“All Work is an Act of Philosophy.”
~ Ayn Rand
In the modern Western, Capitalist Society, the businessperson has perhaps lost sight of these important words of wisdom. The discipline of philosophy is under attack and no longer holds the stature or respect it once did in Academia, to the detriment of the economy.
Instead of learning the principles of morals and ethics, so that business can be conducted to the mutual benefit of both parties, the doctrine of greed has become the norm. Psychologically speaking, the ramifications of this glut in philosophical thinking are society shattering. Evidence is rampant, from the careless energy consortium living by the creed of “Drill, baby, drill” to the nefarious practices of Big Banks and Wall Street, who raced to the bottom of economic growth by introducing sub-prime lending and derivative investments.
Exacerbating this frenzy to garner as much money as possible is the duplicitous and dishonest behavior of the “talking heads” of mainstream media. After all, what gets published today is whatever sells the most copy, collects the most “likes” or produces the most shares. Gone are the days of an equal exchange of labor for value. Instead, for-profit businesses work to lower costs by paying lower wages, while hoisting up the false premise that Officers of the firm are acting to maximize the value to shareholders. When the reality could be nothing further from the truth.
Where the Wild Things Are
Examples of bad behavior in the business world run wide and deep. From agriculture to energy and finance to pharmaceuticals. Unethical behavior is rampant as long as there is an unquenchable thirst for irrational greediness. This is not to be conflated with rational self interest. No person should ever sacrifice his or her own self interests for the benefit of another. This is not how the philosophy of Capitalism works.
Instead of focusing on creating the best product, for the least amount of cost, business becomes consumed with political posturing, litigation, cumbersome HR policies that choke productivity and a myopic focus on the bottom line.
Returning to Ethics
The answer is not to abandon Capitalism in favor of a deeply flawed and failing socialist economic system. Instead, the path to a better economy can only be found by re-instating the discipline of Philosophy to its former status. Post Secondary institutions that require the basics of rhetoric and critical thinking as part of a well-rounded University education will find their students are better enabled to be productive, responsible citizens in this Brave New World.
The error being committed even as we speak is that the skills required to be successful in business must be taught and ingrained in the student before they even enter the working world. It is fatal for a business owner or Officers of a Corporation to think that they can teach these fundamental skills after the fact. Excessive time and energy are spent in error attempting to teach to the unteachable.
Start Early. Finish Hard.
Even before students enter University or College, their training in ethics and logic ought to begin at earlier stages of their development. Governments concerned about creating curriculum that focuses on the mechanics of sexual intercourse between same sex couples or that sacrifices the much needed skill of reading and writing in cursive would be doing a better service to young students, as early as elementary school, to focus on logic skills, such as learning how to file a tax return.
For-profit businesses attempt to fill this educational void with imaginative concepts such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which translates into “soft skill” activities that actually do little to increase the value of the firm for shareholders and serve to waste the time of the employees – instead of spending more time at work, organizing a worker-led organic garden, employees would probably prefer to spend any free time with their family and friends.
The Real Swamp to Be Drained
For the exceptionally greedy and unethical, there is an entirely different world of greed to explore. In this sphere of business, the names are made up, the points don’t matter and the better you can lie, the more money you will make. Deceptive marketing practices are ubiquitous, and every dollar garnered comes from pulling on the heart strings of the empathetic.
This is the world of Non-profit business. Some of the largest sums of money are collected and due to this unique status under the law, these organizations pay little to no money in taxes. Consider the National Football League. Annual revenue for the 2018 season hit the $25 Billion mark, making it the undisputed leader of professional sports in terms of profitability. NFL CEO Roger Goodell has just renewed his contract, earning $200 million over the course of the next five years. Of course, this doesn’t include the bonuses he’ll also earn.
Not Your Daddy’s NFL
Professional sports have always been big business. There is no surprise there and the numbers quoted above probably shouldn’t be surprising. Here is where the unethical shock sets in. Until 2015 the NFL enjoyed Federal tax exemption due to their Non-profit status. So, for the billions the NFL received in revenue, not one cent was paid back to the taxpayer.
You might think that this act of benevolence is a good thing, that it is altruistic for the NFL to inject an additional $10 million per year into the government coffers. However, this is not the case. The cost-benefit analysis was conducted and the number crunchers working at head office learned that accepting a $10 million tax bill every year is preferable to incurring the costs of remaining Non-profit and having to be transparent. Transparency, after all, requires costs through public scrutiny. Becoming For-profit allows the league to increase the opacity of its operations. Now unethical practices, such as covering up concussion injuries in players, can be swept under the proverbial rug with little public exposure.
Closer to Home
For more common abuses of the Non-profit business class, simply look to websites like KickStarter and GoFundMe. These forums allow the greediest of the greedy to take advantage of the good nature of everyday people. Yes, they both promote a vigorous vetting process and scammers are thought to be booted almost at once yet for the truly determined, it remains a safe haven for lies and deceit to collect ill gotten gains.
At a local level, you may find a group running as a Non-profit to “save the Oregon Giant Earthworm (Driloleirus macelfreshi)”. This sounds wonderful – saving an endangered species, what could be more altruistic? Until you dig a little deeper and you find out the following:
- The organization plans to purchase a “reserve” for the earthworms to live in as a sanctuary.
- They need to buy special types of dirt in order to create the best environment for the earthworm to flourish.
- The sanctuary is to be built in the middle of North America.
This sounds okay but fact checking uncovers the following:
- The “reserve” is actually a giant section of swamp land in Florida, unable to support the earthworm.
- The special dirt required isn’t conducive to helping the earthworm thrive but instead will create a sturdy foundation on which can be built new housing developments.
- This specific earthworm only exists in Australia and wouldn’t survive in North America.
There is nothing illegal being done here. Under the guise of being Non-profit, this group can raise as much money as they want, tax free and once they’ve achieved their goal, give up the tax exemption, become a For-profit business and re-brand into “Florida Swamp Home Development Corporation.”
This Deserves Repeating
Just as a fundamental understanding of Philosophy is required to bring sanity back to the For-profit business world, it is also Philosophy that will save the integrity of the Non-profit organizations with truly noble causes.
The ability to think critically, risk asking the offensive questions and uncovering the truth is a more valuable skill today than it ever has been in the past. Emotional sentiments of being good to each other and loving one another will never be enough on its own to mitigate the ability of the charlatans and scammers to take advantage of the gullible. The only way to truly weed out the unsavory element in either type of organization is to confront them with the truth through rational, objectively determined facts and evidence. The best way to do this is to study Philosophy.