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Saturday, November 24, 2018

Black Friday: An American Holiday

For a long time, I didn't understand why the Friday after Thanksgiving in the U.S. would be called Black Friday. Why associate darkness with such a nice holiday whose humble purpose is to feel gratitude, even and especially if a person has little externally for which to feel grateful. Black Friday is so named because the shopping day is so bit it can bring retail businesses out of the red and into the black, as if profitability were dark rather than something worth rejoicing--in business, I might add--rather than for a whole society. For American society to so easily have come to call the day following Thanksgiving black just because that is how managements perceive it demonstrates just how commercialized, or business oriented, American society has become. What this means for that society, and even perhaps the majority of the people themselves, is very troublesome, even disturbing.

The full essay is at "Black Friday: An American Holiday."

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Stakeholder Management: Profit-Seeking, Nietzsche, and Fiduciary Duty

Part I Profit-Seeking

The Johnson & Johnson Credo says in part, “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses, and patients. . . . Our final responsibility is to our stockholders. Business must make a sound profit” (Bowie, p. 18). Final here does not mean last but not least; nor does it mean first among equals. Instead, this credo, which I contend is tailored for marketing purposes, denies the residual profits feature of commercial property rights. To place a cap on profit such that the residual can go to stakeholders without the majority and minority owners’ approval is to violate property rights in favor of redistribution.

Part II Nietzsche

Nietzsche contends that modern ethicists seek to impose their Thou Shalt Not in order to dominate the strong out of weakness. The normative subterfuge used by these new birds of prey masks their hypertropic (exaggerated) instinct to dominate. Whereas the strong naturally dominate, the weak who feel compelled to do so must resort to subterranean means in order to beguile the strong into renouncing their native strength. Imagine, for example, a wan-looking business ethicist in a small academic office trying to dominate Donald Trump, Bill Gates, or Warren Buffet, for instance. Nietzsche wonders how in the hell the strong ever got roped into being ashamed of their strength by the sordid moralists whose instinct to dominate is somehow immune from such shame.

Part III Fiduciary Duty

“A growing number of business experts advocate adjusting the conventional view of a company’s purpose—to generate wealth for its stockholders—to a more holistic view that recognizes that business doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Everything a business does affects someone somewhere—not just the stockholders—and those other someones deserve consideration from every business that affects them” (Bowie, p. 14).

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

The full analysis is in Cases of Unethical Business, a book available at Amazon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Customers as Members and Guests: Retail Fakeness Infecting Society

“Are you a member of the store?”  A salesperson at a Barnes & Nobles’ café department once asked me the question as I was preparing to pay for the coffee drink I had just ordered. Apparently, customers who had registered for a discount card were considered  “members of the store.” The same thing happened to me at a Borders store before that chain went bankrupt. There, the salesperson refused to take my “No, I am not a member” for an answer—as per company policy.

The full essay is at "Retail Members and Guests."

Monday, November 19, 2018

Should the E.U. Represent Its States at the UN?

In 2010, it was proposed that the E.U. have an increased role at the UN in order to boost Europe’s profile as major player at the international level. One proposal would have given the E.U. the powers enjoyed by fully-fledged UN members, such as the right to make proposals and submit amendments, the right of reply, the right to raise points of order and the right to circulate documents. While there is no demand in the draft for a more prominent seating position for the EU, it was possible that the E.U. could have been moved to the center of the UN’s assembly chamber. Wherever the E.U. would have been situated, additional seats alongside a new European UN ambassador would have been made available for High Representative Catherine Ashton, the E.U. Foreign Minister, and her staff. Experts believed at the time of the proposal that such a role for the E.U. in the General Assembly would not significantly enhance the E.U.’s ability to influence policy at a UN level; instead, the proposal would have provided an opportunity for the E.U. to portray itself as a unified power on the international stage.

The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires, available at Amazon.

Leadership vs. Management: Change vs. Constancy?

In the "leadership vs. management" dichotomy, "management focuses on getting work done on time, on budget, and on target--in other words, steady execution and control--while leadership focuses on change and innovation." However, this contrast of implementation and innovation is a different dichotomy. Abstractly speaking, a category mistake may be involved in this false dichotomy. Change would be occurring in the execution of an innovative vision. In the realm of change alone, formulating and selling it can be distinguished from making the change. Therefore, the “leadership vs. management” distinction does not reduce to “change vs. status quo."

Material from this essay has been incorporated into The Essence of Leadership: A Cross-Cultural Foundation, which is available at Amazon. 

China: Mandating the Virtue of Filial Piety by Law

The founders of the United States, most notably Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Ben Franklin, held that for a republic to long endure, its citizenry must be virtuous and of a minimum education. Public education would be established, such that the common man could render a reasoned judgment at the ballot box. The dictum that the popular sovereign (i.e., the electorate) should be broadly educated resulted in law and medical schools in the U.S. requiring entering students to have a bachelor degree in another school before beginning the bachelor’s degree in the professional school. In short, public policy is an effective means of providing a people with the opportunity to gain an education, which at least in theory enhances the wisdom of a self-governing people. 
Virtue is another story. Law seems ill-equipped to form a virtuous people. It is one thing to outlaw vice in its outward conduct; how can legislation instill virtue within a soul?  Mandating virtuous conduct, such as in Massachusetts’ “Good Samaritan” law, may be possible where the conduct is in public and thus readily enforceable. Virtue within the home is far more difficult for the law to reach and thus foster. Even vice behind closed doors, such as incest as well as physical and emotional abuse more generally, is difficult for police to catch. To an extent, property rights enable such vice and allow people the option of not being virtuous in a family context.  Yet in countries in which an authoritarian state trumps even property rights, such as China, the question becomes whether legislation is the sort of thing that can foster or mandate virtuous conduct and even a virtuous character.[1] 

Filial piety, one of the fundamental Confucian virtues
 Image Source: WUJIFA

The full essay is at "Mandating a Virtue by Law."

[1] An alternative means, which I do not discuss here, involves the future possibility of scientists being able to “tweak” the human genome to make human beings less inclined to vice and more virtuous. For example, if greed is an instinct or urge to “get still more,” perhaps through genetics that instinct can be expunged from human nature. In terms of virtue, genetics might make it more pleasurable in being generous. Where such genetic treatments are available to everyone, it seems to me that a good ethical argument could be made on their behalf.

Kant on the NSA Lying to Congress

James Clapper, Director of U.S. National Intelligence, told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee in March 2013 that the National Security Agency was not gathering any type of data at all on millions, and even hundreds of millions, of Americans. After leaked documents showed that Clapper had misled the committee in stating, “There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly,” he issued an apology to the committee for having made the comment that was “clearly erroneous.”[1] U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, chair of the committee, praised Clapper as an honest and direct man.[2] The discerning reader realizes the full implications of the difference between being in error and lying. To err is human, but to deliberately fabricate for the benefit of oneself or one’s group is a matter on which particular humans can and do differ morally.

The full essay is at "Kant on the NSA Lying to Congress."

1. Kimberly Dozier, “James Clapper: Answer on NSA Surveillance to Congress Was ‘Clearly Erroneous’,” The Huffington Post, July 2, 2013.
2. Jeremy Peters, “Feinstein’s Support for N.S.A. Defies Liberal Critics and Repute,” The New York Times, July 1, 2013.

Starbucks: Petty Behind the Bar

Sometimes, as though the planets were to suddenly align, a coincidence occurs that so marvels the mind that one cannot help but wonder whether something more is involved in some larger picture. Such is the case for me today regarding the illustrious Starbucks company. A story in the Wall Street Journal so fits what I want to write about that I cannot help but wonder if my message were meant to spread. In short, my story involves Starbucks warming milk and the Journal's involves the company cooling it. It is as if yin and yang were finally in balance here, and yet I must conclude that the company has been in a state of disequilibrium. Chaos theory tells us that order and chaos can indeed coexist. Perhaps this is the nature of life itself, or at least human society. In any case, my case is that too many store-level managers and employees have been too petty, while higher management has looked the other way. 

                                                                    Charging More for "Customized" Drinks
Is Starbucks short-changing itself in being too petty in charging customers for "extras?"     Image Source: Bloomberg

The full essay is at "Bucking Starbucks' Star."

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Commercial Breaks on TV: Antiquated or Here to Stay?

By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the impact of computer technology on television was already promising to be nothing short of revolutionary. Yet people seemed only able to grasp the contours of an upcoming basic shift both in how television would come to be delivered and how programming would be financed and presented. Young adults were on the leading crest of the wave. Even by 2012, they typically watched television programming from laptops and even ipads rather than television sets. Meanwhile, an older demographic was learning how to integrate television screens with the internet such that movies could be downloaded on a laptop and shown on a larger screen, completely bypassing commercial television even stored on “tibo” from interlarding the home.

The full essay is at "Commercial Breaks as Antiquated?"

Executives and Directors Planning to Unload Shares: A Front for Insider-Trading?

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) initiated preset-trading arrangements known as 10b5-1 plans in 2000 so corporate executives and nonexecutive directors would have a way to announce their plans to sell shares. According to John Nester, a spokesman for the SEC, the 10b5-1 plan was devised “to give executives a way to sell some shares of their own companies despite being exposed to nonpublic information.” Therefore, the plans would have to be set up when the executive or director does not possess inside information, so as to obviate any potential charges of insider trading. The question I address here is whether the plans were subject to abuse by non-executive directors. By abuse, I mean the exploitation of a conflict of interest.

The full essay is in Institutional Conflicts of Interest, a book that is available at Amazon.