“Well written and an interesting perspective.” Clan Rossi --- “Your article is too good about Japanese business pushing nuclear power.” Consulting Group --- “Thank you for the article. It was quite useful for me to wrap up things quickly and effectively.” Taylor Johnson, Credit Union Lobby Management --- “Great information! I love your blog! You always post interesting things!” Jonathan N.

Friday, July 8, 2011

An Ethical Meltdown in Japan: On the Toxicity of Tepco's Nuclear Power

According to The Wall Street Journal, Japan’s largest power provider, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), faced the biggest challenge of its 50-year-history in "recovering from the damage done to its nuclear facilities and power systems by a devastating earthquake and tsunami." The New York Times reported on March 17, 2011, that "foreign nuclear experts, the Japanese press and an increasingly angry and rattled Japanese public are frustrated by government and power company officials’ failure to communicate clearly and promptly about the nuclear crisis. Pointing to conflicting reports, ambiguous language and a constant refusal to confirm the most basic facts, they suspect officials of withholding or fudging crucial information about the risks posed by the ravaged Daiichi plant."

According to The Wall Street Journal, when Tepco said early in the morning of March 16th "that a fire had broken out at the Daiichi plant’s No. 4 reactor, a reporter naturally asked how the fire had begun, given that just the day before the company had reported putting out a fire at that same reactor. The executive’s answer: ‘We’ll check. . . . We don’t have information here,’ he explained. After about two hours, the Tepco representative had the information: Turned out the smoke was coming not from reactor No. 4, but from reactor No. 3. If Tepco’s information had been delayed and vague, the reporters’ response was quick and direct. ‘You guys have been saying something different each time!’ one shouted. ‘Don’t tell us things from your impression or thoughts, just tell us what’s going on. Your unclear answers are really confusing!’"



                Tepco executives leave one of the many press conferences held during the disaster in 2011


Analysis at Cases of Unethical Business, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.



Thursday, July 7, 2011

Voluntary Greek-Debt Maturity Extensions: A Rush for the Exits?

As the E.U. was working out more loans for Greece in summer 2011, rating agencies looking at the state’s debt indicated that default would be pronounced should the decision of bond-holders to continue to hold Greek bonds be anything less than voluntary. Germany had been pushing for something less than voluntary so taxpayers would not have to bear so much of the risk and cost. France, doing the bidding of its banks, effectively used the rating agencies’ default-guidelines to insist that additional E.U. loans do not require then-current bond-holders to agree to later maturities. Given the extent of Greece’s debt-load relative to the state’s GDP, a private sector bond-holder, such as a bank, would naturally loose little time in getting out of holding Greek debt, even given the high interest rates (which reflect the risk).  



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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gandhi as a Model for the Arab Spring

After two weeks in 2011 of mass protests in Egypt for representative democracy and the ouster of President Mubarak, the Egyptian government agreed to concessions including allowing freedom of the press, releasing of political prisoners arrested during the protests, and commencing a committee with the opposition to consider constitutional amendments. According to The New York Times, the "regime also pledged not to harass those participating in the anti-government protests." Gandhi would have been proud, though the protesters left room for improvement on this score. Understanding how they could have done so can be of use to pro-democracy protesters not only in the Middle East, but also around the world.

The full essay is at "Gandhi as a Model for the Arab Spring."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Conflict of Interest in a Silent Oligarchy Being Engaged in Its Public Policy

Goldman Sachs, which had played a role in enabling Greece to hide its public debt, urged investors in March of 2010 to buy shares in two big health insurance companies, UnitedHealth Group and Cigna. The reason: their rates were sharply up and competition was down. According to The New York Times, the White House claimed, “ the Goldman Sachs analysis shows that while insurers can be aggressive in raising prices, they also walk away from clients because competition in the industry is so weak.” Rate increases ran as high as 50 percent, with most in “the low- to mid-teens” — far higher than overall inflation. 


The full essay is at Institutional Conflicts of Interest, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.
 

Monday, July 4, 2011

On the Aristocracy of Wealth

The "ardent glow of freedom gradually evaporates;—the charms of popular equality . . . insensibly decline; —the pleasures, the advantages derived from the new kind of government grow stale through use. Such declension in all these vigorous springs of actions necessarily produces a supineness. The altar of liberty is no longer watched with such attentive assiduity; —a new train of passions succeeds to the empire of the mind; —different objects of desire take place: —and, if the nation happens to enjoy a series of prosperity, voluptuousness, excessive fondness for riches, and luxury gain admission and establish themselves—these produce venality and corruption of every kind, which open a fatal avenue to bribery. Hence it follows, that in the midst of this general contagion a few men—or one—more powerful than all others, industriously endeavor to obtain all authority; and by means of great wealth—or embezzling the public money, —perhaps totally subvert the government, and erect a system of aristocratical or monarchic tyranny in its room. What ready means for this work of evil are numerous standing armies, and the disposition of the great revenue of the United States! . . . All nations pass this parokism of vice at some period or other; —and if at that dangerous juncture your government is not secure upon a solid foundation, and well guarded against the machinations of evil men, the liberties of this country will be lost—perhaps forever!"

The analysis of this quote is at "On the Aristocracy of Wealth."

Source:

The Impartial Examiner, Essay (March 5, 1788), 5.14.15, in Herbert J. Storing, ed., The Anti-Federalist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 290-91.

Corporate Influence in the West Wing: A Daley Occurrence

President Obama's chief of staff, William Daley, was a top executive at JPMorgan Chase, where according to The New York Times, he was paid as much as $5 million a year and supervised the Washington lobbying efforts of the nation’s second-largest bank. Daley also served on the board of directors at Boeing, the giant military contractor, and Abbott Laboratories, the global drug company, which "has billions of dollars at stake in the overhaul of the health care system." Although some argue that the White House needed someone on the inside who has the ear of business, the conflict of interest in having someone so tied to vested commercial interests decide who gets into the Oval Office and determine the President's agenda ought to be troubling. Just one year earlier, a Wall Street reform bill had been passed that sidestepped the question of whether banks too big to fail should be allowed to exist. Also, the enacted health-care reform law both included a mandate and excluded a public option...as per the interests of the heath insurance lobby. Rather than worry that well-financed private interests might already have too much clout in Washington, some people suggest the need for more corporate influence in the West Wing.

In terms of the Obama administration, the appointment of Mr. Daley represents "staying the course." Larry Summers, for example, had been instrumental in the Clinton Administration in keeping derivative securities from being regulated. Like Clinton, Obama is a pro-business Democrat, at least in practice--the charges of socialism notwithstanding. I contend that the fear over socialism is overplayed, while the ease with which corporate executives (such as Hank Paulson--Bush's Treasury Secretary and former CEO of Goldman Sachs--and William Daley) encase themselves in the White House is cause for concern. Yet there appears to be a societal blind spot with respect to some rather obvious ways in which corporations can capture our federal government. For instance, no one suspects a tie between Daley coming on board leading up to the re-election campaign and his corporate ties. It may be that Obama did not press "too big to fail" and the public option more because he knew he would draw on corporate campaign contributes. I suspect that we are blind to this possibility because our values are largely in line with corporate interests.

Whether corporate capture is from design or not, our corporate-friendly societal-orientation provides a bedding of sorts for structural conflicts of interest that must seem strange elsewhere in the world. William Daley is a beneficiary of a friendly American culture that enables looking the other way, or even cheerleading on behalf of greater corporate influence in Washington.

 Source:

 Eric Lipton, “Business Background Defines Chief of Staff,” The New York Times, January 6, 2011.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

European Banks Ignoring the E.U.

As banks based in the E.U. state of Britain decided to pull back their operations around the world in mid 2011, the bankers may have overlooked key distinctions between their banks’ operations within the E.U. and internationally. Besides ignoring the converging impact of E.U. financial regulation within the E.U., the bankers were discounting the proposal of European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet for a European rating agency. The proposal implies that certain advantages can be had for the E.U. as a whole—benefits that Lloyds, for example, implicitly discounted to the extent that the bank treated pulling back in the states of Ireland, the Netherlands, and Spain similar to pulling back in Dubai, which is not an E.U. state.

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