Sunday, February 10, 2013

Principal and Interest

When UPS joined Intel in removing funding support for the Boy Scouts of America, spokesperson Kristen Petrella stated that, "UPS is a company that does the right things for the right reasons."  Discrimination of any kind, she stated, is incompatible with the values of the company.  While corporations piled on the defunding wagon, President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Richard Land (yes, the same Christian spokesperson who provided then President George W. Bush the opinion letter stating that the invasion of Iraq was a "Just War") did everything he could possibly do to solidify his reputation as Bigot-in-Chief by perpetuating division and fear threatening a morality exodus should the Boy Scouts actually desegregate.  For the record, Richard's "Just War" dispensation expressly stated that the U.S. cause was just because we'd protect civilians.  He was wrong and we've got about 130,000 bodies to prove it - over twice the Kurdish civilian "genocide" that was used by the same Richard and his God to justify the war!

Before the flurry of attention over the past two weeks about the Board consideration of the policy banning homosexuals from the organization, the Boy Scouts had already lost their credibility.  By suggesting that values and morals are for sale - either to the corporate philanthropists or to the religious zealots - the Boy Scouts sent an unambiguous message that indicts not only their organization but the state or our civilization: when choosing between our monetary addiction or our principles - money wins.  Tell that to the Cub Scouts sitting around the fire and see how many stay to become Order of the Arrow men of honor!

Discrimination is the immoral byproduct of intolerance and fear.  It is unacceptable at the individual or the institutional level.  But extortion is also immoral and unacceptable.  Multi-billion dollar corporations grandstanding on the cessation of a few thousand dollars of donations is equally offensive.  When Merck made a point of pulling its funding of the Boy Scouts, do any of us really believe that their $35,000 largesse moved any needles? 

Morality-for-sale is a pathology that harms organizations of all types.  When my wife and I gave an unusually large financial gift to a local organization, we were invited in to speak with the organization's leadership.

"We wondered what you wanted us to do," the leader of the organization said before saying, "Thank you."

"This was just a gift to help you support your operations," we replied.

"Yes, but a gift of this size usually comes with some expectations," we were advised.

At this point, I was sorely tempted to actually ask for a return of the gift as I was infuriated by the assumption that generosity beyond a certain threshold must come with conditions.  My empathetic side kicked in and we spent about 3 hours commiserating about how regrettable and painful previous gifts-with-strings had been.

The ultimate example of morality-for-sale happens at the sovereign extreme.  Organizations like Transparency International (reportedly the "global coalition against corruption" which has counted in its ranks some of the most corrupt people I've known) release their Corruption Index annually ranking countries by their bribery, extortion, and illicit transaction propensity.  In the top ten list of least corrupt - led by Denmark and Finland - one can see countries that are predominantly Scandinavian and Northern European with the exceptional appearances of Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland.  Conspicuously, Qatar, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Chile are the only natural resource rich countries that make it into the top-50 list.  The bottom-50 are filled with countries rich in metals, energy and timber.  However, what Transparency International willfully neglects is the domicile of the extractive industries that are exploiting the local resources and people in these "corrupt" countries.  Tragically, if you look at the businesses benefiting from engaging in the corruption, they're almost all top-30 countries.  So, let's get this straight.  On the one hand we say that corruption is bad.  Yet the Australian and Toronto stock exchanges, for example, list more corrupt companies (measured by businesses extracting resources from bottom-50 'most corrupt' countries) and have NO qualms about passing the spoils of that corruption along to their share traders.  In fact, when I've provided prima facie evidence of corruption and illegal activity to the Toronto exchange, I was advised that it was 'difficult' to investigate claims half a world away.  Nothing was done!

I have written on numerous occasions about the importance of aligning capital to productivity that you know and endorse.  While we can point to Nestle and United Fruit boycotts and anti-Apartheid investment protests as artifacts of salutary social change, the idea of morality inducement through post facto moral epiphanies is hollow.  The Boy Scouts, the drug money-laundering HSBC, the Toronto Stock Exchange - they all were and are engaged in unsavory practices.  Protesting them is not the solution.  To the contrary, what is helpful and ultimately aligns with morality is to endorse and support those who do well and see them prosper.  While the press fails to promote these stories, We The People can celebrate them and, in time, forge Interesting Principled Principals!

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave