electorate is to hold the government in check (and the government in turn is charged with protecting the public and the market system itself from being compromised from firms too big to fail). 

The full essay is at "Executive Stature."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Libya and the World in 2011: A Higher Calling

On February 21, 2011, Libyan military aircraft fired live ammunition at crowds of anti-government protesters in Tripoli. "What we are witnessing today is unimaginable," said Adel Mohamed Saleh, an activist in the capital. "Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead." Arabiya television put the number killed on that day alone at 160. Gadhafi's son had vowed on television the day before that his father and security forces would fight "until the last bullet." I suspect that few people were surprised to find that Gadhafi would mount a sustained vituperative effort against the pro-democracy movement that was sweeping through the Middle East. "These really seem to be last, desperate acts. If you're bombing your own capital, it's really hard to see how you can survive, " said Julien Barnes-Dacey, Control Risks' Middle East analyst. "But I think Gaddafi is going to put up a fight ... in Libya more than any other country in the region, there is the prospect of serious violence and outright conflict," he said. As the world received reports of the massacre, a latent question not being asked was whether the world (or even a coalition therein in case of a holdout like China) has the right or an obligation to intervene militarily to stop the offending regime against its own defenseless people. I contend that there is such a right and moral obligation--meaning that national sovereignty does not extend to crimes against humanity. Sadly, at the time of the Libyan protests and Gaddafi's retaliation, the world's government offiicals were still largely impotent and disorganized.

The full essay is at "Libya and the World in 2011."

Source:

"Gadhafi: 'I'm in Tripoli, not Venezuela," February 22, 2011. NBCNews.com.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Corporate Social Responsibility: Too Often a Weapon

Typically, responsibility is something people working in a business presume applies to the other guy…whether a customer, supplier or distributor.  The idea is that then the other guy will pay for the problem.  That someone working in the business might have been at fault is not even considered, at least outwardly, in this mentality of otherness-responsibility.  Responsibility here means “I won’t pay; you must pay!”  It is essentially immature self-centeredness and cheapness used as a weapon.

The full essay has been incorporated into (or swallowed up by) On the Arrogance of False Entitlement: A Nietzschean Critique of Business Ethics and Management, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

Lehman Bros: Insufficient Accountability in Corporate Governance

In an executive meeting at Lehman in the summer of 2008, Skip McGee told Richard Fuld and the other top executives that the market was demanding “that we hold ourselves accountable.”  Essentially, he was pushing for Gregory’s outster.  What strikes me is what he didn’t say–namely, something like, “the stockholders are holding us accountable!”  Had he said this, Fuld might have laughed. Of course, Richard Fuld was a major stockholder, so he might have viewed it as “holding myself accountable to myself.”  Given the inherent ethical conflict of interest in such a statement, I don’t think we can rely on corporate governance as a check on excessive managerial risk-taking when executives hold a substantial share of the stock.  Therefore, in including stock options in executive compensation to align executives' incentives with medium and long-term firm performance, boards should add institutional safeguards or accountability mechanisms to corporate governance. In business-speak, there is a cost incurred that boards may not be aware of in aligning executive compensation (and firm ownership) with future profitability.

The full essay is at "Insufficient Accountability" in Essays on the Financial Crisis.


Prohibiting Interracial Marriage: Testing the Limits of Tolerance in a Federal Empire

In October, 2009, it was widely publicized in the press that a justice of the peace in Louisiana had been refusing to marry interracial couples (what if both people are multiracial?). He was subsequently fired. Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, said it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long. "I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house," Bardwell said. "My main concern is for the children." As astounding as this sounds in the twenty-first century in a modern society, the case demonstrates the thesis that an empire, or Union of many States, is inherently diverse--incredibly diverse in fact. Europeans tend to view the United States as though it were itself akin to a state (i.e., homogeneous). In truth, the United States are indeed as diverse as is the European Union (language is not the only basis of diversity).  A person in Boston reading a newspaper about the justice in the peace in Louisiana could be excused for thinking for a moment that Louisiana is another country. To be sure, the large states in the U.S. are equivalent in size to the large member-states in the E.U. Territory does matter in terms of cultural diversity.

The full essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.


Health-Care Insurance Reform: A Spectrum of Alternatives With Respect to Federalism

In 2009, the U.S. Senate’s majority leader, Harry Reid, proposed a government-run “public” health-care insurance option with an “escape hatch.”   According to The New York Times, “A state could refuse to participate in the public insurance plan by adopting a law to opt out.”    While this proposal would barr a State refusing the public option from participating in the coops that are also a part of Reid’s proposal, the basic “opt out” arrangement is in line with federalism and, moreover, with the inherent heterogenious or diverse nature of an empire spanning across and continent and beyond. In contrast, Olympia Snowe’s preference for “a fallback, safety-net plan” that would trigger the public option in States where insurance companies fail to offer affordable plans is antithetical to federalism because the States would have no choice in whether the plan was triggered.

The approach most in line with federalism would be for the health-plans to be designed in the State governments, with the U.S. Government focused on matters that the States cannot (not will not) do, such as presenting a united foreign policy to the world.  If there is a lowest common denominator for health-care in the US as per the fundamental principles of the Union, a basic program passed by the U.S. Government would be consistent with also having State plans.   Next closest, the U.S. Government would supply money for health-care, which the State governments would decide how to spend.  Even less in line with federalism would be the design of the programs being done by Congress and the WH, with separate opt-outs for the public and coop insurance plans.   Reid’s proposal was less in line with federalism, and finally, as least in line with it, was Snowe’s preference.