Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ethics

I wonder when business ethics became an oxymoron? Every day now, we are treated to some fresh piece of information pointing to scoundrels engaged in business, acting badly. We went into the F&M bank yesterday, a local bank, headquartered in Salisbury, NC. When they inquired how they might help us, I said, “Well, we would like to open a new account with you. We have been thinking that we would prefer to have a bank that is not part of a criminal enterprise. “ See, we have been banking with HSBC and generally, we were quite happy with our banking relationship. I was especially pleased when its name did not appear in the growing US banking scandals, and again at first did not appear in the LIBOR scandals. But then it hit. HSBC has been laundering money for the Mexican drug families, including setting up accounts in offshore locations. Nice. Our bank is acting as the mob bag man.  So, we decided to switch banks. We tried to avoid any connection with the global guys—BofA, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, since we know they have no ethics.  We are only mildly familiar with the F&M Bank, but our hope is that they still maintain something of the old community-minded banking ethic.  We don’t shop at Wal-Mart because they are huge and seem predatory, much like the global banks. Increasingly, we try to spend our money on local institutions—our food, as many of our other purchases as possible in this increasingly global world (including always looking for something actually made in the USofA, rather than China), and our services. Think small has become our mantra. Small is good. Big is bad. “Too Big to Fail” means too big to exist.

But is bigness per se really to blame for the absence of ethics among our senior executives of businesses? Somehow, commercial entities have grown apart from their customer base. When they seem to care, it almost always is a charade.  But why, I keep asking? Was it always like that? Maybe I am just getting really old. I think that businessmen used to have actual ethics and practiced it.  I know that the Rupert Murdoch’s of the world—total sociopaths—have always existed, but they represented aberrant behavior. The old “rotten fish in the barrel” seemed more accurate. Now, it just seems a joke (on us).  The Penn State mess seems typical of the problem. Protecting the Franchise was viewed as simply more important than protecting the kids—the Catholic Church line of thinking.
On the other hand, maybe bigness is a major contributor. Perhaps, the more distant executives get from their customers and from the people whose lives they touch, the easier it is to rationalize away their criminal behavior.  When bankers joke about manipulating interest rates in order to increase their pocket change, and their own internal systems either fail or are simply missing in action, perhaps those entities should be shut down. Whenever I hear some business entity whining about some regulation, I think, “maybe you need to get a real job. Shut up and quit whining, or you will need to go out of business.” Perhaps had the Catholic Church forced its pedophilic priests to enter jail cells, they might have been able to hang on to some of their moral standing.  Perhaps if Joe Paterno had arranged to send his buddy to prison ten years ago, a lot of kids would have been spared a lifetime of grief.
And perhaps somewhere pigs are flying, hell is freezing over, and the moon really is made of green cheese . . .
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