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ethics

Reputation and Governance Styles: The Leader as a Smart Aleck

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Because we have a global audience, I must start by explaining that, according to the Oxford American Dictionary, a smart aleck is “a person displaying ostentatious or smug cleverness’.  It also reports that one usage of the word ‘smart’ means: “(of transactions) unscrupulous to the point of dishonesty”. If you watch crime movies the way I do, there is a tendency to admire ‘smart play’, that is, ruthlessly clever and effective maneuvers. The best crime bosses are masters of ‘smart play’. In order words, they are smart alecks.

What is fascinating is how often (particularly in the massed punditry of elite global media) a capacity for smart play by political leaders is glorified. Leaders are routinely judged and compared with regard to whether or not they appear to shape the game, determine events, or impose their will on others and so on. If they do not seem to do that, they are dismissed as effete. If they seem to do that, they are admired and glorified.  What is particularly striking is how often the writers who say these things leave out ethical standards. I believe, for instance, that true evil is a willingness to act without ethical considerations. Yet, notice how often leaders are admired for ostentatiously clever play even if the methods are odious.

But I am interested in a much narrower question. And it is this: if we leave out ethical considerations, is a reputation for ‘smart play’ good for a leader? Does it make her more effective?  To throw this into bold relief, I am going to tell two kinds of stories- one domestic, and the other global.
 

Quote of the Week: Mary Midgley

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"There is this increasing faith that physical science is the answer to all our terrible questions. I want to fight against the whole idea that it is where you go to for enlightenment.”

- Mary Midgley, an English moral philosopher, who strongly opposes reductionism and scientism and any attempts to make science a substitute for the humanities. She is well-known for her work on science, ethics and animal rights.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


Three reasons investors are beginning to take sustainability seriously
The Guardian
Most of the ingredients for a healthy, secure, and fulfilling existence come to us from nature. Food, clean water, pollination, and natural hazard protection are all essential goods and services that underpin our economy and secure our wellbeing. But business models that exploit these benefits unsustainably are intensifying pressure on our planet's natural resources, putting their future – and ours – in jeopardy. How can we relieve this pressure before it is too late? As a first step, we need to recognise that rapidly declining natural systems are bad news for business. There is a two-way street between the economy and the environment: businesses damage the environment, and the damaged environment then creates risks to the bottom lines of businesses. But why should members of the investment community care?

Does transparency improve governance? Reviewing evidence from 16 experimental evaluations
Journalist's Resource- Harvard Kennedy School
The idea that transparency can make institutions more effective and provide greater accountability and better results for the public seems uncontroversial on the surface. But scholars and bureaucrats who have been involved in the wave of transparency initiatives over the past decade continue to debate the particular merits of various approaches. Some commentators have been troubled that as a reaction to scrutiny, malfeasance and inefficiency could increasingly be kept hidden and transparency could erode public trust in institutions and personal privacy. The many types of transparency initiatives around the globe are often confused, making sharp distinctions all the more essential.

The Things We Do: Would You Steal for Me?

Roxanne Bauer's picture

When people talk about saying “no” the discussion usually revolves around why we find it so difficult. We want to help, we don’t want to make the other person feel bad, we are afraid of confrontation, we might feel guilty... the list goes on.  There is usually a chapter on ‘saying no’ in self-help books, and it’s a popular topic for religious leaders and psychologists. They claim that we must be assertive, value ourselves, defend our rights, and seek relationships with healthy foundations.

But there might be a more intrinsic reason why saying no is so difficult: humans are social creatures and are inherently vulnerable to the suggestions of others.

Many of us assume that the favors we ask of others will only be granted if the other person feels comfortable with them, but we fail to realize that simply by asking we are influencing the other’s actions and willingness to oblige.  We don’t consciously think about the degree to which we take cues from other people.

This leads us to underestimate how much power our neighbor who asks us for favors has or the amount of influence we, ourselves, have when we give advice to a relative.  We ask favors and give advice without realizing that the person listening will, more often than not, take what we say on board. We agree to things and we say yes because we are unaware of how easily influenced we are.

So what happens when someone asks a favor that is unethical? Do we realize how easy it is to convince someone, and does this influence our decision to ask for unethical things? Do we recognize our tendency to say yes and do we allow our own sense of morality and ethics triumph?

Quote of the Week: Mary Midgley

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In spite of the huge differences between cultures, all that we know about human behavior shows that it can be understood only by reference to people’s own thoughts, dreams, hopes, fears and other feelings. This is not something invented by a particular culture. It’s universal.”

- Mary Midgley, an English moral philosopher, who strongly opposes reductionism and scientism and any attempts to make science a substitute for the humanities. She is well-known for her work on science, ethics and animal rights.
 

 


 

Of owls, ethics and other matters

Saadia Iqbal's picture

There’s no denying the importance of biodiversity. When scientists, NGOs, policymakers and others try to convince everyone to protect biodiversity, they remind us of how we depend on it for livelihoods, medicines, soil protection and all kinds of other things, big and small.

So, naturally, we as humans have a selfish interest in looking after our world’s plants and animals.

Global Financial Markets: A Tale of Two Moral Publics

Sina Odugbemi's picture

On May 2 this year, Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, the gigantic Wall Street bank, was interviewed on CNN by Fareed Zakaria (his show is Global Public Square). Towards the end of the interview, Blankfein set up a striking distinction between the two publics of Goldman Sachs, as he saw them, and the ethical standards relevant to each public. The exchange is worth quoting in full:
 

ZAKARIA: We're back with the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein. And finally, when George W. Bush tried to persuade Hank Paulson to become secretary of Treasury, as you know, he tried a couple of times and finally, he got Paulson to agree. It was a great coup to have gotten the chairman of Goldman Sachs, the most storied name in finance, to come to his administration and now, here you are with a very different reputation, particularly in the public's eyes. Do you think you can right, do you think that a few years from now, this will all have passed and Goldman Sachs will still be regarded with the same kind of awe and admiration it was or is that world over?