Working Together

I love my mornings. I read two papers and several books. This morning I read a paragraph that I wanted to share with you. “American capitalism has lost its traditional legitimacy, which was based on a moral system of reward rooted in the Protestant sanctification of work. It has substituted hedonism which promises material ease and luxury, yet shies away from all the historic implications of a voluptuary system, with all its social permissiveness and libertinism.”

Let me define some terms. Voluptuary involves a concern with luxury and sensual pleasure. A libertine is someone who is devoid of moral restraints. What Bell is saying is our culture has replaced a strong work ethic with a desire for pleasure, while ignoring the consequences of the shift in thinking. We no longer see hard work as valuable, and would rather play video games than work and think. He just may have a point.

The question one must answer then is why? Why have we shifted from an ethic associated with hard work and affluence, to one that is selfish and focused on pleasure? There are many probable answers to this question, such as the lack of fairness in our financial systems, or how we see “the man.” We may even want to blame our parents, by focusing on the fact they did not change our diapers quickly enough, or they washed our mouths out with soap of something. We look for others as the cause of our problems, when the issue really is us. As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Another opportunity, as my uncle would say, is the inability of our political and business leaders to get along. The partisanship has become so intrinsic to our system that no decisions can be made. Jim McNerney from the Boeing Company discussed this in an article in today’s WSJ. He stated that, “America works best when American business and government complement one another.” Today’s political gridlock is the exact opposite of what we need to dig out of this crisis. He ends his article with a warning to our politicians. “If Washington can once again find the ability to mix democracy and effective governing, American business will once again unleash America’s economic potential.”

At first I wasn’t sure if the first part of this blog entry meshed with the second half, but I am now convinced they are congruent. As individuals we have moved away from hard work, and as a political system we can no longer find consensus. In both of these cases we are undermining the very fabric of what made this country great. It is time we repent and move back to our strong work ethic and a civic dialogue that will ensure us working together for the good of people.

And that is my thought for the day!

Doing Justice, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly With My God

“As thousands have gathered in Lower Manhattan, passionately expressing their deep discontent with the status quo, we have taken note of these protests, and we have asked ourselves this question: How can we make money off them? We will create a new investment fund, Goldman Sachs Global Rage Fund. This will invest in firms likely to benefit from social unrest, such as window repairers and makers of police batons. At Goldman, we recognize that the capitalist system as we know it is circling the drain – but there is plenty of money to be made on the way down.”

Obviously this announcement is a joke, actually written by comedian Andy Borowitz, but it does have an sense of reality. It reminds me of a movie I enjoyed during the 60’s entitled “The Magic Christian.” It was a classic 60’s genre. Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr were the main characters. The Sellers character was very rich, but had come to a conclusion that wealth wasn’t giving him meaning in his life. He adopted Ringo Starr and then set out to expose greed. There is a hilarious scene where Sellers is screaming Hot Doggie, and the vendor selling the hot dogs gets in trouble. The very end of the movie is interesting. The Sellers character set up a large pool and filled it with every liquid waste that you could think of, and then threw a lot of money in the pool. He and his son Ringo Starr announced free money and many Wall Street types climbed into the pool to get the money. The movie attempts to highlight the worst of Capitalism.

Any system, whether Capitalism, Socialism, or any other system for that matter, is only as good as the people who are involved with it. Therefore, rather than saying that Socialism is better than Capitalism, each individual should attempt to bloom where they are planted right here and now. As a Christian, who teaches business, how is my life, and how I do business for that matter, different then someone who is not a Christian? There must be a difference.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed this in many of his writings. Walton Padelford states that Bonhoeffer saw “Ethics [as] an attempt to think through our new relationship with God and with other human beings after the fall. It is not a prideful study, but one undertaken with humilty given our experiential knowledge of evil and the struggle we encounter in doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.” In other words, we are to live our discipleship out in a fallen world to the best of our ability. We walk with God in this life trying to make a difference where ever we go.

I don’t care which economic system I am in, I am going to live out my faith to the best of my ability. I will try to make money, but as I make money I will give some of it a way to help others. If I am a business person, I am going to run my business well, and provide a fair wage for my employees. I am going to pay my taxes, and be socially responsible in my community. Anything less than that is wrong. I realize that one can make too much money, therefore I am willing to give some of it away. There are several rich people that have made that decision. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have convinced 67 other billionaires to give away half of their wealth.  Gaining wealth is not necessarily the bad thing it is what we do with it that is problematic.

And that is my thought for the day!

What Makes This Country Great!

This morning’s reading has been a juxtaposition of idealogical perspectives that has motivated me to think about our future (add to this a previous email from my Uncle).  Primarily it was an article by Peggy Noonan and another by Joe Conason, one in the Wall Street Journal and the other found at OregonLive.com, that were the motivating factors for this blog. Noonan praises Paul Ryan, while Conason crucifies him. In my opinion these two articles articulate what this country is all about, differences that somehow keep us moving forward.

I have written in previous blogs about the need for our politicians to work together, and I still believe this. However, sometimes I think we romanticize the past thinking that all we need to do is return to the values of the previous era and everything will be better. We forget that the past was filled with many political problems that required perseverance. The fact that a newly elected President had to sneak into Washington D.C. for an inauguration tells us that what we are experiencing is nothing new.

In Noonan’s article “The Divider vs. the Thinker” there is a comparison between the campaigning that Obama is currently involved with to the philosophy of Paul Ryan. She describes President Obama as someone who is detached from “America’s deeper fears.” She then promotes Paul Ryan as a person who thinks, studies, and reads in order to provide “an intellectual and philosophical rationale” for what he proposes as a viable path to get America going in the right direction.

After placing the two protagonists in opposition to each other Noonan then makes a comment that to me is critical to any required solution that will be good for our country. She states, “But Republicans, in their desire to defend free economic activity, shouldn’t be snookered by unthinking fealty to big business. They should never defend – they should actively oppose – the kind of economic activity that has contributed so heavily to the crisis.” Noonan then quotes Ryan as stating that “corporate welfare and crony capitalism” should be abhorred. We should never give in to the greedy few, but we should support the many that are trying to be honest entrepreneurs.

Conason presents Ryan in a little different light. He compares Ryan with Elizabeth Warren in the process of framing Ryan in an unflattering manner. Conason describes Ryan by stating, “Lauded by the Washington press corps for his “courage” and “honesty” in confronting federal deficits and the national debt, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., wrote a budget that almost sank the Republican Party — and may still damage its prospects — because he proposed to dismantle Medicare. Yet his party still relies upon Ryan to speak on behalf of its most important constituency, now known in America and across the world as “the 1 percent.” He then goes on in his attempt to discredit Ryan and propose Sainthood for Elizabeth Warren. Please note that this last sentence was not a slam against Elizabeth Warren. I think she is involved with the very important activity protecting the consumer.

After all the words above, what is my point? First of all, we need to realize these current political behaviors are nothing new. We have been down this road before. In the past it has led to states leaving the union (which I am 99% sure will not happen now). We have had opposing ideologies before and have made it. Even back at the very beginning of this nation.

In the book “Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism” the author uses two individuals from our early history to describe its beginnings. Bell describes Jonathan Edwards as an early Puritan leader, and Benjamin Franklin as a Protestant leader. These two people, according to Bell, represent the core values of our country in the 18th century. The Puritan temper and Protestant Ethic illustrate the “virtues and maxims” of our early history.

With Jonathan Edwards we see the Puritan drive to live out a life in obedience to God. It is as George Santayana describes, “notorious, how metaphysical was the passion that drove the Puritans to these shores, they went there in the hope of living more perfectly in the spirit.” Benjamin Franklin was the “pragmatic and utilitarian Protestant.” His work ethic involved getting ahead “by frugality, industry, and native shrewdness.” As we can see there were multiple perspectives in our early history that thrived on a common foundation.

The decisions our politicians are making today are never just business, they are personal and important. Just maybe they need to go back to the Puritan temper and Protestant Ethic and help us move in the same direction again. That is the challenge to both Democrat and Republican. I hope they learn from the past.

And that is my thought for the day!

Are Companies Responsible for Creating Jobs?

I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman at the club today. He knew I had worked for Boeing and made a comment about how it was good the Condit was no longer with the company. I immediately responded by saying Condit wasn’t the issue. It was Harry Stonecipher. He was the one who wanted to eliminate Boeing’s ability to compete. I told him I was happy that Stonecipher was fired, if he were still there the 787 would not have been completed.

We also talked about South Carolina a bit. I told him that Boeing planned to build three 787’s per month in South Carolina and seven per month in Everett. He thought that was good.

I bring this conversation up because of an article in the paper today, “Are Companies Responsible for Creating Jobs.” In one sense Boeing is creating jobs in the state of South Carolina, but they are eliminating jobs in another state, Washington. The water is bitter sweet. The article though makes some good points.

What responsibility does a company have to provide jobs in the community? Milton Friedman, an economist, felt that corporate social responsibility was a “subversive doctrine.” Friedman felt that companies only had one responsibility and that was to make a profit. Any job creation that occurred was a result of the derived demand of the market. In other words the demand for a product or service was strong enough to warrant the hiring of more people.

Friedman felt that companies should not spend their profits on “unrelated job creation or social causes.”According to Friedman the manager’s fiduciary responsibility was to provide the owners of the company with a maximized return on their investment.

Howard Schultz has taken a stand against Friedman. Schultz stated in his blog, “Companies that hold on to the old-school, singular view of limiting their responsibilities to making a profit will not only discover it is a shallow goal but an unsustainable one.”

Schultz has taken $5 million from the Starbucks Foundation and donated it to a group that helps provide financing for local businesses. He has called this program, “Create Jobs for the USA.” This is good for America, and good for American business.

Even Exxon, Cisco, and McDonalds are getting into the game of social responsibility. Each of these companies are a part of New York based committee named “Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.” Social responsibility is also being accomplished at Walmart and IBM. Walmart is taking a sustainable position by limiting packaging on its products due to the positive affect on the environment. IBM is sending its young executives to help developing countries.

All of the above is good and helping to create a more sustainable business model. As much as I want to say to Occupy Portland hurray, I also want to tell them to get their facts straight. Commerce is doing more good than ever, which is the way it should be.

And that is my thought for the day!

Fiscal Sociology

In this week’s Economist there is an article entitled “Rage against the machine.” It is an article that explores the anger associated with the Occupy movement and its possible outcomes. This is illustrated by the following comment, “Yet even if the protests are small and muddled, it is dangerous to dismiss the broader rage that exists across the West.” On the national news today the newscasters were interviewing more established people who have joined the movement to vent against whatever. A movement that started as a complaint against Capitalism has now grown into a complaint about everything.

The problem with this movement is no one knows where it will go. We have never been down this road before. Globalization is a reality, and we cannot go back to the way it was. It will never happen. Therefore, we need to adjust. We need to learn, which is what we have been good at in the past.

The article reminded me of something I read in Bell’s book, “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.” The book was originally published in 1978, so I find this quote especially interesting and prophetic. “The new class struggles of the post-industrial society are less a matter of conflict between management and worker in the economic enterprise than the pull and tug of various organized segments to influence the state budget.” We see these segments in the Occupy movement. Right now they are moving in the same direction, but who knows how long it will last.

Because of Globalization the way we work has changed. Therefore we have what is called structural unemployment. This means we may need to accept a higher level of what is called natural unemployment. A 4.5 to 6% unemployment rate has been the level of out of work people that we in the US call full employment, whereas the Europeans accept a 7 to 10% unemployment as the rate of full employment. We just may need to accept this higher rate, and if we do then fiscal sociology becomes a necessary discussion.

With higher levels of social need comes a greater requirement for transfer payments such as unemployment and welfare checks. With the government paying out more in entitlements, there is a requirement for more revenue. More revenue means more taxes. The critical relationship is no longer found in the market through its circular flow, but with the state and society.

This leads then to a tax-state and larger government. Larger government means a greater amount of regulation and distrust. Bell states, “The business corporations resent government regulation, even though it may sustain profits. . . Radicals are becoming increasingly suspicious of government,” all of this results in a state government that is a “cumbersome, bureaucratic monstrosity.” This monstrosity becomes like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors, saying “feed me Seymour, feed me.”

So here we are, what a mess. Is there anything we can do about it? Yes, we can quick whining about what someone supposedly owes us, and begin developing a renewed work ethic. Rather than spending your days sitting on a park bench holding a sign, volunteer, or work at McDonalds. Do something good for someone else. Instead of tearing things down work to reclaim civitas, which is what we really need.

And that is my thought for the day!

The Real MBA

One of my previous blogs mentioned the MBA oath. The oath is an attempt to demonstrate that MBA’s are more than just number crunchers, that they have a heart too. The question in my mind involves the pervasiveness of the oath. How many MBA’s really believe the importance of social responsibility? According to the Wall Street Journal article, MBA’s are “still vying to become masters of the universe.”

Although the MBA has lost its luster in some circles, it can still be seen as a financially sound investment. 39% of Harvard’s MBA graduating class of 2011 were hired by financial institutes. 36% of Yale’s MBA were hired, and 51% of Columbia Business school graduates were recruited and hired. Where are the other 61%, 64%, and 49% going to work?

On the other hand how much does a newly hired MBA get for a wage? Investment bankers with an MBA degree and five years experience can expect compensation of about $400,000. A newly hired MBA just out of college “will earn about 1/3 as much.” Still, that is a lot of money.

The MBA world is highly competitive, especially right now. With the finance industry struggling, and a weak economy, many MBA’s that have been working in the industry for five to nine years are, according to WSJ, are very expensive, but without clients. Therefore, it is easy to replace the 5-7 year employee with a new hire out of college.

This is the world of the MBA. You are only as good as your last sale, project, or investment. Corporate loyalty is non-existent, and as a result the MBA’s have no loyalty for the large financial corporations. “Jana Kierstad, Managing director of MBA career and professional development at Harvard Business School, said that students in the last class, and even more so the class of 2012, have been attracted to boutique firms or start-ups and are less excited about attending presentations from large companies.”

So maybe the MBA oath is more pervasive than I thought. Maybe these young MBA’s are more concerned about accomplishing something, and making a difference, rather than making a $100 million dollars. Sounds good to me.

And that is my thought for the day!

The MBA Oath

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will have noticed a shift in my thinking. I believe very strongly in capitalism and free enterprise. However, I also believe in having a correct motive for creating wealth. The MBA oath was created because MBA’s have a horrible reputation. They are blamed for everything from the Obama presidency to the current recession. MBA’s have been viewed as rapacious individuals concerned with only one thing, self-advancement.

As a result of this evolving persona MBA programs around the world are adjusting. Harvard has a Social Entrepreneurial concentration for their MBA program. They have an endowment that sets aside a certain amount of money for their students to start social businesses that make a difference. It really is commendable. Many schools including Harvard have signed the MBA oath. The oath starts with this:

“As a manager, my purpose is to serve the greater good by bringing people and resources together to create value that no single individual can create alone. Therefore I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long-term. As I reconcile the interests of different constituencies, I will face difficult choices.”

After this preamble the oath continues with some promises. A promise to act with integrity, manage with good faith, and take responsibility for one’s actions. All of this is great stuff, but without integrity it will fall apart.

Occupy, fill in the city, has grown to dozens of cities throughout the world. From Orlando to Rome, protestors are taking to the streets to protest war, politics, and greed. Rallies are drawing old and young, parents with children in strollers, and retirees. The unions are protesting, “Our members are losing jobs, and people are angry.”

Protestors are telling corporations to keep their hands off our government, while demanding that Obama dismantle Wall Street. Even in Canada people are protesting. We are living in very interesting times.

The Business people see an opportunity to use free enterprise for creating social change, but the citizenry doesn’t trust the business leader. Too much has happened up to this point. Too much greed and falsity has occurred. I hope the MBA oath is the real deal. I hope the values that are being espoused by the MBA oath are what the business community puts into practice. But on the other hand, violent protest against an entrenched system so important to the economic health of all of us is counterproductive.

The only thing that will get corporations to take notice is where we spend our money. If we really want to protest successfully then stop spending money at the big corporate market. Instead of saving money in banks like B of A or Chase, go to a credit union. You really want to be heard change the way you spend.

Business leaders you need to change and get a heart, and protestors what you are doing is a waste of time and resources. Vote with your dollar and then see what happens.

And that is my thought for the day!