Ethics: it’s tough even to give it away

Everybody talks about ethics but it seems nobody cares about it. The “ethics” talk is all about rules: bribery, conflict of interest, financial disclosure laws, nepotism, and the rest of the litany of rules of conduct that you can be fired or prosecuted for breaking.

If you subscribe to a Google alert for “ethics” you learned today that a key aide to the governor of Illinois was fined $500 and forced to resign for sending a campaign email on his state-issued cell phone. Or that the former Massachusetts State Auditor was fined $2,000 for by putting his unqualified 75-year-old cousin on the state payroll. Or that lobbyists are buying meals for Oklahoma lawmakers. That’s not about ethics, that’s about rules

Moreover, corporate ethics officers are so concerned with preventing criminal violations that they don’t have much (…any?) time for such things as the Golden Rule, arguing with the boss, or keeping one’s commitments. This became depressingly clear to me after I attended a meeting of ethics officers and academics. The meeting had focused on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal for American companies to pay bribes overseas.

After the meeting I made an offer to the attendees that I thought they couldn’t refuse:

Hi, ethics friends—

Today’s ____ meeting was terrific: Anne _____’s talk was fascinating, and we paid her the highest compliment an audience can pay a speaker—we wouldn’t let her get through her powerpoints. That’s the kind of reception all speakers hope for. And the venue and food were worthy of the subject.

But I was frustrated. As fascinating as bribery and corruption are, and as important as FCPA and Sarbanes-Oxley are to all of us, they’re not ethics. Ethics is the Golden Rule, telling the truth, and other non-legal mandates. That’s my passion: ethics, to live it and to teach it. That’s what was behind the book that Mick Ukleja and I wrote, and it’s what I try to teach at the University of Redlands School of Business.

So here’s my proposal: if you (any of you) provide the audience I’ll visit your place of business and do a one-hour seminar on ethics, really ethics. A brief synopsis is attached; it will be similar to the presentation many of you heard last year at _______ University.

I’ll charge $1 for the seminar; if that’s too hard I’ll do it pro bono.

Any takers?

Bob

Guess how many takers I got. Pick a number between zero and one. Nope, that’s too high.

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9 Responses to “Ethics: it’s tough even to give it away”

  1. Jack Marshall Says:

    Too creepy, Bob…I was just writing a memo to a compliance officer saying the same thing, AND I just posted a Disney graphic on my blog about three seconds ago.

  2. Ethics Bob Says:

    Yeah, right after I posted I got an email about Brer Rabbit. What’s that they say about small minds? Or…

    We should gang up on some corporate compliance types. You hold his arma and I’ll stuff ethics down his throat.

  3. southwerk Says:

    How are you? I enjoyed this post and I am going to reblog it. One of the things I’ve noticed about your blog is that from time to time you discuss the importance of Muslim Americans and that their rights deserve the same protection as other Americans particularly their right to worship. I have a number of posts along the same lines. I am glad to share an interest in that issue with you.
    My Best Wishes, James Pilant

  4. Ethics: it’s tough even to give it away (via Ethics Bob) | Pilant's Business Ethics Blog Says:

    […] Everybody talks about ethics but it seems nobody cares about it. The “ethics” talk is all about rules: bribery, conflict of interest, financial disclosure laws, nepotism, and the rest of the litany of rules of conduct that you can be fired or prosecuted for breaking. If you subscribe to a Google alert for “ethics” you learned today that a key aide to the governor of Illinois was fined $500 and forced to resign for sending a campaign email on his … Read More […]

  5. Dan Bodine Says:

    Ok, Bob —
    It’s a confusing gray area we’ve created cross-using morals and ethics. Beginning with who? President Nixon? Or What’s-His-Name? Life is too fast; media needs fillers; thus the oops drives the news! But let’s forget ethical politicos. Is there such a thing as a moral economy? Define please. And if the answer is no, please explain.Thanks muchas.

    • Ethics Bob Says:

      There is such a thing as a moral economy. Philosophers and economists have been trying to define it–Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Robert Solomon, Immanuel Kant, John Locke, and others. Unfortunately there’s a lot of disagreement, but to start there’s a good philosophical basis for thinking the profit motive is moral (or ethical).

  6. Dan Bodine Says:

    Thanks for the prompt answer. Agreed, if it could be refined with conditions–moral as long as required ethics were allowed to level the playing field. Or maybe I suffer from religious shortsightedness. But much of our nation’s creative energies being stifled by our present corpocracy/plutocracy is anything but the results of a small number of elitists’ quests for a moral profit, it sure seems to me. But in economics I easily risk getting in over my head. Thanks again for the courtesy of your reply.

  7. Ethics: it’s tough even to give it away (via Ethics Bob) - Pilant's Business Ethics | Pilant's Business Ethics Says:

    […] James Pilant Everybody talks about ethics but it seems nobody cares about it. The “ethics” talk is all about rules: bribery, conflict of interest, financial disclosure laws, nepotism, and the rest of the litany of rules of conduct that you can be fired or prosecuted for breaking. If you subscribe to a Google alert for “ethics” you learned today that a key aide to the governor of Illinois was fined $500 and forced to resign for sending a campaign email on his … Read More […]

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