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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Could a Middle Eastern Union Cool the Isreali-Palestinian Conflict?

I contend that thinking outside the box can go a long way in getting past the stalemate on Israeli-Palestinian relations.  The key, I believe, lies in relativizing the conflict by shifting the paradigm by looking outward, at the region as a whole. If the autocracies in the Middle East are indeed on the way out--to be replaced by true republcs not in name only--then, at least according to federal theory, they could form a federal union somewhere on a spectrum with the AU, EU, and US. For example, one would not expect it to be as consolidated as the EU. Even so, Israel might just feel more comfortable with there bieng other democracies in the region, such that it might agree to join a union as long as there are strong minority rights (yet without too many areas subject to vetos, which tend to render a union impotent).  

The full essay is at "Could a Middle Eastern Union Cool the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?"

Free Speech in the EU: On the Judgement on John Galliano's Anti-Semitism

On March 1, 2011, Sidney Toledano, CEO of the French fashion house Christian Dior, wrote that he was dismissing its chief designer, John Galliano, after the surfacing of a video that showed "his anti-Semitic outbursts at a Paris bar." The word choice of outbursts by The New York Times is interesting, for the actual video shows him in a rather mellow, notably intoxicated, "well you know" mood. The article's writer admits that the designer had used "a slurred voice." Galliano was telling a Jewish couple that they should feel lucky that their ancestors were not killed by the Nazis because so many did not survive. He said ‘‘people like you would be dead,’’ and  ‘‘your mothers, your forefathers’’ could have all be ‘‘gassed.’’ Although applying a rational criterion to a drunk man, I wonder in what sense he meant ‘‘I love Hitler.’’ Considering that Galliano is gay and Hitler sent homosexuals to concentration camps, I suspect that Galliano was lying simply to hurt the couple in what was undoubtedly a back-and-forth in a verbal fight.  Indeed, it takes two to tangle, and the rest of us might do well to recognize the difficulty in interpreting a snipet without having observed the entire contest.

The full essay is at "Free Speech in the E.U."

Financial Sector Lobbyists Put the Republic at Risk: The Case of the U.S. Senate Bill on Financial Reform in 2010

Considering the gravity of the risk in Wall Street banks being too big to fail, the financial reform bill passed by the US Senate in 2010 may have been influenced too much by the financial interests. It can thus serve as a good case study for how a republic can be subject to too much influence from the moneyed interests. It could be asked, moreover, whether there is an inevitable trajectory that a polity undergoes from being a republic to becoming a plutocracy (ruled by the wealthy).


Sources:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/us/politics/23lobby.html?scp=2&sq=financial%20lobbying&st=cse ; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/24/business/24reform.html?hp ; WSJ (May 26, 2010).

Betraying an Electorate: On President Obama's Deal with Drug Companies

While campaigning for the U.S. presidency in 2008, U.S. President Obama decried the greedy Republican lawmakers acting at the behest of the drug companies to keep drug prices artificially high. A year later, those same drug companies wanted Obama to oppose a Democratic proposal that was intended to bring down the prices of medicine. Beyond betraying those voters who voted for him based on his campaign rhetoric on drug prices, Obama belied the trust that is necessary for a viable republic to function democratically.

The full essay is at "Betraying an Electorate."


Religion and Politics: Russian Orthodox Patriarch Helped Syria’s Assad Regime


In the wake of yet another Syrian massacre of civilians, including families being shot at close-range in their own houses, the New York Times published a report in 2012 that claimed that Russian priests and theologians commiserated with diplomats from Damascus at the opening of an exhibition devoted to Syrian Christianity in a cathedral near the Kremlin. While it is understandable that the Kremlin would not want to lose its “longtime partner and last firm foothold in the Middle East,” it is perhaps less palatable for Christian prelates and doctors of the Russian Orthodox Church to essentially look the other way on atrocities so the Syrian Christians, many of whom are Orthodox, won’t be pushed under the bus in a wave of Islamic fundamentalism that could be unleashed should Assad fall from power. The Syrian Christians were reluctant to join the Sunni Muslim opposition to Assad for fear of being persecuted by the Sunnis should they gain power.


                                     Clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church                                  NYT

The full essay is at "Russian Patriarch Helped Assad."

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Veto Power of the U.S. President

On September 12, 1787, in the U.S. Constitutional Convention, Gerry claimed that the "primary object of the revisionary check on the President is not to protect the general interest, but to defend his own department" (Madison, Notes, p. 628). Gerry was stressing the value of maintaining the separation of power that was to exist between the three branches of the U.S. (General, or federal) Government. I believe he was inordinately fixated on his point--missing the presiding function of the U.S. President. Also on September 12, Madison averred that the "object of the revisionary power is twofold. 1. to defend the Executive Rights 2. to prevent popular or factious injustice" (Madison, Notes, p. 629). In addition to be an advocate of the separation of power within the U.S. Government, Madison was concerned that a large faction in the majority might oppress a minority faction and he viewed the expanded republic of the union as a means to minimize such tyranny. He too was slighting the presiding role of the president.

The full essay is at "The Veto Power of the U.S. President."


Source: James Madison, Notes in the Federal Convention of 1787 (New York: Norton, 1987).

Judicial Ethics: Friendship and Philanthropy

Harlan Crow was a Dallas real estate magnate and a major contributor to conservative causes. He did many favors for his friend, Clarence Thomas, “helping finance a Savannah library project dedicated to Justice Thomas, presenting him with a Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass and reportedly providing $500,000 for [Virginia] Thomas to start a Tea Party-related group.” The two friends spent time together at “gatherings of prominent Republicans and businesspeople at Crow’s Adirondacks estate and his camp in East Texas.” Crow also “stepped in at Thomas’ urging” to finance the multimillion-dollar purchase and restoration of the cannery that had employed the justice’s mother. Crow’s restoration “featured a museum about the culture and history of Pin Point that has become a pet project of Justice Thomas’s. . . . While the nonprofit Pin Point museum is not intended to honor Justice Thomas, people involved in the project said his role in the community’s history would inevitably be part of it, and he participated in a documentary film that is to accompany the exhibits.”

News “of Mr. Crow’s largess provoked controversy and questions, adding fuel to a rising debate about Supreme Court ethics. But Mr. Crow’s financing of the museum, his largest such act of generosity, previously unreported, raises the sharpest questions yet — both about Justice Thomas’s extrajudicial activities and about the extent to which the justices should remain exempt from the code of conduct for federal judges. Although the Supreme Court is not bound by the code, justices have said they adhere to it. Legal ethicists differed on whether Justice Thomas’s dealings with Mr. Crow pose a problem under the code.”

The code says judges “should not personally participate” in raising money for charitable endeavors, out of concern that donors might feel pressured to give or entitled to favorable treatment from the judge. In addition, judges are not even supposed to know who donates to projects honoring them. . . . (T)he restriction on fund-raising is primarily meant to deter judges from using their position to pressure donors, as opposed to relying on ‘a rich friend’ like Mr. Crow, said Ronald D. Rotunda, who teaches legal ethics at Chapman University in California.” On the other side of the argument, Deborah L. Rhode, a Stanford University law instructor who has called for stricter ethics rules for Supreme Court justices, said Justice Thomas “should not be directly involved in fund-raising activities, no matter how worthy they are or whether he’s being centrally honored by the museum.”

The ethical analysis is at "Judicial Ethics."



Source:

Mike McIntire, “Friendship of Justice and Magnate Puts Focus on Ethics,” The New York Times, June 18, 2011.

The Flemish and Walloons: Worlds Apart?

I contend that the cultural differences between the Flemish and Walloons within Belgium have been exaggerated to such an extent that the state government of Belgium has been paralyzed and solutions have eluded the Belgians. Reducing the fear-induced swelling of the admittedly real differences within Belgium may therefore facilitate relief from the paralysis. In other words, the added perspective from viewing the cultural differences as less traumatic can help the Flemish and Walloons to either live together or, ironically, be able to separate. That’s right—a more realistic assessment of the differences can actually facilitate the separation of Belgium into two (or three) E.U. states (or Flanders joining the Netherlands and Wallonia joining France—and the German-speaking area joining Germany). Exaggerating differences can snuff out consideration of such alternatives and enable continued paralysis.

The full essay is at "Flemish and Walloons."


                                            

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan’s extolling of individualism amid the problem that he saw as government itself resonated with the religious overtures of American divine providence as a city on a hill—a promised land akin to the New Jerusalem. Even as material self-interest taking advantage of unbridled markets under the guise of competition was not Reagan’s primary orientation, greed could easily trump the force of Reagan’s normative envelop, human nature such as it is.

The full essay is at "Ronald Reagan."

Banning Corporate Earmarks: Too Broad?

In March 2010, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee banned earmarks to for-profit companies. Had such a ban been in place in 2009, it would have meant the elimination of about 1,000 awards worth a total of about $1.7 billion. Many of those earmarks went to military contractors for projects in lawmakers’ home districts. The committee seemingly meant to end a practice that has steered billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to companies and set off corruption scandals. However, it is also possible that the vote was a “dog and pony show” not meant to result in any eventual law. Such a show would give the American public the illusion of Congressional effort to reduce the impact of business on the elected representatives.

The full essay is at "Banning Corporate Earmarks."


 Source:

 Eric Lichtblau, “Leaders in House Block Earmarks to Corporations,” The New York Times, March 10, 2010.

The Keynesian Drug: America’s Achilles' Heel

Keynes posited that government deficit-spending could boost an economy’s output of goods and services when it is short of full-employment. In the context of an economy near full-steam, tax cuts and/or more government spending could trigger inflation while adding little to GDP. To maintain balance in the government accounts, government surpluses during the ensuing upswing are used to pay off the accumulated debt. This is the theory. Unfortunately, it seems to be at odds with representative democracy. Specifically, a systemic bias exists in favor of recurrent deficits, and thus accumulating debt.

The full essay is at "The Keynesian Drug."

Sources:

Brutus, Letter 8, January 10, 1788, 2.9.95, in Herbert J. Storing, ed., The Anti-Federalist, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).

Alan Simpson, Newsweek, December 27, 2010, p. 28.

On the Ethics of Legislating

The means by which a bill becomes a law are sometimes referred to “how sausage gets made” because they are not suited for public display.  The belief is that were the citizens to see what goes on in the process, they would demand that it be changed. Perhaps this means that it should be changed.

The full essay is at "On the Ethics of Legislating."

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A European Utility Re-Envisioning Energy: An Opportunity for Visionary Leadership

When Eneco began a business called CrowdNett in which the company would sell large home-batteries to people having solar panels, the Dutch electric utility was on the way toward putting its electricity-production business out of business. The company would continue, though radically transformed. The strikingly different strategic-course correction was based on a rather unique vision of a novel social reality in which homes generate their own energy and then some. In the context of climate change and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Eneco’s CEO had an opportunity in 2017 to lead not only organizationally, but societally as well by promoting the radical social reality already envisioned.

The full essay is at "Re-Envisioning Energy."

For more on visionary leadership and management, see The Essence of Leadership: A Cross-Cultural Foundation, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. 

The University of Arizona: A Dysfunctional Police State

Imagine asking an organization's security employee to enforce a policy only to hear him refuse because such a policy is beneath him. Then on another occasion you find such employees in the locality enforcing local speed-limits. To be sure, speeding tickets are a lucrative business, but that usually goes for a city's police department. Imagine next crossing a grassy quad on a university campus as two campus security employees slowly pass on bikes--watching. Entering the student union, there is yet another. Then returning with a coffee back across the rectangular grassy area--which had been roped off all summer for "turf restoration"--you see a security employee passing on a motorcycle--again watching people. Then as you return to the campus library, you notice a "police" jeep slowly creeping along opposite from the quad. The resulting sense that students, staff, and even faculty are being perpetually watched far beyond the rationale of protection is common at the University of Arizona. Nevertheless, the administrative offices, including those of the VP for business affairs, the provost, and even the president, look the other way, which in itself can be regarded as passive aggressive. In flagging that university as highly dysfunctional, and thus to be avoided especially by scholars, I draw on my time as a visiting scholar at that university, where I was met with active and passive aggression and, more generally, regarded as less than a nobody by nonacademic staff having an overblown sense of entitlement undergirded with a lack of accountability. The University of Arizona can thus be regarded as "the poster child" for dysfunctional organizational culture. I submit that aggressiveness is nothing short of anathema to an academic atmosphere. That non-academic employees at a university would have so little respect for academia while the "academic" administration betrays its calling, whether out of cowardness, incompetence, or a sheer disvaluing of academic standards is squalid enough to justify whistle-blowing on behalf of academia.

The full essay is at "A Dysfunctional University."

Friday, August 18, 2017

The U.S. House of Representatives: An Aristocratic Democracy-Deficit?

The abrupt resignation of Jesse Jackson, Jr., from the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 only weeks after being re-elected gave Democratic politicians in Chicago a rare opportunity to get their hands on a Congressional seat. The New York Times observed at the time that such seats “in Democratic strongholds” of Chicago “do not come open very often, and when they do, a line forms fast.” According to Debbie Halvorson, who ran against Jackson, “If someone is thinking of becoming a congresswoman or congressman, this might be their only chance. Whoever gets this will have it forever, they say. That’s why everyone wants to take a chance.” In other words, the office is a sort of personal entitlement. From a democratic standpoint, this represents “slippage.”


Even though the U.S. House Chamber looks large, it represents 310 million people.   Source: Britannica


The full essay is at "An Aristocratic Democracy-Deficit."


Source:
Steven Yaccino and Monica Davey, “Illinois Sets Election Dates to Replace Jackson in House,” The New York Times, November 27, 2012.

Pressuring Employees to Act as Lobbyists on the U.S. Debt: Ethical?

How far a boss can ethically become involved in an employee’s political role as a citizen is a question perhaps more important than whether a business should make demands regarding what an employee does in the privacy of his or her own home (e.g., smoking or drinking products that are legal). It would obviously be objected, for example, were a supervisor to insist on accompanying a subordinate into the voting booth to verify the vote. What about pressuring an employee to lobby as a private citizen in the company’s interest without being paid for that work? Is it even work when it is “voluntarily” done on “off-time”? Finally, would it make a difference if the issue held systemic importance—meaning if it were vital to the country itself or at least the economic system—and the particular stance being advocated by the boss had value in solving the systemic problem (i.e., not just in the company’s interest)?
                 Federal U.S. deficits as a percentage of GDP from 1792 (2012-2016 projected). Notice that the projections take the deficits down from 2008-2010 levels. Notice also 1960-2010 as differing significantly from the "episodic" pattern in the 1792-1930 period. Why?
The full essay is at "Pressuring Employees."


Sources:
Damian Paletta and Kristina Peterson, “CEOs Flock to Capital to Avert ‘Cliff,” The Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2012.
Christina Wilkie, “’Fix The Debt’ CEOs Underfund Employee Retirement, Demand Cuts For Elderly,” The Huffington Post, November 27, 2012.

Ethan Rome, “Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein Wants Seniors to Get Less,” The Huffington Post, November 27, 2012.

Massey Mining: Beyond Regulations

Massey Energy Co. owned the mine in West Virginia where 29 minors were killed in an explosion in 2010. Faulty water nozzles failed to stop a spark from setting a pocket of methane gas on fire, which in turn led to an explosion of coal dust. Other safety violations, such as not cleaning up extra coal dust, contributed to the accident too. While it is unfortunately not unusual for managers to cut corners on regulations, the attitude evinced at Massey may point to a deeper problem in how some companies view law itself--as an obstacle to be overcome rather than constrained by. 

Emergency vehicles head to the Massey explosion in which 29 miners were killed.   AP

The full essay is at "Massey Mining."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

From Visionary Leadership to Management: Taking a Bite Out of Apple

Founders and otherwise visionary leaders in business can be distinguished from managers, even though a manager may be running a company. For one thing, managers may resent leaders for being able to take in a larger view while relegating—even dismissing the petty, which can be so alluring to the managerial mentality. Leaders in turn may view the implementation of a vision as nugatory at best. More abstractly, change as paradigmatic (i.e., shifting from one broad framework to another) has its fans (i.e., visionary leaders), while the status quo has its own defenders (i.e., managers). Vision and big ideas are typically associated with a company’s founder or visionary leader, whereas bureaucracy tends to go with the implementation-focus of managers (including executives). In short, to suppose that leadership and management are the same is to ignore a lot that separates them. In the case of Apple, the shift from leadership to management that occurred with the passing of Steve Jobs may be at least partially responsible for the subsequent decline in the company’s stock price. In this essay, I explore the change at Apple to demonstrate why management should not be conflated with leadership.

Tim Cook testifying at the U.S. Senate. Is he innately a visionary or is his leadership managerial in nature?    Getty Images

Material from this essay has been incorporated in The Essence of Leadership, which is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.

The Essence of Leadership

In The Essence of Leadership, leadership itself is reformulated in such a way that what emerges—the essence of leadership—is distinct from related phenomena, including management, presiding, and mentoring. This is not to say, however, that leadership bears no relation to strategy—hence the complex concept of strategic leadership, which is not without risks. Leadership itself contains risks, which a focus on the essence of leadership, rather than, for instance, taking leadership as simply about having influence, can arguably minimize. Such risks include the cult of the leader, to which charisma and attributions of heroism are especially susceptible, and the distorting impact of ideology, such as in Burns’ version of transformational leadership. Shaking out the risks and distinguishing leadership as a unique phenomenon are ways of pointing back to the essence of leadership, which applies in virtually any culture. That is, the essence is cross-cultural. Taking comparative religion as a stand-in for cultures, I demonstrate that the essence of leadership can be informed by Taoist, Buddhist, and Judeo-Christian principles.


Material from this essay has been incorporated in The Essence of Leadership, which is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

U.S. Government Debt: A Constitutional Moment?

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report in June 2011 indicating that the debt of the U.S. Government had reached a dangerous level—that is, one likely to trigger a financial crisis. This characterization ought to have garnished close attention by the American people, for the viability of the Union itself may have been at stake. I submit that such a condition, moreover, warrants a constitutional moment—that is, a time when the citizenry focus on solving a basic governmental problem. In other words, the matter of the publicly-held U.S. Government debt may have justified popular sovereignty stepping in. Of course, how this would have been done is itself a problem, particularly because government officials had no interest at the time in relinquishing their power as our agents. This might explain in part why the debt would go on to reach $20 trillion by 2017. 

The full essay is at: A Constitutional Moment.


Nature's Racial Melting-Pot: The American Empire

The 2010 U.S. census reignited the question of racial identity among multi-racial residents.  “I can’t fit in a single box on the census form” was the typical refrain among the fastest growing segment of the US population.  According to The New York Times in February, 2011, "when it comes to keeping racial statistics, the nation is in transition, moving, often without uniformity, from the old “mark one box” limit to allowing citizens to check as many boxes as their backgrounds demand." The number of mixed-race Americans was at the time rising rapidly, largely on account of increases in immigration and intermarriage. In 2010, for example, one in seven new marriages was interracial. Politically, some racial interest groups believed that the use of a catch-all category marginalized minority races in particular. As a result, the Census Bureau created 63 categories of possible racial combinations (a typical bureaucratic solution to a political problem).

The full essay is at "Nature's Racial Melting-Pot."

Susan Saulny, “Counting by Race Can Throw Off Some Numbers,” The New York Times, February 9, 2011.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Drug Companies as Feeding Machines: Don't Feed the Sharks

In 2008, drug companies raised the wholesale prices of brand-name prescription drugs by about 9 percent, according to industry analysts. That added more than $10 billion to the nation’s drug bill, which was on track to exceed $300 billion in 2009. By at least one analysis, this was the highest annual rate of inflation for drug prices since 1992. “When we have major legislation anticipated, we see a run-up in price increases,” says Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, a professor of pharmaceutical economics at the University of Minnesota.  A Harvard health economist, Joseph P. Newhouse, said he found a similar pattern of unusual price increases after Congress added drug benefits to Medicare a few years ago, giving tens of millions of older Americans federally subsidized drug insurance. Just as the program was taking effect in 2006, the drug industry raised prices by the widest margin in a half-dozen years.  “They try to maximize their profits,” Mr. Newhouse said. However, the drug companies claimed they were having to raise prices to maintain the profits necessary to invest in research and development of new drugs as the patents on many of their most popular drugs were set to expire in a few years. The drug makers were proudly citing the agreement they had reached with the White House and the Senate Finance Committee chairman to trim $8 billion a year — $80 billion over 10 years — from the nation’s drug bill by giving rebates to older Americans and the government. However, if realized, the price increases in 2009 would effectively cancel out the savings from at least the first year of the Senate Finance agreement. Moreover, some of the critics claimed that the surge in drug prices could change the dynamics of the entire 10-year deal. “It makes it much easier for the drug companies to pony up the $80 billion because they’ll be making more money,” said Steven D. Findlay, senior health care analyst with the advocacy group Consumers Union.

The full essay is at "Drug Companies as Feeding Machines."

Source:

Duff Wilson, "Drug Makers Raise Prices in Face of Health Care Reform," The New York Times, November 15, 2009.


Van Rompuy as the European Council's First Extended-Term President

“In a sense, Europe seemed to be living down to expectations. Earlier, the foreign minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt, warned against a 'minimalist solution' that would reduce the European Union’s 'opportunity to have a clear voice in the world.'"  Olivier Ferrand, president of Terra Nova, a center-left research institute in France, said, “It is quite astounding. . . . It is jaw-dropping. It is the end of ambition for the E.U. — really disappointing.”



The full essay is at "Van Rompuy as the First President."

Source:

Stephen Castle and Steven Erlanger, "Low-Profile Leaders Chosen for Top European Posts," The New York Times, November 19, 2009.

Goldman Sachs: Working It

Goldman Sachs’ (GS) board considered buying AIG in late June, 2008, so GS could use AIG’s premium float for capital (rather than becoming a bank holding company and using deposits to fund trades or as collatoral for leveraged trading).  Strangely, GS’s board didn’t realize that another part of GS was questioning the “mark to market” valuations that AIG was making on its swaps.  Also, AIG had revised its November and December 2007 losses from $1 billion to $5 billion.  GS and AIG had the same public accountant (Price), which GS was using to get AIG to down-value the value of its assets. On that week in September, 2008, when Lehman went under, JP Morgan and GS were working to put together a loan of $50 billion to cover AIG’s deepening hole  At the same time, the two banks were demanding new collateral payments from AIG, pushing the insurance giant deeper into its hole.  The Fed and AIG wondered if the fees and interest rate being set by the two banks for themselves and other contributing banks wasn’t essentially stealing the company.

The full essay is at "Goldman Sachs."


Problems in American Executive Compensation: The Ethical Dimension

According to The New York Post, 66% of the income growth in the United States between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans. In 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s paycheck was about 30 to 1. By the year 2000, that ratio had exploded to between 300 to 500 to one. Because American executives tend to be paid more in total compensation than do their European colleagues, the ratios are lower in in the E.U. Hence one might ask what is behind the trajectory in the United States. 

Democratic Protests in the Middle East: A Conflagration of Historic Proportions amid a Constancy in Human Nature?

Perhaps by looking back on one's own time as though it were already historical, it is possible to assess whether what one is witnessing on the global stage is truly significant from the standpoint of human history or merely of that which history is replete. In the context of the popular protests in the Middle East in early 2011, the question is perhaps whether the world was witnessing a Hegelian burst of freedom or merely more of the same in terms of political revolutions.

The full essay is at "Democratic Protests in the Middle East."

Does Opportunity Justify Economic Inequality?

From 1993 to 2010, the incomes of the richest 1 percent of Americans grew 58 percent while the rest had a 6.4 percent increase.  In 2010, the first year of an economic recovery, the top 1 percent of Americans captured 93% of the income gains. Beyond the danger to the American republics in there being an economic elite so far removed from the vast majority of the population is the question of whether the trend is baleful, economically speaking. It is not clear that even such an income gain being snagged by so few registered in the minds of the general populous as a problem. The key to any concern would seem to be whether opportunity for the many is compromised as a result of extreme economic inequality.

The full essay is at "Economic Inequality."

Source:
Eduardo Porter, “Inequality Undermines Democracy,” The New York Times, March 21, 2012. 

Christianity and “Social Capitalism”

The SEC charged Ephren Taylor with a fraudulent $11 million Ponzi scheme in April 2012. According to Reuters, “Taylor fraudulently sold $7 million of notes said to bear 12 percent to 20 percent annual interest rates, to fund small businesses such as laundries, juice bars and gas stations.” He “had conducted a multi-city ‘Building Wealth Tour’ in which he spoke to congregations” on the importance of “giving back.” He called himself a “social capitalist.” In actuality, he used the money on himself and his wife’s attempt to become a singer.

The full essay is at "Christianity and 'Social Capitalism'."


Source:
Jonathan Stempel, “SEC Charges Ephren Taylor II ForAllegedly Bilking Churchgoers In $11 Million Ponzi Scheme,” The Huffington Post, April 12, 2012.

Partisan Bishops Castigated Poverty Nuns

In April 2012, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization of women’s religious communities, of having members with “serious doctrinal problems.” Specifically, the Congregation alleged that members of the group had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The Vatican’s use of “radical” to describe the “feminist themes” belies the neutrality of the Holy See on the matter (for the adjective is both unnecessary and pejorative). In other words, if you want to discredit someone’s point of view with which you disagree, simply label it as radical. The labeling says more about the labeler than the actual target. Specifically, the labeling indicates anger and resentment as well as prejudice. The white supremacists in Alabama in the 1960s, for example, labeled the Freedom Riders as radicals. In going after the group of nuns, the Vatican too was being partisan.


Source:

Laurie Goodstein, “Vatican Reprimands a Group of U.S. Nuns and Plans Changes,” The New York Times, April 19, 2012.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The U.S. Goes after Executives at Volkswagen: A Deterrent?

Oliver Schmidt, a Volkswagen executive who had been head of the company’s environmental and engineering center in Michigan, pleaded guilty on August 4, 2017 to two federal charges in the United States: conspiracy to defraud the federal government and violating the Clean Air Act. He “admitted conspiring with other Volkswagen employees to mislead and defraud the United States in 2015 by failing to disclose that thousands of diesel cars were rigged to evade detection of excess emissions levels. He also admitted filing fraudulent emissions reports to regulators.”[1] He faced possible fines and time in prison. James Liang, another of the company’s executives who had been charged, had already pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and violating the Clean Air Act. The other executives charged were in the E.U. state of Germany, which does not extradite its residents. Given the power of the auto industry in that state, such accountability applied to executives for the same fraud in the E.U. may have been too difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, for the sake of business ethics alone, prosecuting executives personally rather than just companies is in general important as a deterrent.

The full essay is at "Executives at Volkswagen."


[1] Bill Vlasic, “Volkswagen Executive Pleads Guilty in Diesel Emissions Case,” The New York Times, August 4, 2017.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

When 4.3% Is below Full Employment

CNN reported that the U.S. economy added “a strong 209,000 jobs” in July of 2017, with the unemployment rate falling to 4.3% to match a 16-year low. Unemployment had peaked at 10% in 2010, after the financial crisis of 2008. CNN cited many economists as saying that the 4.3% rate was “at or near” full employment, meaning that the rate would not go down to a significant degree.[1] Yet even within CNN’s own reporting, we can find reason to doubt this claim.

The full essay is at "When 4.3% Is below Full Employment."



[1] Patrick Gillespie, “Milestone for Trump: 1 Million New Jobs in Six Months,” CNN, August 4, 2017.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Managerial Society of Carrots and Sticks

In a society of managerialism, a particular value-set is salient; it can be characterized overtly or tacitly by technique as a functional means of manipulating resources (human or material). This orientation issues in an instrumentalism wherein even other human beings are viewed as means rather than as ends in themselves. Furthermore, an assumption of incrementalism rather than real change tends to accompany the orientation because the status quo is the default where the focus is on instruments. The managerial orientation can be so engrained in generally accepted “organization speak” that the modern herd hardly recognizes the penetration in modern society itself.

The full essay is at "A Managerial Society."

See also a related book, available at Amazon: On the Arrogance of False Entitlement

The U.S. Senate as Protector of the Interests of the Rich

In the U.S. Constitutional Convention, Governeur Morris said on July 2, 1787, that the “Rich will strive to establish their dominion & enslave the rest. They always did. They always will. The proper security [against] them is to form them into a separate interest.” By this he meant the U.S. Senate. The democratic principle in the U.S. House and the aristocratic spirit in the U.S. Senate “will then controul each other.” (Madison, p. 233) Having the State Legislatures appoint their U.S. Senators—as was the case until 1913—would defeat the independence of the Senate, and hence its function as a check on the excesses of democracy in the U.S. House.  Such excesses had just been evinced in Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts, wherein the legislature there had sided with the former soldiers who had not been paid for their service but were still to make payments on their debts. In other words, one of the purposes of the U.S. Senate as originally envisioned was to protect property (including creditor interests). 

The Banking Lobby: Writing Its Own Ticket in Washington

The Huffington Post observed in 2012: “Wall Street's campaign spending and lobbying power is so intimidating that banks have repeatedly stuck the public with the tab for their losses and no one in Washington stops them.” This was a significant change to be sure from President Jackson depriving the Second National Bank of the U.S. of funding in 1832.

The full essay is at "The Banking Lobby."

Source:

Loren Berlin and D. Levine, “Robo-Signing Settlement Might Not Provide Homeowners With Needed Help,” The Huffington Post, February 2, 2012.

The Catholic Ethical Stance on Greed

Catholic economic, social and political ethics from Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes (The Church in the Modern World) encyclical in 1965 through the relevant encyclicals of John Paul II are “especially critical of the risks of avarice, acquisitiveness, and waste in consumerist societies, the indifference of many affluent people toward the poor, and the swing of governments away from redistributive taxation, welfare ‘safety nets,’ and foreign aid to poor nations, toward a kind of ‘economic rationalism’ that encourages and enacts hard-heartedness and selfishness.”

The full essay is at "Catholic Stance on Greed."

Source:

Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics, Vol. 1, Ruth Chadwick, ed. (New York: Academic Press, 1998), p. 486.

On the historical Christian views on the relationship between wealth and greed, and the associated theory of justice as love and benevolence, see: God's Gold, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

When the Cameras Are Off: Who Are the Politicians?

In Game Change, a journalist account of the 2008 U.S. Presidential race, the two political reporters conducted hundreds of interviews and had unusually close access to the campaigns. As a result, the reporters present some pretty interesting political morsels. For example, Hillary Clinton considered Bill’s administration to have been “a tactical and operational disaster” (p. 43). ouch! She would never have said such a thing in front of a microphone. This raises the question: do we, the voters, know candidates as well as we think we do? I contend that we do not, and, moreover, that this partially explains why we are so surprised when our elected representatives behave less than with maturity while in office.

The full essay is at "When the Cameras Are Off."

Source:

John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (New York: Harper Collins, 2010).


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Vertical and Horizontal M&A: A Bias in Antitrust Policy?

The Obama Justice Department developed a track record in challenging horizontal mergers and acquisitions—those in which a company buys a direct competitor—in industries that are already highly concentrated. In deals that are not between direct rivals, such as those that occur in vertical integration, the Obama Administration approved the deals, albeit with the imposition of legally binding restrictions on the acquirer’s ability to use its “in house” supplier to engage in unfair competition.

Hugo

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) is an intriguing story based on vocational functionalism, which in turn is based on deism. In other words, the film essentially applies an early modern theological "argument from design" to a pillar of modern society: one’s profession. In this regard, the film is not just a kids’ movie. The visual "3D" feature is not where the real depth of the film is located. The story achieves its fullness beyond the visuals in having several levels around a core philosophy, which serves as the story's core meaning. For this reason, Hugo has the potential to become a classic. In this essay, I explore the philosophy that lies at the basis of the film's story. I begin with deism and tie it to functionalism. 


The full essay is at "Hugo."

Bureaucratizing Leadership into Management

Fuqua/COLE surveyed 205 executives of public- and private-sector companies. Based on the results, I provide a critique that renders transparent some of the questionable assumptions that leadership-advisors and even business leaders themselves may have without realizing it. 

The full essay is at "Bureaucratizing Leadership."


Has American Catholicism Become Unavoidably Republican?

Putting a religious faith through a particular political ideology can be regarded as artificial because the transcendent is not limited to the confines of particular ideologies. Were it otherwise, the transcendent would not go beyond the limits of human cognition, perception, and sensibility. Leaders of religious organizations should thus be particularly careful lest they inadvertently cut transcendence short. Practically speaking, that some members could feel marginalized or leave the organization altogether is a capricious cost that can be avoided. In other words, according to religious criteria, no reason would exist for such marginalization or departures. Unfortunately, religious leaders can easily dismiss this drawback out of a desire to channel the religious through their particular ideologies. I suppose this is a form of idolatry. 

The full essay is at "American Catholicism and Political Ideology."

This book may be helpful for tips on how to sidestep the political: Spiritual Leadership in Business.  See also Christianized Ethical Leadership.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Nietzschean Critique of Customer Service (Oh, Yeah!)

In classical literature, an apology can mean a defense, such as Plato’s Apology. In modern parlance, an apology is known as an expression of genuine sorrow and an acceptance of responsibility for having caused harm to another person. According to Business Ethics for Dummies, corporate apologies should be sincere, as soon as possible, and be coupled with a correction to the problem.[1] Consumers should be on guard lest a company use the semblance of an apology for marketing purposes, and, more generally, to manipulate, which in itself belies the “apology.” Robert Bacal advises that an apology be used as a strategy to use “along with other techniques.”[2] An apology as a technique in a strategy is a means, and thus as such it harbors ulterior motives. This invites “perfunctory or insincere apologies,” which are “worse than saying nothing at all.”[3] Even a sincere apology as a means to get something suffers from ulterior motives. For example, Bacal advises that a “sincere apology can help calm a customer, particularly when you or your company has made an error. You can apologize on behalf of your company.”[4]  A sincere apology is mutually exclusive with an ulterior motive, especially one that is self-beneficial in some way; the orientation must be to the error.  The manager who wants to give the impression of an apology in order to disarm the aggrieved customer therefore falls short, for such manipulation eclipses genuine sorrow.


See also the non-duplicate section on apologies in ch. 4 of On the Arrogance of False Entitlement: A Nietzschean Critique of Business Ethics and Management, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.



1. Norman Bowie and Meg Schneider, Business Ethics for Dummies (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011), 239.
2. Robert Bacal, Perfect Phrases for Customer Service, 2nd Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 19. Italics added.
3. Robert Bacal, Perfect Phrases for Customer Service, 2nd Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 19.
4. Robert Bacal, Perfect Phrases for Customer Service, 2nd Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 19.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Unethical Business at Volkswagen: Loans Cut off

As R&D was at a premium in car companies reorienting to electric and even driverless cars, Volkswagen could ill-afford the suspension of the European Investment Bank’s low-cost financing in 2017. The company “was barred from receiving European Union research funding over allegations it misused a previous loan to cheat on emissions” by programming “11 million cars to fool regulators.”[1] At issue were the company’s “use of so-called defect devices, software that caused pollution controls in diesel motors to work properly only when the engine computer detected that an official emissions test was underway.”[2] Accordingly, the European Anti-Fraud Office concluded that the company had misled authorities about how €400 million ($472 million) was used ostensibly to develop engines to be more fuel efficient and thus pollute less. I contend that the company’s reply was worse than none.

The full essay is at "Unethical Business at Volkswagen."
A related book: Cases of Unethical Business, can be obtained in print or as an ebook at Amazon.com.



1. Jack Ewing, “European Bank Cuts Funds to VW Because of Emissions Fraud,” The New York Times, August 1, 2017.
2. Ibid.

Monday, July 31, 2017

On the Arrogance of False Entitlement: A Nietzschean Critique of Business Ethics and Management

Nietzsche is perhaps most stunning in his eviscerating critiques of modern morality and, relatedly, Christianity. His pessimistic attitude toward modern management is less flashy, but no less radical, for the business world would look very different were it populated by Nietzschean strength rather than so much weakness that in spite of which—and because of which, seeks to dominate even and especially people who are stronger. Accordingly, this book provides formidably severe critiques of both business ethics and management and sketches Nietzsche’s notion of strength as an alternative basis for both. Nietzsche’s notion of the ascetic priest as a bird of prey with an overwhelming urge to dominate eerily similar to both the business manager and the ethicist. Therefore, the last two chapters are on Nietzsche’s unique take on Christianity, and John D. Rockefeller, a devout Baptist ostensibly compatible even with being an acidic monopolist. 

Institutional Conflicts of Interest: Business and Public Policy

Typically people react emotionally much more severely to an exploited conflict of interest when a person gains a personal benefit such as through a bribe. If company, or even an office or department thereof, stands to benefit inordinately, American society typically looks the other way on the institutional conflict of interest rather than taking it apart. This may just be human nature. However, the troubling institutional arrangements within an organization or between them may be tolerated because of the erroneous assumption that conflicts of interest are unethical only when they are exploited. Accordingly, the book provides a solid grasp of the structure and essence of the conflict of interest in order to make the case that it is inherently unethical. Examples of institutional conflicts of interest readily come from business, with particular attention to corporate governance and the financial sector, as well as from how business and government relate, such as through regulation The reader should come away with a sense of just how pervasive and ethically problematic institutional conflict of interests are. 


The book, Institutional Conflicts of Interest: Business and Public Policy, is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.com

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Spanish Recovery: On the Roles of Budget Constraints and Exports

In 2007, the E.U. state of Spain “was hopelessly addicted to a credit-fueled construction boom that produced a shattering bust, leaving banks collapsing in the face of bad loans.”[1] A decade later, the state’s economy was “expanding at around 3 percent” over the previous year, “producing goods for export, generating jobs,” and pointing to possible E.U.-wide economic recovery.[2] The Spanish economy had returned to its pre-crisis size, according to the state’s government, yet the economy had not yet solidified a firm foundation and unemployment was still stubbornly high.

The full essay is at "The Spanish Recovery."

See Related: Essays on the E.U. Political Economy, which is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. 



1. Peter S. Goodman, “Spain’s Long Economic Nightmare Is Finally Over,” The New York Times, July 28, 2017.
2. Ibid.