John Medaille recent’s piece reminded me why even the most socially conscious of MBA programs or business ethics classes are doomed to failure from the outset:
 
“In 1954, the Bell system (at the time, THE phone company) decided that a technical background was not sufficient, and sought to give its rising young executives an intensive course in the Liberal Arts. They determined that while a well-trained executive knows how to answer questions, the well-educated one knows which questions were worth asking. In cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania, they gave their executives 550 hours of liberal arts coursework. Wes Davis gives an account of this experiment in the New York Times. What were the results? As Mark Davis recounts:

 

the graduates were no longer content to let the machinery of business determine the course of their lives. One man told Baltzell that before the program he had been “like a straw floating with the current down the stream” and added: “The stream was the Bell Telephone Company. I don’t think I will ever be that straw again.”

The institute was judged a success by Morris S. Viteles, one of the pioneers of industrial psychology, who evaluated its graduates. But Bell gradually withdrew its support after yet another positive assessment found that while executives came out of the program more confident and more intellectually engaged, they were also less interested in putting the company’s bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities.

Bell dropped support for the program in 1960.”

Sometimes it’s like trying to fit a square into a circle.  Why the dichotomy between family and bottom line often seems like a naive question to ask for anyone that’s worked in a corporation and understands the ‘reality’ and workings of global capitalism (“dammit Jim, I’m not running a charity!”). 

Still, we can and must ask this question, but not simply hope that more of the same (such as a a friendlier capitalism) will save us. 

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