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Friday, August 2, 2013

Halliburton: Organizational Culture and Ethics

Human beings are moral agents. Generally speaking, we have consciences and a sense of ought, which according to David Hume is not derived from what is. In other words, ethical principles are not obtained from describing some object or situation. Organizations consisting of human beings do not have consciences; nor are companies able to have a sense of ought that is not reduced to monetary terms. Such terms being empirical, they cannot get to ought anyway. The illusion that corporations are themselves moral agents comes from the failure to distinguish an organization itself from not only its human members, but also its culture. While it may seem that an organizational culture is distant from the people who inhabit the organization, as if culture were somehow based at the organizational level, culture is simply a way of saying that most people in a group share certain basic beliefs, values and ways of behaving. Beliefs, values and conduct pertain to persons. Physiologically, the brain thinks, values, and conducts the rest of the body. There is no “organizational brain.” Rather, culture refers to a critical mass proportion of persons having something in common. This does not mean that the “something” exists apart from, or "above," the persons.

The full essay is in The full essay is in Cases of Unethical Business: A Malignant Mentality of Mendacity, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Financial Crisis: A Systemic and Ethical Analysis

According to a study by the Dallas Federal Reserve, the financial crisis of 2007-2009 “was associated with a huge loss of economic output and financial wealth, psychological consequences and skill atrophy from extended unemployment, an increase in government intervention, and other significant costs.”[1] The study’s abstract goes on to “conservatively estimate that 40 to 90 percent of one year’s output ($6 trillion to $14 trillion, the equivalent of $50,000 to $120,000 for every U.S. household) was foregone due to the 2007-09 [sic] recession.”[2]
Interestingly, the Huffington Post “reports” the study’s finding in the following terms:  “a ‘conservative’ estimate of the damage is $14 trillion, or roughly one year’s U.S. gross domestic product. This is based on how much output was lost during the crisis and Great Recession, along with all the damage done to potential future economic growth.”[3] In fact, the article’s title claims that the crisis cost more than $14 trillion! Lest it be thought that the reporter and editor suffer from a learning or reading disability, the gilding here is notably in the direction of “selling more papers.”
Ironically, the Huffington Post also published an article pointing to the lack of accountability in that “the executives that [sic] were in charge of Bear’s headlong dive into the cesspool of subprime mortgage lending hold similar jobs at the most powerful banks on Wall Street: JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank."[4]
The upshot is that those stakeholders who played a role in the crisis, most significantly the people running the government, the media, and the banks, have gone on, relatively unscathed, while the systemic risk remained or has actually become even greater.  As a first step toward recovery, a systemic map depicting the interrelated parts in the systemic failure and a related ethical analysis can provide a basis for reforms sufficient to thwart another major financial crisis.


1. Tyler Atkinson, David Luttrell, and Harvey Rosenblum, “How Bad Was It? The Costs and Consequences of the 2007-09 Financial Crisis,” Staff Paper No. 20, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, July 2013.
2. Ibid.
3. Mark Gongloff, “The Financial Crisis Cost More Than $14 Trillion: Dallas Fed Study,” The Huffington Post, July 30, 2013.
4. Lauren Kyger and Alison Fitzgerald, “Former Bear Stearns Executives Seemingly Unscathed by Financial Crisis They Helped Trigger,” The Huffington Post, July 31, 2013. The article was originally published by the Center for Public Integrity.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Wall Street As More of the Economy: Unjust and Riskier?

The financial sector, which includes banks like JPMorgan and insurance companies like AIG, had the fastest earnings growth in the Standard & Poor’s 500 in 2012.[1] As of mid-2013, the sector comprised 16.8% of the S&P 500, almost double the percentage back in 2009. With the technology sector weighing in at 17.6 percent in 2013, the financial sector was poised to become the largest sector in the S&P 500. The traditional critique of the financial sector having a larger share of the economy is that the sector doesn’t “make” anything. As this argument is well-known, I want to point to two others.

1. Alex Barinka and Whitney Kisling, “Banks Poised to Lead S&P 500 as JPMorgan Beats Microsoft,” Bloomberg, July 29, 2013.