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Does the Legal Responsibility of Business Outweigh the Ethical Responsibility?

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I'm really tired of hearing two particular phrases.  

The first is that "government should be run like a business".

The second phrase is that CEOs send jobs to "developing" countries because business is admittedly all about making money.   After all, they have a legal fiduciary responsibility to their share holders to do all that they can to turn a profit.   It's as if there was a law forcing CEOs to make a profit which turns meanings of words like "community", "patriotism", "society", "humility" and, in some ways, "reality", around 180 degrees.     

I challenge both of those arguments.

First of all, I'll see their "government should be run like a business" and raise them one "business ought to be run like a society."  

Secondly, is ensuring the riches of shareholders the only law that CEOs have to follow?   Are they the only people to whom they have a responsibility?   If CEOs and their sycophants get their way, it may end up the only law they have to follow.   However, as of this moment, they do have other legal responsibilities.   

It starts with "small business"

When asked, "So, what are you going to do with your life?", a recent graduate might say, "I'm thinking of going into business for myself."   How many people who make that statement know that the "for myself" part only lasts a short time?   Once that graduate turned entrepreneur hires someone, he or she has significantly affected the life of another human being.   The employer hasn't affected that person's life only in ways that pertain to work procedures, but in very personal ways as well.   The employer has asked the employee to leave her family and home for eight hours or longer. The employer asks the employee to trust him when he says he's done everything in his power to ensure that the employee doesn't get hurt on the job.   The employer asks the employee to put aside any chances she may have of pursuing her own interests so that she can pursue his interests - the employer's interests actually become the employee's interests.   Most of the time, in far too many cases, employers ask employees to refrain from enjoying certain personal pleasures.   Employers indirectly ask employees to go to bed at certain times so they can get enough rest to effectively and efficiently pursue their (the employers') interests.   Employers can directly affect their employees' relationships with family and friends by asking them to work during certain hours and on certain days.   They, in fact, may very well interfere with an employee's religious beliefs by asking that employee to work on certain days.   It would be in this case that right wing business shills would insist upon strict adherence to the "American idea" of separation of church and state.

Many would say that's why employees get a paycheck.   I would partly agree with that.   

As the business grows and the employer has to hire more workers, the employees are around their workmates more than they're with their families in many cases.   They're in the presence of their fellow workers longer than they're with their extended families and their friends, for sure.   Some may be as close to workmates as they should be to their spouses.

Some owners of small businesses may not be interested in growing their businesses.   They may own one retail store or one music store or one restaurant.   They stay in business, even if they don't expand, if they're successful.   As those who own only one place of business are not usually publically traded, success is measured by how much profit their business makes and how much of the profit that owner uses to progress towards "the good life".

This is wrong headed and is not success, even for small businesses.   We hear people in Congress fight regulations because regulations cause "small business owners" to fail.   We hear members of Congress fight against the minimum wage because a "small business owner" can't afford to pay what large, publicly traded companies can pay.

One, members of Congress fight regulations and labor friendly legislation because large corporations pay them to do so.   If small business owners can't pay their workers a living wage, how can they possibly find the money to lobby Congress?

The second lie is that small business owners can't pay a living wage.   If one is to open a small business with no plan to expand, one should factor into success the satisfaction of one's employees as well as the satisfaction of the customer.   There is no "legal fiduciary responsibility" to share holders for small businesses that are not publicly traded.   If one plans on starting a small business, one should not use the excuse that the business is too small to pollute the environment or too small to pay employees a living wage.   If one is researching the possibility of opening a small business, these questions should be addressed before one launches the business.   If one is going into business "for himself" and means that literally, he's failed already.   If the only reason one goes into business is to collect large sums of money for himself or herself, the business is bound for failure.

This, of course, is an ethical failure, a failure as a productive and contributing member of society.   It's certainly true that, if one owns a restaurant for ten years, goes through a multitude of wait staff, cooking staff, even dishwasher staff in those ten years, he could sell the business and may even be significantly wealthier than he was before he started the business.   However, if a person is serious about having a top quality restaurant, he must hire people who he can encourage to care about their jobs; actually own their jobs.   If he can instill pride in his workers and make it worth their while to stay with him for as long as he owns the restaurant, he may be even wealthier when he finally retires.   Customers can tell when people who wait on them are happy.   Customers can tell when there is never any complaint about the cleanliness of the business.   Customers tend to revisit places that have friendly atmospheres, good service and quality products.   

Nothing says quality to workers better than being appreciated for what they do to further the cause of their boss's business.   However, if they're paid what people in those positions are normally paid, they're constantly looking for something better or they're working second or third jobs, which takes energy and may very well adversely affect their performance at any one job or all of their jobs.   When people go home to the very basics while they know their boss is driving his Mercedes to his large, beautiful home, they may lose any interest in making life better for their boss.

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Michael Bonanno is an associate editor for OpEdNews.

He is also a published poet, essayist and musician who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Bonanno is a political progressive, not a Democratic Party apologist. He believes it's (more...)

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