Charting the Course
How to be a nice capitalist
By Steven Martinovich
Given the recent economic scandals that have included the Ponzi scheme run by Bernard Madoff, Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, and Satyam Computer Services, among others, it's probably not too surprising that corporate ethics has once again become a hot topic. While much of the current economic climate can be directly traced to government policies and regulation, it's inarguable that corporate malfeasance has at least contributed to the pessimism many feel about the state of the economy.
The solution, at least according to Dr. Bruce Howard, is the adoption of a set of principles designed to promote self-regulation and an ethical approach to conducting business. Those principles are laid out in Charting the Course: Values for Navigating Life in the Marketplace, a collection of twelve values Howard believes would promote more positive outcomes and provide people with a moral compass. As a market is a morally neutral place it is up to its participants to emphasize the values they hold dear.
Howard argues that we suffer with an inherent contradiction when dealing with the marketplace: many of us bring fixed and transcendent moral values to a place that promotes a relative value of goods and services. In simpler language, we tend to believe in things that are unshakable and greater than ourselves while markets don't – which is why it meets the demand for iPods and cocaine equally well. It's what Howard calls the worm in the apple – we're hungry and need to eat but knowing there is a worm inside means we have to be careful in how we eat the apple.
Apart from the advice in ethics, Howard also takes the time to educate the reader on market fundamentals and even offers valuable advice in finding a job you can enjoy for life. Although Howard doesn't pound the reader into submission with it, it's clear from occasional quotations of Scripture that he's writing from a Christian perspective. That said, Howard's identified values are just as easily adopted by an atheist or member of a different faith as they are a Christian. Treating people nicely, telling the truth and living responsibly, among others, are things that everyone can embrace, even those working on Wall Street.
Charting the Course is a well-meaning effort and corporate ethics certainly deserve to be debated but it's hard to believe that as soon as the current economic climate passes and government attention turns elsewhere that the ethically challenged won't once again be working the angles. The problem with efforts like Howard's is that those who are concerned about morality and want to make a positive difference have already integrated those values in their lives. Still, given the way we treat each other and the smears that capitalism is suffering at the hands of pundits, politicians and activists, it doesn't hurt to have someone like Howard around advocating that we interact with each other a little more humanely.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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