A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Business Ethics? by Bernard Rapoport The thoughts in this short essay are inspired by a study being made by one of my favorite senators, Tim Wirth of Colorado. It is on the subject of business ethics. H.L. Mencken said, “The public demands certainties, but there are no certainties.” The Greeks were committed to discovering eternal verities, universals if you please, and to this day the quest for certainty remains frustratingly beyond human reach. Whether one is in business, involved in labor leadership, has concern with agricultural prices or might they be leaders in organizations promoting the interest of senior citizens, minority groups, etc., unquestionably they are all in business. They are in the business for “more.” With realistic circumspect, it can be concluded that in their quest for more, they are single-minded and have too little concern about what the results will be for others if they are successful in achieving more for their particular interest. Calvin Coolidge said it best when he said, “The business of America is business.” We are all in business. For this reason, I think it accurate to conclude that a terminology such as business ethics is an oxymoron a contradiction. Each group that I have just alluded to builds around its desires for more a sacrosanct hedge surrounded with a “universal” and that any attempt to penetrate that hedge is unethical and immoral. A simple illustration is that an individual, for example, comes to a bank to borrow $10,000 and is told the interest rate is at 1 0/0, and perceives that to be very ethical. If told the rate was 100%, they would say the bank was unethical. The real question is, “When is an interest rate ethical and at what point does it become unethical?” The point of this is that pricing is not a question of ethics. It is a marketing problem. I think at this point, any reasonable observer would have to agree that the market is the best of all price adjustors. One of the subjects of discussion in Senator Wirth’s seminar is the question of mergers. To be quite candid, when it comes to takeovers and mergers, I don’t worry nearly as much about ethics as I do about the perjorative effects that they are having on our society, the number of jobs that are being lost, the exorbitant profits that these parasitic marauders are making and justifying their actions as if they are the ethical custodians of our society and are dedicated to protecting the interest of the shareholders of the companies they seek to ravage. The fact is that they are not doing anything illegal because there is no regulation to prohibit what they are doing. Since what they are doing is legal, they are considered to be ethical actors. This subject under discussion is a difficult one. Today, our Congressional committees are involved in the most difficult negotiations relative to reducing the deficit. So many of the Congressmen and the President are saying that “particular programs are off limits.” The problem is that almost each of them have a pet project. Pretty soon, every vested interest group assumes the same posture and where does that leave us? Too often it results in some meaningless discussion about ethics and morality when the real purpose of each of the advocates is to protect their own fiefdom without concern for the public good. Morality and ethics in our society depends almost entirely upon government and those elected representatives who enact our laws. It may be asking too much, but until we do have politicians who are more concerned with a commitment to a moral and ethical society than they are in being elected, the discussion of ethics and morality in our society becomes a moot question. It is government that sets the standards for the populace. A sleazy government insures a society of low standards. Make no mistake about this. The elected official is confronted with a difficult situation. The great English statesman Burke pointed out the difference between the statesman and the moralist: “The latter has only a general view of society; the former, the statesman, has a number of circumstances to combine with those general ideas, and to take into his consideration. Circumstances are infinite, are infinitely combined, are variable and transient . . . A statesman, never losing sight of principles, is to be guided by circumstances.” This notwithstanding, we truly are entitled to more principled leadership than we Americans have received. Let me cite some examples of what I perceive to be serious leadership failures: Gerrymandering came about through the actions of politicians. The concept was both unethical and immoral and served to make their positions “safe.” The cost of living and indexing approaches came about because they did not want to face up to proper budgetary and taxing policies. Instead of meeting the problem, they went around it and used their approaches as techniques for “drugging the populace.” We talk about the high cost of health care today. When business and labor got together and worked out a plan where health benefits could be provided without proper taxing to the recipient, the skyrocketing of medical care increased exponentially and there doesn’t seem to be any way of capping it. In our own state of Texas by any standard the neglect of education of our young people is immoral and unethical and yet even in the days when Texas was one of the richest of all states, we didn’t have a program that was anywhere near commensurate with our ability to provide for improving the educational standards of our state. Those in pursuit of “more” are not categorically immoral or unethical. For the most part, they are very dedicated to conducting themselves in a legal way. We are a people, too, who are concerned with ethics and morality. What we need are some moral and ethical leaders to lead us leaders who are more concerned with a commitment to a moral and ethical society than they are in being re-elected. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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