THE LAST BASTION OF "POLITICAL CORRECTNESS'' AND THE END OF "BUSINESS ETHICS CHIC''
St. Antoninus Institute
One of the difficulties on the road to re-introducing a true Christian ethics in the mentalities and policies of large corporation is that they believe they already have a good ethical system; they do not need a Christian system of philosophy which, allegedly, is likely to be viewed negatively in a pluralistic society. However, recently the house of cards came tumbling down with the Dow Corning scandal. This offers a real chance to conduct a true apostolate to businesses.

The Dow Corning silicone breast implant scandal marks the end of an era, the era of "business ethics chic''. It will cause the demise of Political Correctness from its last entrenchments: business school academia and corporate seminars.

The Dow Corning corporation had put in place what was considered to be a model business ethics program, as reported in a recent Business Week article. In spite of this, management was still unable to catch the poor decision making and prevent the ensuing scandal. The latter is proof positive of the total failure of an effort which has been the rage in large businesses and taught in business schools for a decade and a half.

The Origins of "Business Ethics Chic"

Peter Drucker, the highly revered consultant to management, coined the term "business ethics chic'' in an 1981 article expressing essentially his views that the exercise is but another approach of business bashing.

In spite of Drucker's recommendation, "business ethics'', as a academic field and consulting line of services, developed at a dizzying speed. However, it carried with it a structural flaw that it could never shed: it does not admit any philosophical approach other than the straight "political correct'' line. The most recent example of PCness is the offer of corporate seminars in "multicultural sensitivity''.

What is extraordinary is that Political Correctness has been "outed'' from classic academic disciplines, like anthropology, sociology and political studies. But corporations have had no qualms supporting the PC line in the seminars and programs they fund at great expense and whose ideas they push on their mostly unwilling employees.

"Business Ethics Chic" and the Media

The reason is that support for business ethics was never really internalized by corporations. Corporate support for the activity is also based on a fundamental contradiction between the expectations of the media and of those of the business community.

The origin of the "business ethics'' movement can readily be found in the after-maths of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977. Corporations scrambled to come up with "codes of ethics'' which basically stated—surprise!—that they were fully committed to the most pristine ethical conduct. Now, "which ethics are they talking about?'' would have been the first interesting question to ask. But it was never asked because the process came not of an internal motivation but an external reaction: corporations wanted to make sure they would placate the media. Their chief concern was "is it something that I would like to see appear in the media tomorrow?'' It follows that the only ethics corporations would support was the ethics advocated by the major liberal media.

The ethical issues the media are concerned with represent the whole laundry list of Political Correct issues. Large corporations adopted these issues without a peep. The Capital Research Center, a Washington think-tank, has amply demonstrated that the major corporations by-and-large support most of the leftist agenda with their "philanthropic'' donations. This reaches the absurd when some corporations fight radical environmentalist groups in court on one hand and make also donations to them with their other hand. Many corporations are solidly supporting the pro-choice side in the abortion controversy when at least half their market supports the pro-life side. CEO's are very poorly advised by their communications and philanthropy experts but understandably so as they selected them on account of their PC views and access to the media/academic PC community.

Basic Misunderstanding

A really interesting insight in the whole picture comes when we look not at the content of ethics but at the process. The media believe in "consequentialism'' and "relativism'' in ethics, new-fangled schools of thoughts which say that all acts are excusable depending on circumstances. PC "experts'' in business ethics by-and-large share these philosophies. They are certainly not helping corporate employees form an ethical conscience when they tell them that anything goes provided they do not act against the sensitivities of minorities and of the pundits in the liberal media establishment. The Dow Corning managers never had their conscience formed by PC business ethicists.

But the core of the misunderstanding still lies in the fact that the media have never formally agreed that the business sector should use "consequentialism'' or "relativism'', or any other philosophy for that matter, to form their own ethical judgment. In true PC form the media do not want corporations to be responsible, but to be accountable. They do not want corporations to really make moral judgments and be responsible for the soundness of these judgments. They want corporations to be accountable to them and to liberal politicians and strictly comply with the rules and regulations they want imposed on them. The liberal media do not want corporations to be free moral agents.

Such an analysis of "business ethics'', including the nuances between the "corporate accountability'' and "corporate responsibility" forces had been available since the publication of my Wharton doctoral dissertation on the teaching of "business ethics'' in business schools. This analysis was, not surprisingly, widely ignored.

The Deficiencies of "Business Ethics Chic"

Unfortunately, the PC brand of business ethics has had devastating influence on corporations' cultures and on the economy as a whole.

A teaching on values in business should be tied to teachings about work motivation, quality production, initiatives, innovation and entrepreneurship. "Business ethics'' should include "work ethics''. Business ethics should not be divorced from the concept of "virtue'' if it really intends to achieve transformation from within each manager and employee. "Virtue'' is the concept which makes ethics workable. It comes from traditional Western culture. Plato wrote on the cardinal virtues before they appeared in the Bible, in the book of Isaiah. Business ethics chic never mentions the virtues.

There cannot be true "Organization Development'' without virtues. True business ethics should translate into dynamic businesses as indeed is the case in many small firms across the land who reflect the values of their top managers and have not hired PC experts. This is also possible when a traditional, Aristotelian-Thomistic, approach is used to teach ethics along with managerial skills in businesses, releasing in people their most powerful and creative energies as discovered by Western civilization.

Japan does not have any PC-type business ethics. Japanese have a very traditional view of work. Japanese employees are not confused with different approaches to ethics. They are asked to perform at work for the same reasons they are asked to perform as students and as citizens: for the good of their family, their god and their country. With PC business ethics, large American corporations not only have lost the advantage of the best ideas of Western civilization, they have also lost the traditional common sense of people of all races as evidenced by Japanese managerial philosophy.

Corporations should develop some backbone, trust themselves to adopt the great values of Western culture and resist at all costs the efforts of the liberal media to deny them their natural right to be moral agents.

At the national level, the level of economic policy, traditional ethics in corporations, as it demands true ethical responsibility, lessens the need for governmental rules and regulations which tamper with the natural development of markets, run up the cost of doing business and asphyxiate the economy.

It may seem paradoxical that traditional ethics is the way of the future now when most of the political as well as economic energies of nations is concentrated on winning the international competition in industrial production and business development. Traditional ethics is nevertheless the secret for a lean and highly performing business corporation as well as national economy.

Evangelizing the Business World File 5/1a
St. Antoninus Institute


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