When Michael Douglas played the villainous Gordon “greed is good” Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street, little did he know he’d actually “inspire” future generations of young men to work on Wall Street. Douglas once mused about this peculiar phenomenon, claiming his puzzlement over the fact that whenever he dines in New York, some knucklehead “empty suit” finance guy will approach his table reverently to thank him for his career choice. Chalk it up to the power of good acting I guess.
Meanwhile, over the past three decades, we’ve seen a “selfishness on steroids” attitude permeate the corporate world. Beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, a cruel and ruthless form of “Social Darwinism” began to infect the business community. Corporations, which once accepted the moral right of unions to exist (however grudgingly) now turn their backs arrogantly on the American worker. An authoritarian, undemocratic “brook no dissent” attitude has come to define life at the office. Even the number of hours worked per week has crept up steadily to the exhaustion point. America is now one of the most overworked and over-stressed countries in the world.
To understand how we got into this mess, the key book to read is NYU history professor Kim Phillip’s Fein’s path breaking “Invisible Hands: the Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal.” Fein reveals how ultra conservative businessmen created think tanks like the Heritage Foundation to undermine the humane and democratic elements of business culture that defined the New Deal era. I was amazed to learn that, in the 1950s, G.E. handed out free right-wing books and pamphlets to its workers, and offered “economic education” classes to indoctrinate its executives.
So what’s the end result of this decades-long business propaganda campaign by the right? In 2008, an unregulated Wall Street brought down the world economy, wiping out trillions of dollars in assets. The ecological crisis is now at a dangerous tipping point, symbolized by last year’s hurricane Sandy, and the ominous “400 parts per million” of carbon in the atmosphere—well past the 350 number scientists say it must not be exceed. Corporate America now cares more about profits than the very survival of our planet.
The time has come for progressive business people to fight back. I created an organization called the Ethical Business Society to help nurture a humane transformation of corporate culture. As a socially responsible real estate agent, I’m reaching out to others in a variety of business fields, along with intellectuals and politicians, to dialogue on how to implement the U.N. proposed “triple bottom line”: people/ planet/ profits. So far I’ve gotten positive feedback on these ideas in talks at Symposia bookstore and a Hoboken business meet up, along with appearances on a TV and radio show. I’m organizing a conference on ethical business this fall in NYC, and would love the public’s thoughts on this. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Ethical Business Society