Tuesday, March 28, 2023 | Ramadan 5, 1444 H
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Ethics & Business: An Unfaithful Alliance

Are you starting out in business? Or maybe you are an entrepreneur? Whatever your life’s ambitions you need to be aware of the ethics of what you do. But don’t become a slave to them because the rude truth is that nobody else is!

Medicine is absolutely bound by its ethics, through their Hippocratic Oath, a list of obligations to, “First, do no harm.” The legal fraternity’s ethics are enshrined in oaths to their governments, and ironically to itself, with the bitter irony that in every court case, at least one of their professions is representing a stranger to the truth! But they still advise them, and still take their money.

However, I digress... Nowhere are casual ethics more evident than in the world of business and commerce where, when you think about it, business ethics is the most hideous of oxymorons. The reality is that in that dog-eat-dog environment, to take the ethical high ground simply ensures that your opposition will have the opportunity to cut the ground out from underneath you, and you don’t need that. Ever! Because though the law guides business ethics, and is a factor in the licencing processes, the reality is that in that huge shark tank of business and commerce, ethics are only guidance, or bait for the unwary, distractions, honey traps of a different kind.

Business ethics studies are concerned with bribery, corruption, insider trading, governance, and legal responsibilities, suggesting that right and wrong, legal, and illegal are determined ethically. However, though Judge Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court of the United States wrote, “Ethics is the difference between knowing what you have the right to do, and what it is right to do,” when it comes to money, his words are soon forgotten, and so are ethics.

We must look askance at those like Howard Hughes, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Philip Green, and more notoriously Donald Trump and Elon Musk, who pontificate that ‘if ethics are poor the business is poor,’ that ‘you can’t succeed without ethical standards,’ or that ‘it takes twenty years to build a reputation and twenty minutes to lose it.’ Yet all of them have manipulated markets, and been morally, ethically economical, to make their fortunes.

The disgraceful conduct of the banks, insurance companies, and finance markets, and their role in the fraudulent real estate/mortgage scandal that almost led to the global collapse of a banking system that was, in their own words, ‘too big to fail,’ hurt. Why? Because they had carefully perpetuated the belief for a hundred years that they were, and that everything would fall around our ears, not when it happened, but if, yet they still preach to us endlessly about responsibility and ethics! Just read any account opening, loan, or mortgage document.

Ethics are statements of the principles and values that guide us, and when we make an oath, we are declaring to the world, and our faith, that we will do ‘the right thing,’ so the question is, at what stage do businessmen and women declare that they will maintain an ethical and moral perspective? The answer is... they don’t! In fact, dotcom billionaire Seth Goddin acknowledges, “the unhappy reality of business ethics is that you have a shareholder vested responsibility to make money, as much as you can, and if you let a little thing like ethics stand in your way you are cheating those investors. There’s not a lot of wiggle room, so don’t let ethics get in the way.”

At the end of the day however, the dollar, the euro, dirham, shekel, rial, and the pound, are King, and expecting ethics to affect how those who can manipulate them to be ethical, at any level, is a naivety they’ll use against you. Simply maintain your personal integrity, your own sense of self of right, wrong, good, and bad. Let them inspire you, but don’t let them be your epitaph.

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