Seth Godin wrote on July 25th, 2011:

“The unhappy theory of business ethics is this: you have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profit. Period. To do anything other than that is to cheat your investors. And in a competitive world, you don’t have much wiggle room here.”

That is is not only wrong, it’s at the heart of what is killing our economy.

Let’s remember that catastrophe in Bhopal India. Nearly 4,000 killed by sheer negligence of safety. Union Carbide paid about $500 per death. They maximized profit. This is good?

Bhopal Memorial (Above)

What about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? We didn’t like it when it happened to us. BP is bombarding us with a PR campaign about what a wonderful job creator and energy provider they are. Bull.

Businesses have responsibilities that go far beyond simply making profit. No? Then it’s perfectly ethical for companies, such as cigarette makers, to conceal data that shows their product kills people?

Under Seth’s statement, it would not be the company’s responsibility to conduct health studies. Cigarettes are legal to produce. Produce them and make as much money as possible.

This, of course, is far too obvious an example of the silly “maximize profit” argument. What about moving a plant to China to “save labor” costs? Is that ethical?

I say no. I say no because the move is never really about reducing labor costs. Companies move off-shore to avoid responsibility. They pay less tax when operating abroad. They avoid environmental regulation which is really protection for us

You breathe air don’t you? The pollution China produces impacts you. You may be the lucky winner of lung cancer as a result of China’s coal burning power plants. Are you okay with that? They are, after all, maximizing profit.

China is using those profits to build a powerful military. We (The U.S.) now are moving military collateral into Asia. That costs money. So we buy cheap crap from China, lose our industrial base and then must spend money on military hardware to counter a potential military threat from our biggest supplier?

As companies save billions in taxes, they make two arguments. 1. Companies don’t pay taxes, consumers do. Thus, we’re saving you money.
2. Corporations are already over taxed, the government needs to spend less, not tax more.

Those on the right have swallowed those lines because of failure to stop and think about what people like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh actually spew. Cut taxes and ‘entitlements’. They classify the medical care your grandfather gets an one of those ‘entitlements’. They never consider the billions in tax concessions that EXXON gets to be a for of handout.

I know several wealthy people who took unemployment checks until their early retirement benefits started flowing. I know a well-off family whose son is collecting food stamps. These are so-called conservatives. They too make the ‘maximize profit’ argument. They’ve told me that. They’ve also told me how much they oppose the Obama welfare state which is being over-run by “illegals”. Both of the aforementioned families use undocumented aliens for household labor.

It’s nonsense. Corporations and small businesses, including my business, have a responsibility to do what is right for the community and the country. And, yes, to make profit.

No, that doesn’t mean profit is bad. But it does mean I have an obligation to provide some help to others as able, make decisions that have broader benefit than today’s buck and act to preserve tomorrow’s market for the next generation.

Think about this. If your company assembles a product in the U.S., that is great. I commend you. If the parts you use are all imported, that isn’t good though you may may not have American made parts from which to choose. If you did, think about the increased tax revenue the government would have without raising taxes.

If a company buys domestically made parts, each of those companies pays tax. If they make their parts from U.S. materials, the material producers pay tax. Consider how many times the same dollars turn over as they move through the process of becoming a finished good. Each step is a profitable, taxable step.

Don’t blame the government for the deficit. We asked for everything they bought including those wasteful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Think about the death of ethics.

Don’t tolerate that foolish argument about maximizing profit.

Yes, I get the personal responsibility argument. People are the corporation, blah, blah, blah. That’s easy for the wealthy to say. “You’re not happy with the ethics of your company? Go elsewhere.” You and I know that is not so easy.

I want to end by saying that my clients work within an ethical framework that I am very pleased with.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be clients.  So I know it’s possible to operate ethically.

Chris Reich