Alfred North Whitehead’s statement: “What is morality in any

Read
the following article by Jay Feldman:
Readers discuss business ethics and
priorities over the years.

The Letter

To the Editor:

There was a time in the not so distant past
when many, if not most, publicly held corporations, including the one for which
I worked, embraced in their mission statements, codes of conduct and similar
pronouncements a responsibility to serve multiple stakeholders: their
stockholders, of course, but also their employees as well as customers,
suppliers and the community in which they operated. Today, all too many
companies, in deed and often in word, articulate a single-minded obligation to
serve only their investors by focusing exclusively on profitability.

As a result, we have witnessed corporate
downsizings and outsourcing of jobs; restructuring of pension plans or their
complete termination; reductions in health care benefits; and wage stagnation
in spite of increased productivity. Domestic suppliers have been squeezed or,
more often, replaced by cheap foreign sources. Customers seeking service are
confronted with automated answering machines and foreign call centers.
Environmental concerns are viewed as obstacles to profitability.

At the same time, the senior managers of
these enterprises have seen their compensation grow exponentially as a reward
for their perceived contributions to the bottom line.

Sadly, what these corporations fail to
appreciate is how their obsession with the bottom line is shrinking their
markets, both domestic and foreign. The large number of people unemployed,
underemployed, afraid of losing their jobs or without the means to pay all
their bills perpetuates the present worldwide economic crisis.

Add to this the unwillingness of businesses
to pay their fair share of taxes to support education, health care and the
infrastructure that is critical to their success. In the end, these
self-serving practices endanger the very profitability their practitioners seek
to enhance.

We need to return to the earlier model of
the corporation as a good citizen. Doing so can help ensure the long-term
viability of our free enterprise system.

JAY N. FELDMAN
Port
Washington, N.Y., Aug. 27, 2012

The writer is a retired corporate lawyer.
Readers
React
Mr. Feldman seems to yearn for the good old
“Mad Men” days when companies ranging from General Motors to I.B.M. dedicated
some of their profits to supporting civic engagement in their corporate headquarters’
town and paid higher wages and benefits to deserving employees.
While economists celebrate the efficiency
gains from “perfect competition” in our globalized economy, Mr. Feldman points
out this system’s costs. But he plays down the benefits of international
competition. Consumer prices are lower (think of Walmart), and products are of
higher quality. The international scale of the market encourages innovators to
invest in costly and risky new projects because of the potential huge market for
those who succeed.
Would Mr. Feldman really be willing to pay
for a time machine to take him back to 1962?
MATTHEW
E. KAHN
Los
Angeles, Aug. 29, 2012
The writer is a professor at U.C.L.A. and a
research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Mr. Feldman describes the predations of
global corporations on their workers, customers, the environment and
communities. But he doesn’t ask why historical restraints on corporate
recklessness and crimes are so weak. Institutional safeguards failed to stop
the recent Wall Street collapse of our economy because of perverse incentives
and regulatory decay.
Boards of directors, outside corporate law
and accounting firms, giant ratings agencies, state and federal banking regulators,
and legislative and oversight committees all failed to detect or prevent abuses
that led to trillion-dollar losses in pensions, millions of unemployed workers
and taxpayer-funded bailouts.
Why? Because they were “paid” to look the
other way, through lucrative fees, campaign contributions or future employment
opportunities.
Individual and institutional shareholders
didn’t restrain the corporate bosses because over the decades corporate
managers have rendered shareholders powerless. State and federal laws have been
gamed to shield the bosses from their companies’ owners.
These brilliant strategies of privileges
and immunities were developed by corporate law firms that failed in the first
place to properly instruct their corporate clients about their responsibilities
to their stakeholders. These law firms didn’t push for proper prudence,
compliance or the adequate exercise of fiduciary duties.
RALPH
NADER
Washington, Aug. 30, 2012
I hear the rousing chords of the “William
Tell Overture” and the announcer intoning, “Return with us now to the thrilling
days of yesteryear.” To 1984, when a gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in
Bhopal, India, killed almost 4,000. To 1972, when the Pittston Coal Company’s
slurry dam burst, killing 125 and injuring more than 1,100. To 1892, when
Carnegie Steel Corporation cut wages and hired 300 strikebreakers.
To the belching smokestacks, to the fallen
snow turning black with coal dust, to the sulfurous air around the refineries
and mills. Ah, yes, the good old days of responsible corporate citizenship.
Mr. Feldman inveighs against corporations,
thereby failing to recognize that a corporation is composed of people, some of
whom are selfish, some altruistic, some avaricious, but most generous. Contrary
to Mr. Feldman’s experience, mine has been that people today are at least as
caring in their business and other pursuits as ever and probably more so.
SHERWIN
D. ABRAMS
Chicago, Aug. 29, 2012
The writer is a corporate lawyer.
Mr. Feldman’s call for a “return to the
earlier model of the corporation as a good citizen” is certainly timely, given
the antisocial practices of corporations that he details. But unfortunately,
for now, I don’t think it’s an idea whose time has come — not yet, in any case.

The corporations of the “not so distant
past” that Mr. Feldman upholds were themselves a far cry from the corporations
of his grandparents’ days — which looked a lot more like the ones we deal with
today. Standard Oil, the transcontinental railroads, U.S. Steel, the American
Tobacco Company — their corporate practices often underserved their customers
and communities, and their workers made out worst of all.
The “bad” corporate citizens were turned
into the “good” citizens that Mr. Feldman recalls by the pressure of a growing
labor movement, successful campaigns for reform and regulation by progressive
activists inside and outside of government, and the ideological pressures
created by the existence of countries that called themselves “socialist,” an
alternate system that claimed, however hollowly, to put people before profits.
To return to an improved version of
corporate citizenship, such checks on corporate power need to be forged and
imagined anew.
PENNY
LEWIS
New
York, Aug. 29, 2012
The writer is an assistant professor at the
Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, CUNY.
While Mr. Feldman recognizes the need for a
“return to the earlier model of the corporation as a good citizen,” he does not
address how we shall effect such a return. It is unrealistic to believe that we
can exhort current corporate leadership away from their single-minded pursuit
of profit.
A number of states have now provided for
the formation of “benefit corporations,” which are organized beyond
profit-seeking to have a material positive impact on society.
If our goal is widely shared prosperity, we
should require all for-profit corporations to reorganize as benefit
corporations.
MARGARET
H. BABCOCK
Rockaway, N.J., Aug. 29, 2012
The Citizens United case held corporations
are persons. A corollary of corporate personhood is that corporations have the
responsibilities, and not merely the rights and privileges, of citizens.
When I last taught business ethics 25 years
ago, the running joke among undergraduates was that “business ethics” is an
oxymoron. Their unshakable assumption was that the sole responsibility of
publicly owned corporations was to maximize shareholder profits.
The field of business ethics, however, has
been influenced by the growing awareness of the role played by communities in
enabling businesses to succeed, not to mention the importance to corporate
health of addressing environmental degradation and social inequalities. As
President Obama pointed out, the infrastructure that enables businesses to
succeed is built by communities and not solely by corporations themselves. That
was the context of his remark that entrepreneurs “didn’t build that.”
We are all stakeholders. We are all in it
together.
JOHN
DOUARD
Montclair, N.J., Aug. 29, 2012
The writer is a lawyer and an adjunct
professor of philosophy at Rutgers.
The
Writer Responds
Some readers suggest that the “good old
days” were not nearly that great. Others recognize the need for reform, but
note the difficulty in achieving that objective. Somewhat in the middle, Mr.
Kahn proposes a cost-benefit analysis.
Certainly, as Mr. Abrams notes, the
economic and social gains of the past were achieved at significant human costs.
Moreover, the reform movements cited by Ms. Lewis can be attributed to a unique
period of American exceptionalism unlikely to be replicated in our globalized
economy. More recently, as Mr. Nader
writes, structural restraints on corporate recklessness and crimes have been
weakened in the name of global competitiveness.
Nevertheless, a century ago we were able to
turn an agrarian/handcraft/sole proprietor-based society into the leading
industrial nation in the world. Today, the challenge is to find a way to
usefully employ the displaced work force of the 20th century and those coming
into the work force ill equipped for the jobs of the 21st century. Failure to
do so can only lead to widespread economic and social unrest.
To do that will require significant
investments in education, technology and infrastructure. Corporations need to
play a major role through research and development, which places long-term
enhancement of the enterprise above short-term profitability. If our corporate
titans won’t make those investments, then the job will fall to government, and
that would require higher taxes.
A recent column by Joe Nocera quotes a
Harvard Business School professor, Jay W. Lorsch: “The function of business in
a society is not just a return to investors, but to provide goods and services,
provide employment, pay taxes, and so on.” In the end, corporate reform is not
only a moral imperative, but also an economic and social necessity.
JAY
N. FELDMAN
Port
Washington, N.Y., Aug. 30, 2012
Considering
the article, write an APA-formatted paper of 4–5 pages that addresses the
following:
Part
1: Developing the Philosophical Thesis Statement
Alfred North Whitehead’s statement: “What
is morality in any given time and place? It is what the majority then and there
happen to like and immorality is what they dislike” is a very controversial
statement. Think about this statement as you consider the following questions
as a guide to help your formulate a thesis statement.
Select
1 of the following questions to answer and develop your thesis statement:
Businesses can have ethical standards, but
businesses are not moral agents. Do you agree or disagree?
Is it true that the “bottom line” of
business is profit and profit alone?
In business, are there other less tangible
goals that are intrinsic to and just as important as making money?
In a business environment, why should
people be moral as individuals?
Why should a corporation or organization be
moral?
Could you apply the first formulation of
Kant’s categorical imperative to a business environment?
Part
2: Developing the Essay
Identify your thesis statement (argument
claim) within the introduction of your paper.
Conduct research using library resources.
Outline your essay, considering
deontological ethics, teleological ethics, moral objectivism, and ethical
relativism in your argument.
Provide
at least 3 valid reasons to support your argument.
Also, be sure to include the following in
your APA formatted essay: Use of explanations of philosophical concepts such as
utilitarianism, categorical imperatives, process philosophy, moral relativism,
moral absolutism, ethical relativism, moral objectivism, deontological ethics,
or teleological ethics to structure your essay and provide evidence to support
your claims.
Your argument and reasons (claims) should
be defended by philosophical concepts supported by evidence, which is based on
your research. Please use the APA library to begin your research.

Part
3: Conclusion
Consider morality and ethics from the
perspective of Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy and Immanuel Kant’s
universal categorical imperative. After conducting your research and writing
your essay, could you conclude that businesses can have ethical standards,
despite the fact that businesses are not moral agents? Why or why not? Please
explain summing up your argument.
Part
4: Review Checklist before submitting essay
1. Your essay should be checked for proper
use of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
2. You may find that you change your mind
on the issue as you are writing your paper. That is fine, but be sure to
present your ultimate decision at the beginning of the paper, and stick to it
consistently throughout. This may require that you go back and change
paragraphs to support your changed thesis statement.
3. Your argument should be clear, concise,
and supported with logically valid claims and evidence followed by APA in-text
citations.
4. A reference page documenting your
sources should be included.
Please submit your assignment.
For assistance with your assignment, please
use your text, Web resources, and all course materials.
Reference
Feldman, J. (2012, August 27). Sunday
dialogue: How corporations behave. The New York Times. Retrieved from .nytimes.com/2012/09/02/opinion/sunday/sunday-dialogue-how-corporations-behave.html?ref=ethics”>http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/opinion/sunday/sunday-dialogue-how-corporations-behave.html?ref=ethics

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