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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bulgarians Appealing To the E.U.

As a form of government that checks abuses in government, federalism can pit a state government against that of the union. In fact, several state governments should be able to hold back encroachments from the federal government, and that government in turn should have the wherewithal to stop abuses of power in a state government. The appeals of protesters in Bulgaria, the poorest E.U. state, to the E.U.  in July 2013 exemplify how not to invoke this function of a federal government. The question regards how the Bulgarians got it wrong.

                                                                                                 Calling on the E.U.
           Bulgarian protesters appeal to the E.U. to stop corruption in Bulgaria. Federalism itself can be seen visually in this picture by looking at the flags.  Image Source: Euronews.               

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On the Corporate Social Responsibility to Boycott Rolling Stone Magazine

The editors at Rolling Stone must have been kicking themselves after several retail chains announced that they would not be selling the issue that displays Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a young hottie. The problem is that criminal charges had been made against him for the Boston marathon bombing that took place in April 2013. Selling a magazine by playing off the good looks of a terrorist was more than several—but not all—retailers could stand. Either the standout was not being socially responsible or to be socially responsible is not as clear-cut as we might suppose.

                                                               Can a Terrorist be a Hottie?
        This picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is on the cover of an issue of the Rolling Stone. From a marketing perspective, why might the editors have selected this particular photo? To which market segment might the choice be oriented? Image Source: hdwallpaperfresh.com  
Tedeschi Foods, a grocery-store chain based in New England, issued a rather emotional statement for a company: “Tedeschi Food Shops supports the need to share the news with everyone, but cannot support actions that serve to glorify the evil actions of anyone. With that being said, we will not be carrying this issue of Rolling Stone. Music and terrorism don’t mix!”[1] Had Rolling Stone’s editors sought to glorify the evil actions of an alleged bomber, or had the intent been to profit from them? If the latter, couldn’t the news companies that splashed pictures of Tsarnaev on the television screen (while not showing commercials) be accused of the very same thing? Music and terrorism may not mix, but selling news and showcasing bombers apparently do. Is the Rolling Stones in the business of news or music?

Rite Aid issued a statement that it too would not be selling the paper, “Out of respect for those affected by the Boston Marathon Bombing.” CVS issued a similar statement. “As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones.”[2] Did the CVS executives really want to respect the victims, or did the underlying rationale have more to do with the positive PR impact on CVS’s image from “showing” compassion and respect in line with societal norms? The phrases “deep roots in New England” and “strong presence in Boston” can be read as advertisements using pathos, or emotion, to persuade New Englanders and Bostonians to identify with, and thus buy from, the “hometown” company.

Walgreens simply stated that it would not be selling the issue. K-Mart had a similar statement, according to the Huffington Post. Ironically, those two retailers might have been more principled in the decision, as they were less oriented to profiting from their respective announcements.

Bucking this collective push away from the controversial cover, the 7-Eleven convenience-store chain announced that it would be selling the issue. This decision raises the question of whether companies should have identical social policies, given that the relevant societal norm does not differ.[3] Did the 7-Eleven executives make the wrong decision, given the relevant societal norm? Or does that norm conflict with another—namely, that consumers should be the ones to make the decision through their purchasing decisions. The other retailers preempted the consumers from “voting with their wallets.” In other words, the societal norm against popularizing people who did bad things, allegedly or not, conflicts with the value of economic liberty in a market economy. Which is more in line with societal values in the U.S.:  compassion for victims or economic freedom? It depends on which value is or ought to be prioritized. In advocating a fit with societal norms and values, corporate social responsibility cannot say which norm or value should be prioritized—only that the company should closely fit itself with whichever societal norm or value is “picked.” To privilege particular societal norms or values over others as if the emphasis were mandated or implied in being socially responsible makes corporate social responsibility dogmatic in the sense of being arbitrary. That is, it makes CSR ideologically prescriptive rather than a theory explaining why only some companies survive in the long run and a tool being used by managers to steer their companies through choppy waters.

In terms of the Rolling Stone cover, it may indeed be arbitrary for retail chains to boycott the issue after television news networks made so much money off the story by showing the bomber’s picture. In other words, the double-standard may point to the arbitrariness in the corporate social responsibility movement. On the other hand, the retailers (excepting 7-Eleven) may have drawn the line at the magazine cover because the particular head shot together with the Rolling Stone context may have been designed to sell the bomber as a sexy guy—something the television coverage did not do. Whereas profiting by showing various pictures strains a societal norm but does not break it, profiting by sexualizing a young terrorist may indeed cross the line.

At any rate, this case study demonstrates that corporations do indeed differ with respect to how or whether to be socially responsible. That is to say, social responsibility is a judgment call on which people can and do differ.

1. “Rolling Stone’s ‘The Bomber’ Issue Banned By CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid And Kmart,” The Huffington Post, June 17, 2013.
2. “Rolling Stone’s ‘The Bomber’ Issue Banned By CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid And Kmart,” The Huffington Post, June 17, 2013.
3. This assumption does not apply to the environment of international business, as different societies have differing societal norms on a given topic.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Racheting Up Global Warming: A Hidden Game-Ender Still to Come

Global warming has been so difficult to slow down through political means at least in part due to the fact that most of the action has been going on in the Arctic Ocean and the surrounding permafrost land (which, it turns out, is not so permanently frozen after all), far from almost all of the world’s population. In short, what is occurring in that region is both dwarfing the impact of human-released carbon and serving as the canary in the coal mine. The implications are truly astonishing.
According to Alan Buis of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, “Climate change is already happening in the Arctic, faster than its ecosystems can adapt. Looking at the Arctic is like looking at the canary in the coal mine for the entire Earth system.”[1] If the pace of global warming outstrips the ability of the ecosystem sustaining the human race to adapt, the news of the canary at the North Pole is rather baleful. In other words, the climate may get warmer too fast to allow us mere mortals to adjust in terms of such essentials as food and water. Moreover, lest it be forgotten, the more complex the organism, the less adaptable it is to external change.
So what is going on up North that has Alan Buis so concerned? The answer has to do with carbon, methane and permafrost.

[1] Alan Buis, “Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?NASA News and Features, June 10, 2013. Accessed July 16, 2013.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Teaching Ethical Leadership

Can ethical leadership be taught? In the typical business school, this question would be interpreted, or “refurbished.” Can students be trained to become ethical leaders? While often conflated contemporaneously, these two questions are indeed distinct. Instructors, professors and school administrators should first decide which question is more relevant to their purposes. The question chosen should fit with the education, pedagogical method, and philosophy of education of not only the instructor or professor, but also the school itself. In this essay, I distinguish the two questions in order to unpack them with their full significance.
The question, Can ethical leadership be taught, can be interpreted as being centered on knowledge of the concept and theories of ethical leadership. Can this particular knowledge be taught? That is to say, if a student were to ask, What is ethical leadership? could the instructor or professor answer with a definition? Have scholars even come up with an agreed-up definition? More broadly, how does ethical leadership as a concept differ from that of leadership more generally? Do theories of ethical leadership explain it rather than merely being oriented to how to? Furthermore, do any extant theories relate the concept to other, related concepts such as strategic leadership or even strategy? If so, can such theories be taught to the students at a particular level of education? Last but not least, would teaching the theories toward an understanding of what ethical leadership is be in line with the approach of the particular business school? Some schools are more commercially-oriented than others. I contend that two basic schools of thought can be identified and used as pedagogical approaches for teaching ethical leadership.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Democracy or Force: The Case of Turkey

The Turkish army removed four governments of Turkey in the period between 1960 and 1997. In the midst of political protests in June 2013, the government sought to insulate democracy from the force of a coup by amending army regulation #35 to restrict the army to “defending the Turkish nation against external threats and dangers.”[1] At least on paper, no longer would safeguarding the republic be the legal basis for enacting a coup. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan had already inserted civilian authority in the National Council, which had been dominated by the army. Actively marginalizing the military top officials, rather than relying on mere parchment may be necessary to stave off another coup in the future, given how easy it was for the Egyptian military to toppled an elected president in a few days in July 2013.

Democracy, it may be said, is feckless if it is to rely on parchment as a barrier to military force. Civilian control should go so far as to enter the military at the top. In Turkey, hundreds of high-ranking military officers had been put on trial for plotting a coup. For democracy to be protected, the civilian political officials should have the power to fire even the top generals; troops must see that the orders they are given ultimately come from civilians heading the military who have a political interest in the government in power.

In the case of Turkey, an additional safeguard for the democracy would be to become a state in the E.U. The Union would not permit the military in one of the states to take over that state government. More abstractly, the checks and balances in federalism itself could act as a deterrent to any army at the state level desiring to take over the state. Of course, that Turkey’s government feels the need to protect itself against a coup may be an indication that Turkey’s democracy is not yet sufficiently rooted for Turkey to meet the E.U.’s accession criteria.

In short, military coups rely on force, as in “might makes right.” To protect itself, democracy needs not only parchment power, but also the force of civilian officials even at the top of the military. To be sure, those officials do not themselves have the guns, so democracy is still tenuous without a solid rooting in the people. Even so, a coup need not be a case of force over parchment, since democracy can avail itself of force as well—what we may call legitimate force with democratic accountability.

See the video made to accompany this essay: http://youtu.be/_1yuvnOq5YE

See a related video on Syria: From Protest to War  http://youtu.be/NJm3ZaamhgA 

1.Sernem Arsu, “Turkish Lawmakers Move to Curb Army’s Political Power,” The New York Times, July 13, 2013.