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Opinion | Why teach business ethics?

I see that the woke psyche is being incorporated by business leaders into how American business is conducted today.

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In a letter to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, President John Adams observed that “[O]ur Consitution was made only for a moral and religious People.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  In the Federalist Papers Number 47, James Madison reflected the same sentiment when he wrote that our Constitution requires “sufficient virtue among men for self-government” and without that “northing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.”

Commenting on the need for virtue, Robert P. George the nationally respected scholar from Princeton, in the April, 2003 edition of First Things, explained that “people lacking in virtue could be counted on to trade liberty for protection, for financial or personal security, for comfort, for being looked after, for being taken care of, for having their problems solved quickly.  And there will always be people occupying or standing for public office who will be happy to offer the deal – an expansion of their power in return for what they can offer by virtue of that expansion.”

I was fortunate enough to have grown up in a generation in which there were still citizens and leaders who embodied our original values and virtue.  My parents were members of what Tom Brokaw referred to as the “Greatest Generation.”  That generation was made up of citizens who had fought for freedom and who were willing to give their lives to preserve the values in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.

However, we must all now reflect on who we have as leaders and how we select them because our Congress exhibits a profound inability to cooperate and to solve the problems that the people of this country are waiting to be solved.  We see the government being bullied by elected representatives who are not grounded in our Constitutional values and who are more than willing to eliminate them from our culture.  The values in our First Amendment are being diminished daily by students who have been indoctrinated by faculty members at some universities to demand “free spaces” and who no longer cherish the meaning of a university and who are willing to shout down speakers with whom they disagree and to keep their universities from inviting those people as speakers because the students disagree with the positions of the speakers.  

While the mythology of private company decisions continues to permeate our lexicon, we blandly sit by and allow private companies which have monopolies on communications to “cancel” speakers and messages with which the leaders of those companies politically disagree.  

This is a dark view of America, but it is an America that has transitioned from my parents’ generation where programs like “Father Knows Best,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and other television shows still preserved the value of human dignity to a nation where we see today the value of human dignity and the value of human life diminished to the point where they are without substantive meaning.  Our cities are being destroyed with government approval, or at a minimum ambivalence, by anarchists who take the concepts of freedom and liberty and distort them to have no substantive content of corresponding respect and responsibility to others.

In my world now as a business school faculty member, I see that the Woke psyche is being incorporated by business leaders into how American business is conducted today.  American business was a bastion of individualism and liberty, but many business leaders today seem more than willing to give up those values in order to prevent retribution by the Woke culture and the anarchists.  This point is demonstrated by the attack against Senator Krysten Sinema in a woman’s rest room because she will not vote for President Biden’s destructive tax legislation involving trillions of dollars of tax burdens on the American people under the guise that the money is for “infrastructure” and the mantra that the plan will not cost anything.  And yet, the media uses the euphemistic description of those harassers as “activists” and business people are not rising up and speaking out against this insanity because of their fear of being un-Woke.

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So, why even go through the exercise of teaching business ethics?  Because, as an American lawyer and a business school faculty member in what is still a free society, in spite of what some describe as a post-Constitutional culture, I have an obligation to do so and to continue to advocate for the values in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our amendments in the hope that, by doing so, I can help swing the pendulum back to some equilibrium of self-governance and to help future business leaders appreciate who we have been, who we can still be as a nation and as a culture, and the ethical role that business can play in this potential revival.  Before I pass, I have an obligation to future generations to at least try.

Written By

Dr. Orrin K. Ames teaches business ethics, law, and ethical leadership to undergraduate and graduate students in the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University. He is an attorney with over 50 years of litigation experience with the U.S. Army, the Bell System, and the law firm of Hand Arendall in Mobile, Alabama.  He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Alabama; his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law; and his advanced law degree from Harvard Law School. He retired from his law firm and came to Troy in 2011.

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