Howard Gardner looks at the current state of ethics at the NYT. While it is understandable to refer back to the ancient Greeks and Asians, the nostalgia of the recent past is probably misplaced. It is only through nostalgia and the preservation of some public intellectual writings that we interpret those years – say the 1800s until the 1960s. Ministers, priests, culture critics, poets, public officials and novelists certainly said a lot of about ethical standards, but adherence to them was like now, sporadic and situational. These years cover the crashing rule of authoritarian monarchs, the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments, rampant racism, colonialism, the suppression of women and the poor, Nazi death camps and Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Though unless you fellow a net based philosophy magazine or blog, this piece might be the biggest soapbox “ethics” will get today, Reinventing Ethics
When Anthony Kronman, a professor and former dean of Yale School of Law, wrote nostalgically in 1995 about “the lost lawyer,” he has in mind the “found lawyer” who is no longer concerned with the health of the community but only with the wealth of his employers, generally large corporations. And the same waning of disinterestedness can be seen in the once-solo practitioner physician (“Marcus Welby”) who is now “managed” by the business school graduates of the health maintenance organization; the once “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” politician now under the thumbs of the most wealthy donors; the once selfless “ Mr. Chips” who serves his own careerist interests rather than those of the discipline, the college or the students.
[ ]….I call on members of a professional community to create common spaces in which they can reflect on ethical conundra of our era. For the first time in human history, it is not essential that participants occupy the same physical space.
Gardner suggests that we establish public trustees, what he calls “virtual agoras” The agora was the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city. These would act as oversight to those common spaces of professionals. We kind of have those now. Though many operate – and that might be part of the problem – behind closed doors. While it may have helped to have the full old version of Glass-Steagall in place, which may have helped mediate the damage of the Great Recession we did have quite a few regularly tools at hand. These were in regard certain ethical business standards in fiance and banking. What happened? The formal agora of individuals charged with enforcing these ethics largely looked the other way. In business, medicine-pharmaceuticals, politics – certainly individuals know what is ethical, but money and power tend to corrupt one’s ideals. Congress has an Ethics Committee. The current chairman has used his political power to punish his adversaries, not to pursue actual ethics violations. In the news recently was a drug company that cherry-picked data to get approval for useless drugs. There is a federal regulator, but they largely rely on what are supposed to be unbiased research reports. So we have people, some of them very bright, who are regulated by other very bright people – a private web of agoras. Making more of this public/transparent may well help, yet we’re already to a point where we would have ethical committees, watched over by ethical watchdogs and those in turn watched over by more watchers. While many of us have special interests, subjects in which we have developed some expertise, I for one am not qualified to make technical evaluations of a new drug. I can read and understand a report someone else has written and know enough to look at the use of double-blind tests and standard deviation of any statistics that were complied – so for each segment of society’s business you end up back to needing professionals – a fisheries biologist to determine how many fish can be caught, an expert in physiology to determine the health implications of a new artificial valve. The chain always seems to be as strong as the weakest link no matter how many links you add. having grown up in big-tent revival country I could call for a national revival of personal ethics. If that works like the old-time revivals Billy-Bob and Peggy-Sue will be back to having boiler-makers and slapping the kids around again by Tuesday and back praying for forgiveness on Sunday next.
Some people may as well live on another planet, Mitt Romney Will Dock Your Boat
“Both Mitt and I have summer places up in New Hampshire on Lake Winnipesaukee. And a few summers ago I was taking my grandchildren and children to town in the boat for ice cream. And we got into the docks and they were all full and I looked around, there was no place to park, so we stopped at the end of a dock. They all jumped off and ran up the dock. And I realized there was nobody in the boat to help me dock the boat, handle the ropes, do anything – they just left me out there at sea. So I finally found a place to park after about 20 minutes, and I pulled in, I said, ‘Who’s going to grab the rope?,’ and I looked up and there was Mitt Romney. So he pulled me in, he tied up the boat for me. He rescued me just as he’s going to rescue this great country.”
—Marriott International chairman Bill Marriott explains how Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is going to help all of us anchor the recreational watercraft we keep at our second home.
Poor, poor Bill and his docking problems. Well at least he can go home at night and cry on that estimated $1.6 billion dollar fortune.
I happen to be checking Twitter feeds when the news broke that some study said that red state economies were growing – so much for the veracity of USA Today. I guess their ethics and fact checker was out to lunch, Red States Outpace Blue States in Income Growth — Thanks to Food Stamps
But here’s the kicker: that income growth in those red states? It comes, at least in the South, in large part to government benefits payments, like the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. You know, the ones that Republicans like Newt Gingrich  attempt to use as a club to beat Obama and Democrats with. They go mainly to people living under or close to the poverty line, which means that income growth thanks to public benefits is the government making life more bearable for those hit hardest by the recession, not exactly economic growth caused by the “low taxes and business-friendly regulation” that the right-wing ALEC representative the article quotes claims.
Some public benefits to the public fly a little under the radar – the mortgage subsidies the wealthy get to buy McMansions for instance. While for others the business benefits via government benefits are not that difficult to connect the dots. If you have a grocery chain those government benefits are part of the profit that go into the pockets of executive management and employees. Take the gov’mint benefits away and your sales and profits go down. Not even close to being rocket science.
kangaroos organized religion and homelessness. not cool to enter someone’s home and take a shower, but now the state has made her part of the prison system. the costs to society will far outweigh any damage she did to that home owner.