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Ethics

Toren hates on everything.

To make up for my early post last unit, this time I inadvertently forgot about it until the evening before the deadline.

I believe there are fundamental problems in the way businesses work. They seem to operate on a more complicated ruling of “might makes right” in which one groups wealth takes precedence over the values a company should hold and, you know, the economy. I’m sure there are people in the class, or reading over the blogs, who know far more than I do on the subject, and will probably comment with some extension of “you’re wrong,” but hopefully my notions hold some merit.

I just noticed whenever I write a blog post I start using big words.

If you read Richards post, “The Ethics of a Failed Experiment” he relates capitalism to communism and explains how the growing competition in a capitalist society encourages more innovation and efficiency, but creates a greater disparity between the rich and poor.  “[Communists] would say that it isn’t ethical for a small amount of people who’ve worked their asses off to live in relative opulence compared to [the poor]”. What bothered me is that hard work doesn’t strike me as the only factor in who controls the wealth. Innovation and efficiency both play a part of course, but this same competition has caused the need for many practices fitting for a blog post on ethics.

An ideal economy would have much competition (even Richard agrees with me!), versus a few dominating enterprises. Competition pushes rivaling companies to make better products with lower prices. This is good, but it’s not perfect for the companies themselves. The warring prices and split of customers of a competitive market obviously hurts a company’s profits, up to the point competition may not be profitable at all. What would be much more profitable is maybe one or two companies, perhaps with some price fixing going on. That’s what we’ve got now in many cases. Telus and Shaw, Coke and Pepsi, Apple and Microsoft (and Google) are all huge dominating forces. This takes out all the benefits of competition, and even stops new competition from cropping up. The market is full, and any group trying to squeeze in is going to be immediately bought off or targeted. There’s a reason you don’t see any brand of soft drink outside Coke and Pepsi’s identical lines. Beyond that many smaller businesses are owned by, or just another alias of one giant, in order to give the illusion of choice. “Why would Indigo have their bookstore inside the Chapters? All this removes all the benefits of competition in a healthy economy.

Should companies be left to strengthen themselves, even if it hurts the industry? Or would penalizing a company that gets ahead be unethical of itself? I’m so unbiased.

Speaking of giving people illusions (such a smooth transition) I have a fun rant about marketing.  Ideally competition between businesses is fought with innovation and efficiency, as I said before. These two factors bring out the better products and the lower costs. Marketing factors in in such a way that good marketing could be more profitable than money spent to improve the innovation or efficiency.  Why make a formula which works slightly better than the rest, when the average consumer buys whatever they just saw on TV, regardless of its relative quality. In fact, while efficiency never drops as a priority (efficiency = profits, when they don’t have to reduce pricing) innovation and quality of the product take a very noticeable backseat when a product’s sales are pulled by existing marketing or hype. Awful sequels to movies and books are a disappointment, and often disgrace the series, so why are they common? Why have we actually seen so many awful sequels? We know how good the first one was, and despite the review we want to see what happens next, so we give them our money. Same principle, successful companies with successful models can churn out a nearly identical product over and over again, and still dominate the market, through marketing and planned obsolescence alone. It’s thinner! Lighter! It has a slightly better camera! Or another one that gets me is the Call of Duty series, which has turned out nearly 20 nearly identical games, each with the same inherent flaws as those previous. Yet despite the fact that there’s no discernible effort being put into the products, they’re still a huge name that people get excited about. Smaller companies with less existing hype are forced to innovate. They can only make the sales through positive reviews and a good product.

I shouldn’t have tried to write a neutral report on something I’m already so biased on. Hopefully readers came prepared with some background knowledge and their own opinions, because I feel I may be leading you a little. So, is using powerful marketing to produce disappointing but profitable products right? Or no? I can’t actually think of an alternative other than educating the ignorant masses on what is likely to be worth your money, and what trends you don’t want to fund.

Also related to marketing, although it deviates about the unified statement I’d been making so far, marketing starts bordering on lying very quickly. Products with “green” on the front with practices no more ecological than their competitors, misuse of the word “free”, oversized packaging or 12 tiny specks making up 12 essential vitamins and minerals. None of these things are lies (except the free one, by legal definition) but all of these things are purposely misleading.

 Again, no easy alternative or it would be fixed already. Is purposely misleading your consumers morally right? *shakes head slowly*

Marketing I believe also breeds a nation of people who shop as recreation. Spending money on something they don’t really want, simply because it feels good. That might also be wrong.

Now for the matter of “efficiency” I keep mentioning. Efficiency in this regard is how little money the company can spend to produce its product. Larger companies are much more efficient than smaller companies, which is why a large grocery store is going to be cheaper than a tiny corner store (if you can find one).  These savings however, are for the most part not something everyone can ethically get behind. The ecological route, the route which breeds the happiest employees, and the route involving the fewest practically unpaid laborers overseas, are rarely the cheapest. This money saved, the laborers wages, the money that should go into reducing emissions and jazz, lowers their prices and blocks out any kind of competition trying to take a more ethical route.

I think if I write much longer I may be out of the attention span of my readers. Plus I’m tired of writing, so I’ll end with this deep ethical dilemma:

Should companies bound by ethical rules outside of the law, or should their primary directive be making as much profit as possible?

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Toren hates on everything.

  1. Awesome post Toren (see, I did finally read it).

    You really were right about the use of big words. The way you used technical language (planned obsolescence-wow), humour, and italics brought about a very engaging post.

    I totally agree with you about the difficulty of taking centre ground on business morality issues. How can I say that false advertising, unchanged products, underpaid workers, and environmental destruction are okay? How can anyone? I think that few people can stand for unethical practices such these when they stand alone, discussed in an ideological sense. The context of actually being part of a business puts such values in “perspective,” and such a viewpoint I cannot claim to understand in my current situation.

    Your final question, “Should companies [be] bound by ethical rules outside of the law, or should their primary directive be making as much profit as possible?,” is going in the right direction, but it ignores the reality that many business practices are regulated by the law. Plus, if they are not currently, shouldn’t many business practices involving ethics be regulated? In the case of extraordinary air pollution, the question is not if the companies should be lessening the pollution they produce, but rather why they are not being persecuted with the environmental business laws already in place.

    Yay!

    Posted by msbethechange | December 13, 2012, 7:03 am
    • I think everyone should know what planned obsolescence is. I didn’t even define it for that reason. Planned obsolescence is the way companies keep their products selling. “They’re not made like this anymore.” Light bulbs could last more than 5 times as long than they do, but they’re designed to burn out, so they can keep the light bulb business going. Warranties in many, many cases are the expected lifetime of their disabled product, plus a month or two, so its not a coincidence when your printer breaks a week after warranty ends. It was MADE to do that. Not only is this a violation of trust to some extent, but its a huge amount of waste.

      If by perspective, you mean in the place of a business person making the decisions, the right answer frequently comes as the most convenient answer. In the same way we don’t feel we have to worry about the problems that don’t immediately effect us, simply seeing the moral action as irrelevant or unimportant is a much happier thought. Some famous ethicsy business man said that a business has no moral rules beyond the extent of the law. Oddly enough he couldn’t actually justify it very well. I’m sure it put his mind at rest.

      Yeah, my question wasn’t very practical. It’s one thing to say they should be regulated and another to say how it should be done. I don’t think I know enough about law to suggest anything specific and politely asking the corporate world to play nice might not yield the results we hope for.

      Posted by torendarby | December 13, 2012, 7:32 am

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