Profit with Honor: The New Stage of Market Capitalism.
As much as anything, this relatively slim book by famed social researcher Daniel Yankelovich is an extended essay, a treatise on what he thinks is behind the corporate scandals of recent years--and what attitudes corporations need to take as a result. He sees an unfortunate culture of greed too often in place, abetted by deregulation and a "zero-sum game" in which too many high-ranking executives have thought about their own gains and not those of the broader organization and society.
A central point in the book is that what's needed most is a stronger sense of ethics, which Yankelovich translates into stewardship. "Our society is already too long on legal approaches to problems and too short on ethical ones," he writes. "The legal/regulatory side of business, however important, can neither fully account for the scandals nor prevent them in the future."
A far too common refrain these days, he writes, is, "I didn't break the law, so I didn't do anything wrong." Such a response "would have been unthinkable in the 1950s or earlier periods of American life, when society assumed that people's responsibilities encompassed far more than merely satisfying the minimal standards of legality."
He elevates stewardship to the top of a three-tiered pyramid reflecting approaches to ethical standards. The lowest is "staying within the law," with the middle tier a more enlightened "passing the smell test"--proposals that meet legal requirements but fail to meet conventional ethical standards.
Yankelovich isn't simply an outside scold with no appreciation of the challenges in executive suites and boardrooms. He points out that he has served on some 15 corporate or nonprofit boards in the past 30 years, but that as a social scientist, he tended to see things differently from the CEOs and others on those boards.
Perhaps that outsider's perspective gives him more freedom to speak his mind--which he certainly does. Profit with Honor is one man's exhortation for U.S. business to get on the side of the angels. Some may find it "liberal," but it's provocative and passionately argued, and deserves a wide audience.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2006|
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