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P H I L O S O P H Y F O R B U S I N E S S ISSN 2043-0736
Issue number 34
14th November 2006
I. 'Business and Government: Review of David McKay American Politics and
Society' by Andrew Browne
II. 'Creating Wealth' by Tom Veblen
III. 'A Heart for the Tin Man' by Geoffrey Klempner
This issue of Philosophy for Business has a partly American theme, starting off
with Dr Andrew Browne's review of the latest edition of the well known and
respected text book American Politics and Society by David McKay.
Tom Veblen, whose book The Way of Business was featured in Issue 30, has
contributed an article which originally appeared in 2000, which sheds valuable
light on how Americans view business and politics, arguing for a much more
positive image of America than has been portrayed recently.
I have contributed a short piece, repeating the invitation I made in August
2005 to talk to business people face to face about philosophical issues
relating to business practice. The Tin Man is one of the characters from the
Hollywood movie Wizard of Oz who sets out on a journey the Land of Oz in search
of a heart. By the end of the story, we discover that he already had one -- he
just didn't know it.
I. 'BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT: REVIEW OF DAVID MCKAY AMERICAN POLITICS AND
SOCIETY' BY ANDREW BROWNE
American Politics and Society
by David McKay
Blackwell Publishing, Sixth Edition, 2005
Introduction : 'Big Government' versus 'Small Government'
For over twenty years David McKay's survey of the American political and social
process has been required reading for undergraduates or anyone interested in US
politics. Not only does it provide an immensely readable and accessible
introduction to the roles of the various institutions of US government -- the
Executive, two houses of Congress, the Judiciary and State Government -- but it
usefully sets these in their social, moral, historical and ethical contexts
while giving appropriate weight to the role of the media, lobbying groups and
business interests that some would argue represent the real power in America.
This sixth edition has been heavily revised. Significantly, the cover of the
new edition shows a photograph of Osama Bin Laden together with more
traditional icons of Americana such as the Statue of Liberty, Capitol Hill and
the White House. The reason for this is soon made clear as McKay suggests that
'the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 represented the single
most significant change in American politics since the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbour on 7 December 1941.' (Preface, p. xv). The implication of '9/11' have
been incorporated throughout the book and a new chapter has been added that
looks at the loss of civil liberties that 'The War on Terror' in general and
the PATRIOT Act in particular have caused.
When George W. Bush was returned for a second term in office following the 2004
elections, one New York Times writer summed up the administration as follows:
'The new guys in town are knee-jerk conservatives; they
view too much government as the root of all evil, believe
that what's good for big business is always good for
America and think that the answer to every problem is to
cut taxes and allow more pollution.'
There is a perception that the business lobby prefers what we could call 'Small
Government'. The reasons for this appear initially self-evident. Business
favours fewer laws (which tend to favour the worker or consumer rather than
Business and introduces distortions into the free market of goods and
services), lower Government expenditure (since most revenue comes from
corporate as opposed personal taxation), and limited corporate oversight (which
is normally referred to as 'red tape' that imposes unnecessary additional costs
on business). 'Too much government' is a rallying cry for business and rolling
back the power of central government has arguably been an increasingly
axiomatic policy of many Western democracies for the past three decades or so.
In this there are ideological as well as practical considerations. Big
Government, at an extreme, equals communism - the arch-enemy of Business.
Capitalism relies on a free market where market forces are not corrupted by
such things as minimum wage rates, laws on maximum working week, price controls
etc. No matter how well-meaning in ethical and moral terms, such regulations
distort what would otherwise be perfect competition. At the risk of
oversimplification, this naturally becomes a political argument as Small
Government is inherently linked with the right and Big Government with the left
-- although as we will see below this taxonomy has its exceptions.
Indeed, as McKay, Professor of Politics at the University of Essex, shows in
this latest edition of American Politics and Society, Small Government had been
very much a key objective of the 'The Founding Fathers' who feared an intrusive
federal government and sought to draw up a constitution for the newly
independent America with, what Thomas Jefferson termed, sufficient 'checks and
balances' on the role of the federal government. This involved fragmenting
power between the President, Congress and Senate, the Supreme Court and the
States. For example, the President can veto Congress, but Congress can overturn
a Presidential veto given a certain majority vote and can impeach the President
(as Richard Nixon found) in certain situations. The Supreme Court can overturn
federal and state laws and can opine on matters of Constitutional
interpretation etc. The first ten amendments to the Constitution all sought to
confer additional rights for the individual -- e.g. to free speech, the right
to worship etc. - against perceived possible threats from an intrusive state
Over the ensuing hundreds of years, America has constantly manifested a desire
to see Small government, i.e. a limited role for central government. Most
Americans are deeply suspicious of greater federal control and iconic
touchstone words such as 'States' Rights', 'freedom', 'liberty' and 'democracy'
are often invoked to justify this.
One of the central themes of McKay's book is that this philosophy of Small
Government has left the US ill-prepared to deal with 'big issues' such as
universal medical care, racial unrest, the growing gulf between rich and poor -
and of course international terrorism. This points to a growing necessity for
Big Government. At the same time Small Government has allowed business
interests and pressure groups to exert an unhealthy degree of influence over
government policy as discussed below.
The Role of the Business Lobby
This link between Business and Small Government gives rise to a paradox: the
reality of a Big Government which Business is seen to be too closely allied
with. In a 2005 poll for the New York Times, over 90% of those polled felt that
Business had too much influence over the US Government. Doubtless having a
President so closely linked with the oil industry and Enron Inc. plus, inter
alia, a Vice-President and Defence Secretary closely linked to a major
recipient of Government contracts in Halliburton Inc. may have influenced this
result. However the key factor in this influence was seen to be the 'Business
Lobby' in Washington and the spectrum of organisations and groups who seek to
influence legislators to support their cause. However if Business has too much
influence on Government how is the reality of Big Government to be explained
since there is one thing all commentators have agreed on and that is the
reality of increasing Government intervention.
The Rise of Big Government
'Throughout American history, concern over the power of organised interests has
never been far from the surface' suggests McKay. Indeed it would be very easy
to go off on a rant against Business organised interests, but McKay presents an
admirably balanced case. As John F. Kennedy argued, lobbyists can provide a
useful purpose in informing and inflecting legislative debate and could be seen
to have 'played an important role in the legislative process...'. They act as
advocates for a cause and unless the legislator is impressed by their case there
is no reason to be suspicious of their influence. Indeed it can often be argued
that lobbyists are a feature of democracy as minority groups band together to
make their views known at different levels of government. Rather than
perverting democratic process, lobbying is argued to advance it, providing
multiple access points to popular views. Crucially, because anyone can form or
participate in organised pressure groups (whether they choose to or not is
irrelevant to this argument) the potential for even handed legislation is
Defendants of the Business Lobby have argued that it is important for Business
to make a case to Government in order not to damage economic prosperity.
Business provides vital feedback on economic policies and its prosperity will
flow back into the economy via wages and shareholder dividends. Most large
corporations in America now have offices in Washington and employ professional
lobbyists to promote their cause. General Motors, for example, is a major
economic force in the land and has a view on many pieces of legislation ranging
from environmental controls, through trade barriers to social issues such as
employment conditions, number of days of public holidays etc. It arguably has a
right and duty to make these known to Government as stridently as possible. In
order to win influence it will do anything legal and ethical to succeed in
getting its views understood by as many legislators as possible.
McKay acknowledges that this is a view that is hard to support in the face of
two main concerns. Firstly, Business is essentially ruthless and exploitative
in pursuit of a profit goal. This populist view leads in turn to imposing
ethical concerns via legislation and to questioning the size and power of
companies via anti-trust/monopoly legislation and the belief that breaking up
big companies will lead to fairer competition. Secondly, and more relevantly
today, there is a concern that Business exercises this power without
'[Large companies] are not answerable to democratically
elected government...They can 'buy' members of Congress,
bribe local, state and federal officials, and generally
manipulate democratic processes in their favour'.
One of the additional implications of lobbying, McKay argues, is that the
business of Government becomes inefficient. Lobbies mobilise for and against
issues in ways that delay decisions and paralyse governmental process:
'they[Members of Congress] are bombarded by conflicting
opinions and advice from all sides. As a result they often
find it difficult to commit themselves on issues...'.
Hence while giving fair debate on the key issues, McKay recognises the reality
of Business having a major influence on all areas of Government while leaving
the question of whether this is a good or bad thing up to the reader to decide.
This leads us back to the paradox of Business exerting undue influence over a
Government that is increasingly becoming Big Government, and is in turn accused
by Business of exerting undue influence on it in areas such as corporate
governance, minimum wage laws, environmental laws etc.
As McKay notes in his concluding chapter on The American Political System in
the Post-9/11 World, the paradox of growing Big Government despite seemingly
strong Business influence, suggests a change in the problems facing America.
'Such objectives as affordable healthcare, a balanced budget, full employment
and effective protection from terrorism can only be achieved through
government' suggests McKay. They are either areas where Business has
demonstrably failed to grasp the issue -- such as healthcare, racial prejudice
and full employment - or simply matters which are more efficient if dealt with
by Government such as a balanced budget or the 'War on Terror'.
Big Government is thus inevitable in order to remedy what have been identified
as deficiencies or inefficiencies in the free-market system. This is perhaps a
point of particular relevance for Philosophy for Business readers since it is
clear that the role of Government is changing and Business desperately needs
some good public relations to counterbalance the negative view caused by
accounting scandals and boardroom pay largesse. With the rise of Big
Government, Business needs to accept that where it sets unacceptable ethical or
moral standards, government intervention is likely to result. Government and
Business are interdependent in ensuring the economic welfare of any nation but
the rate of government control over issues that Business feels may be best left
to companies themselves will surely increase.
Yet there is no reason why the influence of Business cannot continue. Business
can use its influence not just to further the interests of an industry or
individual company but can demand of Government the same moral standards as are
being demanded of Business. Ethics is by its nature reciprocal after all. At a
time when governmental 'policy mistakes', to use McKay's careful terminology,
such as 'the gross exaggeration of the presence of weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq, the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, the internment without trial of
detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the alienation of most other members of
the world community...', have been made by Governments on both sides of the
Atlantic, Business should be doing more than rushing to the trough of gaining
contracts for the renewal of Iraq.
(c) Dr Andrew Browne 2006
1. Krugman, Paul. New York Times, 12th March, 2005
2. McKay, p.256
3. McKay, p.256
4. McKay, p. 257
5. McKay, p. 278
6. McKay, p. 359
II. 'CREATING WEALTH' BY TOM VEBLEN
What works in America may also work as a model for global wealth
In 1776, Adam Smith theorized in The Wealth of Nations that the most effective
way for an industrial nation to increase its wealth was to encourage commerce.
Nowhere in the world has Smith's theory proven more on target than in the
United States of America, a nation just in its infancy when Smith's theory was
published. Two centuries later, as a new global economy emerges and economists
debate how best to create wealth in the modern world, the forces that shaped
commerce in America warrant a closer look.
THE IDEA OF AMERICA
Starting as a clutch of adventurers and colonists, the American people have
transformed their nation, bit by bit, into a vibrant, aggressive,
urban-centered business civilization. It is, without question, the world's most
affluent society. Wealth, after all, means money and material possessions. More
abstractly, though, it can be 'individual well being' or, as Adam Smith
chose,'national well being.' By any of these definitions, America is a success
The creation of an American culture, a work-in-process called the American Way,
is an exceptional enterprise. Its centerpiece, an invention of remarkable
resilience, is a societal governance scheme combining free enterprise and
association, a free and open public dialogue, and a democratic (representative)
government. The idea of America, as expressed in such founding documents as the
Federalist Papers, the federal Constitution and its Bill of Rights, and the
Declaration of Independence, extended, reformed, and now embodied in the
political system, enables a society in which superior persons and institutions
seek to perfect their arts, on all planes striving for greater wisdom, harmony,
Americans are an inventive and irreverent bunch, guided by pragmatism,
idealism, and competition. Generally outgoing and optimistic, we celebrate the
individual and competence and hard work, while dreaming of community and
equality and leisure. The keys to social acceptance and a good life in America
have been (and remain) education, engagement, and real (income-producing)
property -- probably in that order. The pace of daily life is frenetic. Those
who disengage, or can't keep up, get left behind.
America's complexity both amazes and flummoxes us. There are more and more
vigorous and striving people, beguiling material things, compelling
technologies, and challenging ideas. Contending subcultures clash, a blend of
the pure and profane. Alienation is a recurring theme in America. The dark
sides of Americans -- greed, envy, dishonesty, exploitativeness, violence,
racism -- are endlessly debated in all sorts of public forums. In fact,
self-assessment is something of a national obsession.
From the beginning, Americans held a unique view that change can be managed to
effect improvement in our lives. As a consequence, social progress, given the
right aims, is beneficial. Alexis de Tocqueville observed this phenomenon in
1836 when he wrote,
They [the Americans] all consider society as a body in a
state of improvement, in which nothing is, or ought to be,
permanent; they admit that what appears to them today to be
good, may be superseded by something better tomorrow.
Experimentally bent, fixated on competence and achievement, and evangelical
about its democratic origins and traditions, our civilization and its adherents
exhibit a remarkable drive for technological mastery and a somewhat mystical
faith in the utility of economic growth. Increasingly we look to the
affiliative endeavors of government, business, science, and education in the
search for national well being. There is less and less reliance on family,
tribe, and church for solutions.
This complex interpenetration of people, technologies, and nature -- the
American Way -- is grounded in a few simple, but profound, ideas:
-- Social change is inevitable and desirable, for it can improve human well
being. In the long run, reason will prevail, for it is the most critical human
-- Moral conduct means: first, fair play and harmony between individuals;
second, harmonizing the things inside each individual; third, the general
purpose of human life as a whole -- what man was made for; what course the
whole fleet ought to be on; what tune the conductor of the band wants it to
play (C. S. Lewis).
-- Private property is the cornerstone of a free and productive society.
-- Politically, the individual is sovereign rather than the state. Government
will be democratic and representative, its powers specified by the
Constitution. The rule of law will prevail.
-- Material and intellectual progress is paramount and will be advanced through
the promotion of free and open endeavors in politics, commerce, and science.
Considering how these ideas have played out over time, it is not inappropriate
to say that the genius of American thought is its recognition that society is
best served by a free play of talents -- politically, commercially, and
THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE AMERICAN WAY
The American Way was not cut from whole cloth. It is, in large part, a product
of the European and Scotch Enlightenments. America's development into a
commercial powerhouse was particularly influenced by the ideas brought to the
United States by Scotch colonists and, later, by Scotch immigrants. These ideas
focused on the goodness of man, the desirability of happiness as a life goal,
and politeness (civility) as the root origin of all higher civilized qualities.
The Scotch believed further that society and government existed to release and
make conscious the individual's moral sense. To be civilized was to live in
harmony with man and with nature.
But the Scotch also brought energetic action to America along with their ideas.
Scottish emigrants critically influenced the nature and direction of American
education. Jonathan Witherspoon, an active participant in the Scotch
Enlightenment dialogues, emigrated to America and transformed a little-known
New Jersey college into Princeton University, which became the model for
American higher education over the next two centuries.
The Scotch also rallied around the idea of American independence, becoming
deeply immersed in the public dialogue framed by the Federalist Papers.
Witherspoon went on to sign the Declaration of Independence, as did six of his
students, including James Madison. James Wilson, credited with the idea of the
Supreme Court and an independent judiciary, was Scotch, as were 21 others of
the 56 signers of the Constitution. It is arguable that Scottish Enlightenment
thinking buttressed the natural predilections of the business practitioners
Samuel Adams, George Mason, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, and that
the end result was a Constitution and government particularly conducive to the
growth and development of the new nation's commercial sector.
Scotland's emigres put their business acumen and worldview to work inventing
the modern form of American business. Particularly involved in this exercise
were such 'captains of industry' as Andrew Carnegie ('America would have been a
very poor show had it not been for the Scots'); William Cargill (founder of the
country's currently largest privately held business corporation); James J. Hill
(builder of the Great Northern Railway who came to be called 'the Empire
Builder'); and Cyrus McCormick (whose invention of the reaper opened up the
western prairies to grain farming).
Perhaps the most energizing single idea brought by the Scotch to America was
the belief that a 'good society' requires a prominent and vigorous commercial
component. Whether by cultural inheritance or design or happenstance, or
perhaps all of the above, it is clear from the American experience that private
enterprise, grounded as it is in self-interest, is a remarkable way for a
society to create wealth.
The early American business practitioners were, if anything, enterprising.
Removed from the class politics and business aristocracy of England, they
prospered by following their own self-interest; with prosperity, they came to
value their individual and commercial freedoms. In retrospect, it is perhaps
inevitable that the American colonists would begin to have revolutionary
thoughts about self-governance. Out of sorts with Britain's efforts to direct
their trade, regulate their businesses, and circumscribe their private lives,
The outcome was, to say the least, exceptional. The nation's founders, intent
on securing domestic tranquility and national security, established a
representative, nascently democratic government. They agreed that a free and
productive society was their collective goal and that private property and
enterprise would be its cornerstone. A system of common law was instituted.
Public education was mandated. Science engaged. Technology advanced. Commerce
and trade flourished. Investors were rewarded (and reinvested). The nation
industrialized and urbanized and grew wealthy.
In the course of this development one social endeavor in particular, the
publicly owned business corporation, proved especially powerful as a social
innovator and transformer. Through the late 1880s and into the early 1900s,
America's corporate business firms capitalized on the country's vast store of
natural resources, such as coal, iron ore, timber, copper, agricultural land,
and water. Collaborating with government, these firms orchestrated the
remarkable flow of people, goods, and ideas attracted to the American Way.
The process was not glitch free. A particularly rocky patch came in the late
1800s. The instinct of business to monopolize culminated with a monumental
confrontation between 'big business' and the central government. The downside
of business stood revealed, thanks to Teddy Roosevelt and the US Congress and
the rule of law. The worst of the monopolies were defanged. A reasonable
regulatory regime was established. Reasonable enough that, in 1926, President
Calvin Coolidge's observations on the benign nature of business were generally
applauded by the public. He said:
After all, the chief business of the American people is
business. They are profoundly concerned with producing,
buying, selling, investing and prospering in the
world....[T]he accumulation of wealth means the increase of
knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence, the
encouragement of science, the broadening of outlook, the
expansion of liberties, the widening of culture.... So long
as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not
greatly fear it.
THE IDEA OF PRIVATE ENTERPRISE
Then, as now, the genius of the American social system lies with its
exceptional use of private enterprise to unleash human creativity and effect
material progress. The system's governance is largely responsible for this
phenomenon. The law and a government 'of, by, and for the people' enable the
free play of talents throughout by assuring individual sovereignty and
self-expression at all levels of social interaction. The State's role thus
limited, the individuals of society and their affiliative endeavors are free to
advance their own interests as they see fit (within the bounds of law and
custom, of course). In politics, science, and commerce, private citizens,
affiliating in the form of parties (political), laboratories (scientific), and
businesses (commercial), are society's most compelling instruments of progress.
Business, pursuing the creation of material wealth is, arguably, America's most
powerful expression of private enterprise. In simple terms, business helps
direct the forces of change along predetermined paths toward concrete goals and
objectives, providing the means for the other specialized endeavors of society
to accomplish their ends: education to disseminate knowledge; government to
sustain social order; science to investigate the natural order; journalism to
promulgate news; and the police and military to manage violence.
No wonder that, in our open society, there is universal regard for, and
encouragement of, wealth creation. But is our culture's obsession with
specialization and self-interest and wealth creation too much of a good thing?
We wonder. Regardless, we do know that the American business civilization's
example is hard at work on the human psyche. And that, as a result, the entire
world is undergoing a profound change in social consciousness. Right or wrong,
the result is certainly disrupting the diverse local and regional cultures that
presently define human existence.
Embedded in this process of globalization, American business reflects the
distinct character of its grand culture. It, too, is experimental, striving to
perfect itself in the light of its idealized ends, modifying its governance,
and reconstituting its operations in the light of new knowledge and the need to
achieve greater productivity. It, too, celebrates competence, achievement, and
self-determination. It, too, possesses an enormous zest for growth and change
American business exhibits a remarkable drive for technological mastery, along
with a willingness to experiment and take risks. Wealth-creating ideas are
advanced through industry, enterprise, and speculation within a regulatory
regime that includes free-market forces, industry association, the rule of law,
and government regulation. Yesterday, those wealth-creating ideas included
mining, lumbering, insurance, railroading, manufacturing, and consumer
marketing. Today, they include such proven concepts as fast food, health
management, consulting, personal computers, and financial services, as well as
the more speculative visions of molecular biology, e-commerce, genetic
engineering, and even space travel.
A MODEL FOR GLOBAL WEALTH?
The widespread application of the Enlightenment ideas articulated by Adam Smith
is now creating a world of national economies increasingly dependent on the free
exchange of goods, services, and people. Driven by the demands of individual
consumers, business already may be the cornerstone of an 'enlightened world
order.' In this new world, commerce, science, and representative governments
are preeminent, and the state of the world can be defined by reason, dialogue,
and peace, rather than prejudice, ideology, and war.
Much is needed to materialize such a vision on a global scale. The idea that
business, from a social perspective, is a benign force for social change,
arguably, now drives the modernization of societies throughout the world.
Countries that provide encouragement for business firms capable of innovating
and competing in the global marketplace will improve their national well being
as this modernization proceeds. Those that resist this trend will, sadly
enough, fall behind.
At a minimum, the vision of a global business civilization requires a growing
cadre of business firms that can create and execute not only winning business
strategies, but at the same time can work collaboratively with other
affiliative endeavors in crafting the broader social strategies needed to
advance human well being. In the emerging global marketplace, American business
is fully engaged in the creation of a 'super' or 'world' business culture of
great power. Who would have ever thought that America's own Mickey Mouse and
Daffy Duck would so captivate children in France and Japan? Or that McDonald's
would dominate the fast food business in Moscow, Beijing, and a hundred other
exotic places throughout the world? Or that American business consultants would
find ready employment in nations as diverse as Israel, Brazil, South Africa, and
Malaysia? Or that American computers and computer-driven communication would
reorganize the way the world's people communicate?
In such a world, it is clear that American business firms that weave themselves
into the very fabric of their society and markets -- creating their own future
by staying in step with the purposes of the world, defining and redefining
their own bounds, and perfecting their inner workings -- significantly advance
human well being. Exhibiting staying power, and lasting for generations and
lifetimes, rather than for just a few years, superior American firms are valued
Evangelical about its methods and about its culture, American business, with
250 years of wealth-creating experience behind it, is 'on a roll' as more and
more of the world's nations open themselves to the benefits of corporate
enterprise. Needless to say, the American way of wealth creation is
revolutionary, a wide-ranging experiment to determine the effectiveness of
alternative wealth creation methods. In this context, industries and firms that
fail to meet their customers' needs or expectations quickly pass from the scene.
Those that improve the productivity, functionality, and/or acceptance of the
goods and services provided go on to invest in further experiments. Those that
violate the American Way find their existence problematic.
Regardless of how one interprets the story of American wealth creation and
business, it is clear that the compelling myths of American business (fortune
and fame) and its omnipresence are profoundly influencing the world's cultures,
as well as our own. And a global field of companies taking risks, pushing the
boundaries, and creating entire new fields of business may be what
distinguishes the next 100 years as a century of unprecedented peace and
Fossedal, Gregory A. Our Finest Hour: Will Clayton, the Marshall Plan, and the
Triumph of Democracy. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University,
Muller, Jerry Z. Adam Smith: In His Time and Ours. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1993.
Popper, Karl R. The Open Society and Its Enemies. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1992.
Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
Edited by Edwin Cannan with a new preface by George J. Stigler. Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 1976.
Wills, Gary. Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. New
York: Vintage Books by Random House, 1979.
(c) Tom Veblen 2000
III. 'A HEART FOR THE TIN MAN' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER
As for you, my galvanized friend, you want a heart! You
don't know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will
never be practical until they can be made unbreakable. I
could have been a world figure, a power among men, a -- a
successful wizard, had I not been obstructed by a heart.
But I still want one.
Yes... back where I come from there are men who do nothing
all day but good deeds. They are called phil...er -- er --
phil -- er, yes... good-deed-doers. And their hearts are no
bigger than yours. But! They have one thing you haven't got!
A testimonial! Therefore, in consideration of your kindness,
I take pleasure at this time in presenting you with a small
token of our esteem and affection...
Wizard of Oz, Screenplay 1939
In August 2005, I sent out an open invitation to business people of a day's
consultation, with the purpose of engaging in philosophical dialogue aimed at
helping 'business people find out more about themselves' (Philosophy for
Business Issue 21). After some memorable encounters I realized that I had as
much to learn as my interlocutors.
Undeterred, I am issuing the same invitation again: All I ask is that my
expenses be covered.
In return, you will get the opportunity to test out your ideas on someone who
has the skill to analyse where your line of thought is heading, and suggest
things that you had perhaps not thought about, or thought about clearly.
Over the fourteen months, my views about 'what business people need' have
evolved. Like the Wizard of Oz, I have come to believe that the vast majority
already have everything that they need. What they lack -- if anything -- is
only the knowledge that this is the case.
The reason for this lack is one that I diagnosed in my article 'The Business
Arena' (Philosophy for Business Issue 5). I remarked that the 'image of
super-toughness' that the new 'money men' try to cultivate is mere 'ideology...
a false self-image which holds us captive'.
I am not saying that there are not those who take pride in
being underhand, ruthless, cold-hearted, merciless. The
gangster world has some features in common with the
business world. Perhaps this is the dangerous direction in
which the 'macho' business culture is heading (ibid.).
But actually I don't think that things are going this way. There is a greater
danger that business people will lose their sense of self-belief in the face of
the onslaughts from the Accountability and CSR lobbies.
All companies should strive -- for good, solid business reasons -- to put their
houses in order, to strive for sustainability, to implement responsible decision
making at ever level of their organization. That is all there is too it.
However, that is not a recipe, but merely a description of the goal that one
would like to bring about.
No-one will ever write the 'Bible of good business practice' because every
business is different. No-one knows his or her business better than the one
whose business it is -- a point which consultants would do well to bear in
mind. But knowing this in a practical sense, and having the time and ability to
reflect on this knowledge and understand its full implications are two different
things. That is the very modest goal I now see for the philosopher of business.
The term 'business philosophy' has been much abused. But to me this seems the
perfect term for what the business person discovers through reflection on one's
own practice, one's goals and ideals. The question is not one of correspondence
to some perfect standard but simply what works, what is real for you. A
philosopher of business has to do a lot more listening than talking.
Call me, or send me an email. I am at my desk most days, running the Pathways
School of Philosophy. I have set aside time for what, I hope, will be more
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2006
Tel: +44 (0)114 255 8631