One American's Opinion Of The U.S. Business Community
One American’s Opinion of the U.S. Business Community
by Ron Dultz
Business is the engine that runs the United States economy. It supplies us with much of what we need in the form of goods and services; funds a great percentage of our projects, goals and activities; and provides us with much of the personal finances needed for daily living. In addition, businesses create working environments for people and contribute much, for good or ill, to their living environments. Finally, businesses play a major role in determining the standard of living of our entire society when they decide employee salaries and benefits.
Because businesses perform all of the just mentioned critical functions, it is clear that the Business Community is a major player in determining the well being of the American society. Businesses will damage America and her citizens if they provide compromised or inferior products and services; manipulate and deceive consumers; treat employees disrespectfully and make their working conditions painful or unreasonably difficult; use their financial strength to pollute and savage the natural environment; and pursue money and other assets without regard to ethical considerations or the quality of life in America.
Many businesses throughout the United States, including numerous large corporations, are guilty of seeking profit without concern for what is best for America and her people. These businesses are enemies in our midst. While they may pose as legitimate enterprises, their underlying motives are to exploit and pillage for profit. This is most dangerous at the corporate level. Two fairly recent examples are Enron and WorldCom, formerly two of America’s largest corporations, which turned out to be nothing more than criminal enterprises. But Enron and WorldCom are not anomalies. They did not occur in a vacuum. They are products of America’s brand of capitalism. The current U.S. housing crisis and burgeoning U.S. financial crisis are not accidental or blameless events; but are also products of America’s brand of capitalism.
Achilles Heel of American Capitalism
Unethical business practices in the United States have been nurtured by a longstanding principle which has gotten fused into the business culture of the United States, although not all businesses adhere to it. I view that principle as the Achilles heel of American Capitalism, and a pervasive saboteur of American values and quality of life. That principle has devastated more lives than the worst bacteria or virus. It has spread like a vicious cancer around the globe, wantonly ruining lives and sickening whole communities and whole societies. That principle is this: Earning huge profits (as much as possible from every transaction) should be the ultimate goal of every business enterprise; furthermore, the unfettered pursuit of profit is a right of every Business – that should not be hampered or restricted by ethical or humanitarian considerations.
That principle of operation sanctions greed and exploitation, and is a permit for those of greatest wealth and power to use their nearly unlimited resources to grab all they can from those who can least afford to defend themselves, and from others as well. According to its philosophy, everything that can be bought or sold should be, as long as it can turn a profit; and anything which could conceivably turn a profit should be made to turn a profit – regardless of injury or damages that may be a byproduct of the transaction. According to its philosophy, there need be no ethical justification for doing business; in fact, the very act of doing business is praiseworthy. In America, business has become a sort of God deserving of high praise and deference, and that view is fully supported and participated in by government. Much of the American Business Community has become corrupt because it no longer views itself as part of the bigger picture of human goals and human needs; instead, it views Business as an end in itself, which is answerable to no one other than its investors, who seek one thing: maximum profit.
Many people will think I have unfairly accused the American Business Community of having discarded its conscience in pursuit of profit. They will be able to cite examples of decent and honorable businesses that are a credit to their communities; and I would agree with them that many businesses are constructive enterprises that do little, if any, harm and much good. But I maintain that the policies and practices of a large percentage of American Businesses (especially large corporate enterprises) are either unpraiseworthy, or outright harmful and destructive.
In considering whether businesses are harmful or constructive enterprises, one must keep in mind that every business concerns itself with image building (making itself look good). And part of that image building may include public demonstrations of good will. In addition, one must keep in mind that a business need not be corrupt or harmful in every respect, or all the time, to be a blight on the community. A used car dealership, for example, may have a good reputation and own up to it most of the time by operating an honest business. But if that dealership occasionally sells lemons to unsuspecting consumers, and does so knowingly, is that dealership honest? If a company sells great products and has great service, we can rightly commend it for that; but what if the same company pays low wages, offers few benefits to its employees and a stressful working environment, is that company a success? In other words, to determine if a company is operating in the public interest (in addition to making a profit for its investors), we must look at the whole picture of a company’s policies and practices.
A Rudimentary View of Ethical Business Practices
To clarify how a substantial percentage of the American Business Community has corrupted its soul in the quest for profit, I’d like to present a rudimentary view of the purposes and responsibilities of Business. If the American Business community has faithfully adhered to it, then I cannot fault it; however, to the extent that it has strayed from it, it has been corrupted.
The most basic and simple idea behind any business enterprise is that it must make a profit for its investors. All would agree that this must be the first principle of operation of any business enterprise. But this principle, by itself, is insufficient to comprise a sound method of doing business. Unchecked, the pursuit of profit will defraud consumers, exploit labor, misuse the environment, swindle investors, etc. By itself, the “profit motive” is unholy. It is greed incarnate. Without a moral compass, the profit motive cannot, and should not, be trusted.
So what should be the moral compass attached to, or accompanying, the pursuit of profit – which nullifies, or checks its potential for evil? Here are some simple principles which, if practiced faithfully and consistently, will ensure that a business enterprise will be a force for good instead of evil. When reading this list, ask yourself if businesses in your community abide by them:
- A business should provide essential, or useful, goods or services at affordable prices.
- A business should make fair, but not excessive or unreasonable, profits for its investors.
- A business should treat its employees with respect and dignity and provide them with an adequate, living wage; and the employees must give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and be cooperative in their attitude and behavior.
- A business should attempt to operate on a frugal overhead to keep prices to consumers as low as possible.
- A business’s policies and practices should be clearly defined and clearly stated. A business should have a well developed philosophy of doing business. A business should conduct itself in accordance with an ethical and moral code which merits the public’s loyalty and trust.
- A business should be an asset in every respect to the community and nation in which it operates.
I’m sure most industrialists, economists, government leaders and business people will balk at my mention of excessive or unreasonable profits, for it has long been thought in Business and Government in the U.S. that huge profits should be the goal of every businessman and every business enterprise. To them, the idea of excessive or unreasonable profit must be as strange as mermaids in the sea or angels in heaven. Yet, the widespread quest of excessive profit by business and industry, and the widespread practice of ignoring the public good for the sake of increased profit, are pervading our society and ruining it. It has become so serious that the entire fabric of American life is under siege. Much of what the public needs for its well being and normal living requirements is becoming increasingly difficult, or impossible, to obtain for a large an increasing percentage of our population because of the reckless pursuit of profit.
What are excessive or unreasonable profits? Excessive or unreasonable profits are those that occur at the expense of the public good. When fees, fines or taxes are arbitrarily, surreptitiously or unnecessarily levied upon people; or prices are unnecessarily inflated; or the marketplace is artificially manipulated to produce added revenue; or added costs are intentionally built into goods and services; then the profits therefrom are excessive or unreasonable.
Money is a Limited Resource
So that I can more fully convey the meaning of excessive or unreasonable profits, I must ask the reader to consider the following concept: Money is a limited resource. As the size of the world’s population has rapidly increased, humankind has become acutely aware that the Earth’s natural resources are limited, and must be protected and conserved; but humankind has thus far failed to realize that money, too, is a limited resource. There is only so much of it in circulation, and that which is in circulation must purchase everything the world’s people need for their survival and comfort, if it cannot readily be obtained by other means.
In the modern world, much of what people require for their health and well-being must be purchased; and there are millions upon millions of people (many in every community) who haven’t the means of purchasing adequate food, housing, medical care, education, etc. Morally and ethically, if not legally, the deprived and disadvantaged have a claim on the world’s excess or extra wealth, even though people don’t want to acknowledge it.
When a large (or substantial) amount of money or wealth-based assets is hoarded, or a large (or substantial) amount of money is used for trivial or unnecessary purposes, or a large (or substantial) amount of money is squandered or used for selfish purposes, food is taken from the mouths of the hungry and criminals are made of desperate men.
If money were to be regarded as a limited resource, as is the timber in the forest, the fish in the sea or the minerals in the ground, people could better understand that its abuse (through misuse, hoarding or squandering) is a crime against humanity and a major source of human unhappiness. I hope this is realized before it is too late.
If money were to be regarded as a limited resource, upon which all humankind depends for its survival and well being, it would be much easier to understand that the “pursuit of profit” by the American Business Community, as well as the utilization of its profits, are moral and ethical responsibilities, and should not be undertaken solely as self-serving activities for the enrichment of Business owners and their investors.
Tags: Business , Business Ethics , United States Economy
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