The Road to Trumps Success Began 4,500 Years Ago

egypt-cairo-pyramids-of-giza-and-camels-2

The journey of Donald Trump from businessman to the head of the largest corporate state in the world did not as many assume start 12 months ago.  In fact, the roots of Trumps ascendancy can be traced back to at least 2,500 BCE.  Never before in history, has anyone with a business background and so little experience in either politics or military become the leader of a major state.  However, we did not see the buildup to this happening because most of the time we are focused on short-view trends and we miss entirely the long term trends that entail even more potent forces at play.

In numerous attempts to explain the election of Trump, most pundits have looked to the micro forces, such as international trade, disillusion among blue collar White males, the Affordable Care Act, distrust of Hillary Clinton, Russian interference in the election, White backlash and rising income inequality.  While these forces might explain Trump’s election they do not explain why America has now seen fit to elect a businessperson with no political experience as its 45th President.

In fact, the election of a person with a business background to run the country represents a major shift in power that has been taking place for nearly fifty years and can be linked to other power shifts since the beginning of recorded history.  In this blog, I will explain how and why we now find America being run by the elite of corporate America.  To do this, we must go back to the ancient Egyptians.

In approximately 2,500 BCE, the Pharaoh Khufu built the largest of the Pyramids known as the Great Pyramid of Giza as a burial chamber.  The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for more than 3,800 years.   It was one of three large pyramids built in the Giza complex.  Then as now, humans marked their sovereignty by creating tall structures to show their power and prestige.  This phenomenon has been so consistent that it provides an insight into the sovereign powers that rule that planet and the various power shifts that have occurred throughout history.

sovereign-buildings

I mean to use the term sovereign to express the possessing of supreme or ultimate power.  For nearly 3,000 years, Kings, Pharaohs, Dictators, Emperors and those born of royal blood who were “related to Gods” were the ultimate sovereigns over most of humankind.  The early Romans and Greeks made some attempts to commute the power of their rulers by selecting some representatives of the population but these were generally of royal blood themselves and seldom of plebeian birth.  Julius Caesar who tried to be a “man of the people” was himself born into a patrician family.

Around the fall of the Roman Empire in 400 CE, sovereign power shifted from the nobility to the Catholic Church (at least in Europe).  Bear in mind that the shifts I refer to did not take place overnight.  These transitions in power took place gradually over decades and with many tug of wars between the transitioning sovereigns.  It was Pope Leo (440 CE) who first asserted Papal primacy and he was supported by the Romans because of the political chaos in the West.  Pope Gelasius I (492 CE) declared that priestly power was abpower-of-the-popesove kingly power.  The Pope was supreme and no appeals could be made for his decision.  Sovereign power had now shifted to the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Throughout most of Europe, the clergy and other minions of the Catholic Church assumed roles of leadership and sovereignty.  As the power of the church grew, so did the churches, cathedrals and basilicas which they built.  Each one was larger than the last one and all were designed to be larger than any buildings of the nobility or royalty.  The Church catheldralmanifested its power in the grandeur and elegance of its buildings.

The Catholic Church remained the dominant sovereign power in Europe until the reign of Pope Boniface VIII.  The clash of the Church to remain dominant over the newly emerging nation/state rulers took place in an epic battle between Pope Boniface VIII (1294 734-conflict-church-monarchs-12-638CE) and King Phillip IV of France.  Several other skirmishes had already taken place between Popes and rulers in the decades preceding with the battles seesawing back and forth.  However, the decisive battle for sovereignty was between Pope Boniface VIII and King Phillip IV.  It was vicious and at times bloody.  It saw the end of Church sovereignty and the beginning of the
sovereignty of nation/state rulers.   Boniface was captured by forces loyal to Philip and was beaten and nearly executed.  He was released from captivity after three days and died a short time later.  His defeat marked the end of the power of the Church to rule and the rise of the power of rulers of nation/states.

There are four characteristics of a nation/state.  These are:

  • Defined territory
  • Self-Rule (Sovereignty)
  • Some form of organized government
  • A population of people sharing a national identity

versailles-and-giverny-day-trip-in-paris-115463During the period of nation/state rulers, they built some magnificent buildings such as Versailles in France, Castello Del Valentino in Italy, the Palace of Placentia in London and the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.  If not the largest buildings in each country, they dwarfed in overall grandeur and size the churches that had been built by the clergy.  The period of nation/state rulers lasted from about 1400 CE to the middle of the 19th century.

The power of most of these nation/state rulers (usually with some pedigree of nobility) began to wane as the people in each country demanded more and more input into economic and political decisions.  Eventually, the nobility in most European countries were forced to make concessions to the idea of democratic or at least some form of republican rule.  The transition from rulers to republics was insured by the rise of a new class which we today call politicians or bureaucrats.  In time, these professional politicians became sovereign and replaced the old style rulers by virtue of a concept called elections or voting.  No one voted for Henry the VIII of England or Czar Nicholas II of Germany or King Ferdinand of Spain, but with the emergence of State governments, politicians and bureaucrats would become the new sovereigns.

how-bureaucrats-captured-government

The rise of most modern states started about the mid seventieth century.  Increasingly, although rulers in many nations could still be very powerful and even dictators, there was now some agency in every country that attempted to provide a balance to the ruler’s power.  In England, they established a parliament in 1706 that was later characterized by a House of Lords and a House of Commons.  In France, they created a National Assembly in 1791.  In Germany, they established a parliament in the 1870’s.  By the beginning of the 20th Century, although many nations had still kept their nobility as a form of tradition, most of the reins of government were in the hands of bureaucrats or elected officials.  Prime Ministers and Presidents had replaced Kings and Queens in the political decision making process.

national-capitolThe new sovereigns started building.  No more castles or palaces were built to house the new rulers.  Instead, capitals, state houses and mansions would be the new domiciles for politicians and bureaucrats.  Government leaders were no different though than Kings and Clergy when it came to siting their residences.  They also sought the high ground to place their buildings on.  The tallest buildings in the land now belonged to the Government.  This situation would not last very long.  Even more changes were taking place.  In a few short years, nations would no longer have an exclusive on sovereignty.  A new challenger was rapidly emerging.

capitalists

The new challenger started to emerge with the first corporations which began over a thousand years ago.  However, until the power of mercantilism started to become critical to state and military power in the late 16th century, the early corporations were rather toothless.  An excellent book titled Power Inc. covers the rise of the modern corporation in much more detail than I shall go into here.  The book by David Rothkopf is fittingly subtitled:  “The Epic Rivalry between Big Business and Government–and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead.”   

“In his new book, Power, Inc., David Rothkopf sounds an alarm.  He argues that thousands of private actors who he calls “super citizens” now hold greater power than most countries in the world.  He notes, for instance, that corporations have grown to the point where roughly the richest two thousand are more influential than 70-80 percent of the world’s nations. Walmart, for example, has revenues higher than the GDP of all but 25 nations.” — Roy Ulrich, the Huffington Post

The capitalistic industries wasted no time in starting to construct new buildings that would soon dwarf all of the previous tombs, castles, cathedrals and capitals throughout the world.  These buildings are so tall that they have been labeled as “skyscrapers.”  The world’s first skyscraper was the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, erected in 1884-1885.  Its 138 foot peak would be dwarfed by skyscrapers today.  The Flatiron Building in NYC was built in 1902 and is twenty floors high and 307 feet to its peak.  The Empire State Building was built in 1931 in NYC and for many years it was the tallest building in the world standing over 100 stories and 1400 feet in height.

With the rapid economic development of many former third world countries there has been a proliferation of corporate skyscrapers with many countries vying for the honor of having the tallest building in the world.  Searching on Google for the “tallest buildings in the world” one finds the following information for buildings over 300 meters tall:

“As of 2016, this list includes all 135 buildings (completed and architecturally topped out) which reach a height of 300 meters (984 ft.) or more as assessed by their highest architectural feature.”Wikipedia

skyscrapersThe list includes skyscrapers built in China, United Arab Emirates, Dubai, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Russia and several other nations.   Perhaps presaging the emergence of China and Asia as the dominant world economies, Asia is already assuming the role of having many of the largest buildings in the world.  What we are witnessing is a contest of global economies vying for supremacy in terms of world economic sovereignty.  An interesting aside is that the world currency is considered a reflection of the nation that is the most powerful in this arena.  To date, the United States still holds that distinction but many are predicting the demise of the US dollar as the standard for world currency.

tpp-free-trade

But what does this have to do with Trump you may be starting to ask?  What does commercial sovereignty have to do with political sovereignty?  The answer to the second question is everything.  The major reason for the success of the Allied powers in both WWI and WWII was the economic might of the United States.  Economic power translates into military power and military power translates into political power.  This fact has been recognized for over 500 years now.  Spain’s ascendancy to a world power was built on its confiscation of wealth in the New World.  Hitler recognized that Germany could not be a dominant world power without confiscating the wealth of Jewish citizens and also of its neighboring countries.

“Great Britain was once a dominant military force in the World while it had a dominant economy.  At the start of the First World War, it devalued its exchange rate.  By the end of the War, owing to its military expenditure, it had large trade deficits and falling gold reserves.” — Buoyant Economies

The question of Trump brings a larger issue to the fore.  Generally, we have seen that as the dominant world power shifts, the leadership shifts along with it.  The features of buildings as a representation of power has followed these shifts.  However, in terms of the new power of corporations, it would seem that the buildings have been created before the shift in leadership.  That is until Trump became President of the United States of America.

a-corporate-worldIs Trump’s election an anomaly or does it truly represent the emergence of corporate power into the political arena?  My view on this is that Trump’s election is merely the tip of the iceberg.  For over 20 years now the United States has been electing more and more political leaders who are not politicians.  I am considering someone as not a politician if they are people who have not made a career of politics.

Many business people are jumping right into the political arena without experience in either local, state or federal government.  The founder of Electronic Data Systems, Ross Perot may be remembered by many voters as the ultimate tycoon-turned-politician.  Perot ran for president in 1992 and 1996 as a third-party candidate.

An article written in 2010 before Trump had become a candidate stated the following concerning the election of corporate people to public office:

“Whoever believes politics is big business must have seen this coming. The high levels of accountability from running a corporation and high expectations of seeking a seat in government have many parallels.  Amid this confluence of business and political streams, Chief Executive magazine dubbed 2010 “a high-water mark for the CEO as candidate.”

More than 40 business magnates – the presidents and founders of banks, restaurants and tech giants – are running for seats on Capitol Hill or for governor’s offices in 25 states. And looking ahead Donald Trump says he is “absolutely thinking about” a 2012 presidential bid.” — Ten Business Leaders with Politics in their Blood, by Bill Briggs

During the Republican runoff to the nomination of Trump, we saw Carly Fiorina who was a former CEO also emerge as a potential candidate.  We now have ten governors with no former elected government service.  Seven former US presidents with business experience have all been elected in the 20th or 21st century.  The following chart shows the net worth of the wealthiest senators in the US. Congress as of 2012.senator-net-worth

The next chart shows the average net worth of 90 incoming freshman representatives to the 113th US Congress

January 3, 2013 to January 3, 2015

Year Number of Freshmen Reports Average Net Worth Change from previous year
2011 90 $7,835,242 —-

More data can be found at Ballotpedia at https://ballotpedia.org/Main_Page

the-50-richest-people-on-earthMy point here is that most millionaires make their money in business.  On the 2016 Forbes lists of richest 400 people in the world, richest billionaires in the world and richest people in the world, the majority (about 2/3) have made their money in business.  Furthermore, they are self-made in that they did not inherit their fortunes.  Perusing Forbes, it is clear that the dominant path to becoming rich is to sell something that people want at a price they can afford.

It is clear that wealth accumulated to a business background has increasingly become a stepping stone to politics and political leadership.  Trumps presidency is the crown on the new sovereignty.  Business leaders are now rapidly replacing politicians and bureaucrats in the area of political leadership.  Already Trump’s nominees include the chief executive of Exxon Corporation; the chief executive of CKE Restaurants; the former chief executive of the World Wrestling Entertainment; a former Goldman Sachs executive; a billionaire investor; a right wing media executive and a former chief executive of Nucor Corporation.  These are only a few of the still to come appointments that Trump will make.

corporate-powerIt is my prediction that business leaders will continue to make the transition to political leadership.  The business model is now the sovereign model for world power.  The power of the state has been usurped by the power of big business.  Global power is corporate power.  The public is sick of career politicians.  The common people bring a (perhaps unfounded) belief in the power of business to save the world.  Considering that we have tried the power of academia, the power of science and the power of big government to save the world, perhaps the power of business can do better.  One might argue that they can at least do no worst.

Conclusion:

From Khufu to Trump, we have now briefly (my apologies for many simplifications and no doubt omissions in history) covered 4,500 years of political and economic history in a short seven or so pages.  I can see the great historians and economists of the world having fits at my narrative. Nevertheless, my thesis remains.  Simply put Trump is now the successor to Khufu, Caesar, Pope Boniface, Henry the VIII, Bismarck, Churchill and Roosevelt.  Big business is now the dominant sovereign power in the world.  How long will it last?  How long will it take all politicians to be replaced by business people?  I have no answers to these questions; but one must assume that somewhere down the road, another sovereign power will emerge or may already be emerging.  Until then, be prepared for most decisions to have a “let’s make a deal” flavor to them.

Time for Questions:

How long will the reign of big business last?  How long will it take politicians to all be replaced by business people?  Will business succeed in making the world a better place?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“I spent 33 years and 4 months in active military service . . . And during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

Thus, I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.

I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927, I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

Our boys were sent off to die with beautiful ideals painted in front of them. No one told them that dollars and cents were the real reason they were marching off to kill and die.”
― General Smedley Butler

“Our aim is not to do away with corporations; on the contrary, these big aggregations are an inevitable development of modern industrialism, and the effort to destroy them would be futile unless accomplished in ways that would work the utmost mischief to the entire body politic. We can do nothing of good in the way of regulating and supervising these corporations until we fix clearly in our minds that we are not attacking the corporations, but endeavoring to do away with any evil in them. We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to serve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

 

 

The 4th of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Commerce without Morality.

Several years ago, a movie was made called “The Corporation.”   It is a documentary film written by Joel Bakan, and directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. The film examines the modern-day corporation.   It considers its legal status as a class of person and evaluates its behavior towards society and the world at large as a psychiatrist might evaluate an ordinary person. The films thesis is explored through numerous examples and interviews.  Bakan wrote the book, “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power,” during the filming of the documentary.  I highly recommend this film.  I have shown it in many of my classes and used numerous excerpts from the film to illustrate key points about corporate behavior and the history of the corporate concept.  If you are interested in watching the film, you can do so on YouTube at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y888wVY5hzw

Most people do not realize it but the modern corporation and rules governing its behavior were not developed until the middle of the 19th century.  True, there were charters and rules governing businesses since the middle ages, but corporate law as we know it today is only about 150 or so years old.  The main point of the film is that despite not being human beings, corporations, as far as the law is concerned, have many of the same rights and responsibilities as people do.  Corporations can exercise human rights against individuals and the state,and they can themselves be responsible for human rights violations. 

However, while people have hearts, emotions, feelings and consciences, corporations do not.  While human behavior and codes of conduct have been developing since the Stone Age, the codes of conduct for corporations are practically non-existent.  Witness how Enron subverted their entire ethics process to allow the company to pursue almost unlimited degrees of immoral and unethical behavior.  In most corporations, the ethics statements are followed only when convenient and never if they conflict with the prime directive: “Make Money.”   Business schools may teach one class on ethics but seldom do students come away with any true sense that there must be an underlying morality to commerce.  Most students yawn their way through ethics since experience has already shown them that business ethics are expendable.  Noted economist Milton Friedman is famous for his criticism of business ethics and social responsibility for corporations.  According to Christine Travis, Friedman makes two key points in favor of his theory.  The first is that there is no uncontroversial morality.   Business owners are not ethicists and thus are not equipped to make ethical decisions.  Secondly, Friedman argues that maximizing long term self-interests will actually bring out the greater good.  (See Travis’s paper Philosophy: Summary and Explanation of Milton Friedman’s Stockholder Theory” for more depth on Friedman’s perspective.)

It is easy to see that Friedman’s theory has nuances which are valid but that there are gaps in his reasoning that allow too wide latitude of behavior.   If we argue that entrepreneurs, managers and business owners are not ethicists, we may as well allow that most people are not ethicists.  True, there is wide interpretation of what is moral and what is immoral but the same can be said for any system of morality and standards. Nevertheless, we would not want our children to grow up believing that because they were not ethicists they could discard any standards of behavior.  The proof of any theory may be in the pudding.  In this case, we can see the results of 100 years of corporate behavior and I suspect that the results do not portray business people in a very favorable light.  In fact, in terms of most admired and least admired professions, business people usually find themselves ranked among the “sleaziest professions.

20 Sleaziest Ways To Make a Living (http://scientificmarketingandadvertising.com/marketing-articles-least-admired-professions.html)

  1. Drug Dealer (0.61)
  2. Crime Boss (0.99)
  3. TV Evangelist (1.19)
  4. Prostitute (1.24)
  5. Street Peddler (1.45)
  6. Local Politician (1.52)
  7. Congressman (1.58)
  8. Car Salesman (1.59)
  9. Rock Star (1.72)
  10. Insurance Salesman (1.76)
  11. Union Leader (1.89)
  12. Wall Street Executive (1.92)
  13. Real Estate Agent (1.92)
  14. TV Executive (1.94)
  15. Oil Company Executive (1.94)
  16. Lawyer (1.97)
  17. Soap Opera Star (2.00)
  18. Movie Star (2.00)
  19. Broker (2.00)
  20. Prison Guard (2.02)

Real Estate Agent, Wall Street Executive, TV Executive and Oil Company Executive all rank in the list of twenty least admired professions.   If you go to the link above you can also find the 20 most admired professions. There is not one business occupation in the list of 20 most admired.  The article that this list is drawn from explores the question of “What can we learn from this list?”  The answers seems to support the thesis developed by Bakan that businesses do not have an incentive for morality and thus giving them “rights” as human beings poses a threat to our society. 

Let’s take a second to see what the Gandhi Institute says about Commerce without Morality: 

As in wealth without work we indulge in commerce without morality to make more money by any means possible. Price gouging, palming off inferior products, cheating and making false claims are a few of the obvious ways in which we indulge in commerce without morality. There are also thousands of other ways in which we do immoral or unethical business. When profit-making becomes the most important aspect of business, morals and ethics usually go overboard. We cut benefits and even salaries of employees. If possible we employ “slave” labor, like the sweat shops and migrant farm workers in New York and California where workers are thoroughly exploited. Profit supersedes the needs of people. When business is unable to deal with labor it begins to mechanize. Mechanization, it is claimed, increases efficiency, but in reality it is instituted simply to make more money. Alternate jobs may be created for a few. Others will fall by the wayside and languish. Who cares? People don’t matter, profits do. In more sophisticated language what we are really saying is that those who cannot keep up with the technological changes and exigencies of the times do not deserve to live–a concept on which Hitler built the Nazi Party. If society does not care for such people, can we blame them if they become criminals?

One of the key points that I glean from the Gandhi Institute is that Gandhi was against “Profit superseding the needs of people.”  Friedman would argue from the enlightened self-interest perspective that they are the same.  If the corporation takes care of profit, it takes care of people by creating jobs and value for the society.  The proof of value creation is evidenced by the fact that only corporations that make a profit survive.  People are free to choose where and what they spend their money on.  Thus if they support Corporation X over Corporation Y, it is because they perceive more value for their money in doing so.  This argument would have more merit if people had access to perfect information and were perfectly rationale.  However, since people are often deceived and given erroneous information and since Madison Avenue has built up numerous ways to convince people to spend money against their best interests, Friedman’s argument is perpetually, inevitable and indubitably doomed to failure. 

The primary force that protects human existence and all of humankind has been and always will be moral behavior. No amount of police, regulations, lawyers, prisons or inspectors will ever be enough to replace the moral force of human conscience and caring for other human beings.  Corporations have no incentives or mechanism to be kind to anyone unless it somehow provides a path to increased profits.  On the numerous occasions when this is not possible, profit trumps concern for employees, concern for the country, concern for the environment and concern the future of humanity.  The proof of what I am saying has been demonstrated time and time again.  You have only to pick up the morning paper to see yet another example of short-term corporate thinking and focus on greed above the well-being of any other factor.

Just to test my own hypothesis, I turned to CNN Money.  What did the headlines show today?  A list of The Top Twenty Most Profitable corporations in the world!  Would it surprise anyone to find that out of the top ten, there were four oil companies?   The price of gas keeps going up, but our dependency on the gasoline engine driven by the greed of the oil companies insures that there is still a steady stream of profits to the largest oil companies.  Whose well-being is being served by the outlandish incentives that continue to drive the oil industry?  Is the oil industry an example of “corporate morality?”  I doubt few would say yes to this question. 

To conclude, Gandhi believes that Commerce without Morality is a sin or social blunder.  I think it has shown itself to be an unmitigated social evil.  Our present laws do not provide an adequate solution to this problem.  A corporation is not a human being and should not be treated as a human being.  It is time we rethink the laws developed in the 19th century to govern corporate behavior.  It is time to put human well-being as the primary directive for all corporations and not the making of profit.  We cannot be blamed for putting the cart before the horse because we have never really attached the horse to the cart.  There is no mandate for a corporation to be either moral or ethical.  Any statements to the contrary are simply straws in the wind. When the accountants look at the ledgers, profit trumps every other card in the corporation.   Can you imagine if we simply judged people by the same standard?  Those people who made the most money were rated as the most well-adjusted and socially responsible people.  Is this what we want our culture and society to be remembered for?  Simply how much money we made!  I think our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves at the thought. 

Ok, time for questions:

Do you think the Oil Industry is guided by a set of moral or ethical codes? Should it be?  Do you think corporations have an incentive for ethical behavior?  If so, I would love to hear your comments on this question either way.  Do you think we can change our corporate law to make them more responsible? Should we?  Why or why not?  Would you want the caption on your grave stone “I made a lot of money?”

Life is just beginning.

 

The 3rd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Knowledge without Character.

Several years ago I became very interested in the question of “Character.”  What is character?  How do we develop character?  Are we losing character in our population and if so, why?  I found a number of books on the subject but the one that most impressed me was called “The Death of Character.”  It was published in 2001 and was written by James Davison Hunter.   The book description is as follows:

The Death of Character is a broad historical, sociological, and cultural inquiry into the moral life and moral education of young Americans based upon a huge empirical study of the children themselves. The children’s thoughts and concerns-expressed here in their own words-shed a whole new light on what we can expect from moral education. Targeting new theories of education and the prominence of psychology over moral instruction, Hunter analyzes the making of a new cultural narcissism.

One of the observations that I drew from reading this book is that as a nation, Americans have moved from a perspective of absolute values to a strong belief in relative values or standards.  Wherein once people could be labeled as moral or immoral based on their behavior, today we have the concept of amorality which does not seem to have existed before the 20th century.   Some definitions might help here:

Moral:  Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.

Immoral:  Violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics.

Amoral:  Being neither moral nor immoral; specifically: lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply.

Character:  The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person.

According to Hunter’s research, the American population has moved from a bipartite arrangement in which people fell between the poles of moral or immoral to a tripartite arrangement in which most people would be classified as amoral, immoral or moral.  I have been teaching in college since 1999 and one question I have routinely asked my MBA and BA students is “What would you do if you were driving down a lonely dirt road and saw a Wells Fargo money bag lying on the side of the road?  Would you return it?”  Would you be surprised if I told you that less than 3 students in 30 say they would return it?  However, if I ask them the following question, the numbers change dramatically.  “What would you do if you noticed that upon leaving the classroom, Mary had dropped a twenty dollar bill?  You are the only one who has noticed it. Would you return it?”  The replies are unanimous in that all students say they would return it.  Students regard hurting another person that they know as wrong or immoral, but stealing from Wells Fargo is not considered immoral but is rather considered as amoral.  My own experiences over the years confirm much of what Hunter says in his book. 

So we come to an important question.  Can we have an educated and intelligent population (more people getting degrees and going to school) and less morality?  What if more people are becoming amoral and we have less moral people?  What are the implications?  Well, I think the answer is clear here.  Look at corporate behavior.  You have only to read the story of Enron “The Smartest Men in the Room” to see concrete examples of intelligent behavior without a sense of morality or character.   When we look at amoral behavior in people and organizations, a primary question is how long before the amoral behavior becomes immoral and crosses the line to illegal – as it did with Enron, Worldcom, and Global Crossing.

Gandhi says this about his 3rd Social sin: 

“Our obsession with materialism tends to make us more concerned about acquiring knowledge so that we can get a better job and make more money. A lucrative career is preferred to an illustrious character. Our educational centers emphasize career-building and not character-building. Gandhi believed if one is not able to understand one’s self, how can one understand the philosophy of life. He used to tell me the story of a young man who was an outstanding student throughout his scholastic career. He scored “A’s” in every subject and strove harder and harder to maintain his grades. He became a bookworm. However, when he passed with distinction and got a lucrative job, he could not deal with people nor could he build relationships. He had no time to learn these important aspects of life. Consequently, he could not live with his wife and children nor work with his colleagues. His life ended up being a misery. All those years of study and excellent grades did not bring him happiness. Therefore, it is not true that a person who is successful in amassing wealth is necessarily happy. An education that ignores character- building is an incomplete education.”

In my book, “The New Business Values” one of my chapters was on Information.  I outlined a hierarchy of information as follows: Data>Information>Knowledge>Wisdom.   I described knowledge as a set of beliefs, facts or ideas that contained relevance to some goal, need or desire.  In my model, knowledge cannot become wisdom until it is linked to emotions and feelings for others.  I think Gandhi’s ideas of linking Knowledge to character probably hits the mark more accurately.  It was my understanding that knowledge without empathy and compassion for others could never be wisdom.  The world is full of knowledge today since scientific belief has replaced religious belief.   However, science can never develop the sense of empathy and compassion is a central part of character development.  Character development stands alone as a primary developmental need for any civilized society.  However, as Gandhi notes, we have let our passion for commerce and money outrun our passion for purpose and character.  

The famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted in his book Economics and the Public Purpose (1973, Houghton Mifflin):

“The contribution of economics to the exercise of power may be called its instrumental function… Part of this function consists in instructing several hundred thousand students each year… They are led to accept what they might otherwise criticize; critical inclinations which might be brought to bear on economic life are diverted to other and more benign fields.” 

Galbreath noted over 35 years ago that we are educating MBA students who have become mindless automatons in a corporate system without a conscience.  Having no conscience is one aspect of amoral behavior.  In today’s society and schools such behavior has become the accepted norm.  It’s the “go along” to “get along” mentality that accepts corporate decisions regardless of their impact on people, the environment or even our nation.  The “diversion” that Galbraith speaks of is easily recognized as sports and media entertainment.   Sports and news create 24/7 harmless and benign diversions that keep the public’s mind off of character or moral development.  Indeed watching sports figures and media figures today exhibits a “vast wasteland” in terms of character development. 

So where do we go from here?  The picture appears bleak.  We now accept amorality as a legitimate position on the map of character development.  We ignore the development of true character in our schools and churches; in fact, we supplant the development of character with the requisite amorality needed to get ahead in the business world.  The values of the corporation have supplanted the values needed for a kind and compassionate civilization.  Our schools have become prisons and our prisons overflow with some of the highest amounts of incarceration in the world.  Our courts have become three ring media circuses designed to show an endless succession of trials whose main points seem to be to titillate and entertain the masses.  Can we escape from this cycle of destruction that we have built for ourselves? 

Ok, time for questions:

Am I too bleak?  Do you think there is more morality in society than I describe? What do you do to develop your own character?  Do you feel that there is enough emphasis on character development in our churches and schools?  What do you think can be done about it?  How do we start? 

Life is just beginning.

 

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