Tag Archives: business

Trust Me

One of the approximately ten zillion critical tasks facing President Biden is the need to restore Americans’ trust in the integrity of their government. Biden is well-equipped to begin that restoration–he is a thoroughly decent and trustworthy man–but it won’t be easy.

Time Magazine recently began an article with some very concerning data:

After an unprecedented year of global pain, loss and uncertainty, a new report finds that 2020 marked “an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world.”

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, a study published annually by global communications firm Edelman, unveiled its findings on Wednesday after conducting more than 33,000 online surveys in 28 countries between October and November 2020. The firm found that public trust had eroded even further in social institutions—which Edelman defines as government, business, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media—from 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global outcry against racial injustice and growing mistrust of what political leaders say and journalists report.

The research found that most people trust businesses– especially their own employers– over government and media. Trust in journalists is split along party lines. Among the consequences of this pervasive distrust is a particularly worrisome one:  only 1 in 3 people are “ready to take the [COVID-19] vaccine as soon as possible.”

Social trust is an essential and irreplaceable basis of a democratic society. Social capital–the bonding and bridging connections to others that make a society work–is defined as a combination of trust and reciprocity.

Social scientists warn that erosion of interpersonal trust has very negative implications for democratic self-government. When I was researching my 2009 book Distrust, American Style, that erosion was already visible. Some scholars suggested that the country’s growing diversity had led to a loss of the cohesion achievable in more homogeneous societies; my research suggested a different culprit. I became absolutely convinced that generalized social trust requires reliably trustworthy social and governing institutions.

In other words, fish rot from the head.

As I argued in that book, the nature of the trust we need is justifiable confidence in the integrity of government and civil society writ large. That confidence was being steadily undermined–not just by what seemed to be daily scandals in business (Enron, Worldcom, et al), sports (doping, dog fighting), religion (revelations about the Catholic Church’s inadequate response to child molestation), and the George W. Bush government (duplicities which seem almost innocent in contrast to the past four years)–but especially  by the Internet.

Suddenly, Americans were marinating in information. Publicity about each scandal and details about a seemingly pervasive lack of trustworthiness was impossible to avoid.

It has gotten considerably worse since 2009. Now we are swimming in a vast sea of information, disinformation, propaganda and conspiracy theories–and as a consequence, trust has continued its sharp decline.

The problem is, without widespread social trust, societies are impossible to maintain.

Think about our daily lives: we deposit our paychecks and trust that the amount will be reflected on our next bank statement. We put a deposit down with the local electric utility and trust that service will be forthcoming. We call the fire department and anticipate their speedy arrival. We drop our clothing off at the cleaners and trust it will be there, cleaned, to pick up. We buy goods online and trust they’ll arrive. We buy meat at the grocery and trust that it has been inspected and is fit to eat. We board an airplane and trust that it has passed a safety inspection and will travel in its assigned air lane..

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. And that picture is much broader–and social trust much more critical– than most of us realize.

An article in The Week had a relevant factoid: evidently, Twitter’s permanent ban of Trump has already made a huge difference. “One research firm found the amount of misinformation online dropped 73 percent in the week after the president and 70,000 QAnon aficionados were shut down by the platform.”

So–the solution to our trust deficit is obvious and simple (cough, cough); we just have to make government visibly trustworthy again, enforce regulations on the businesses and other institutions that are flouting rules with impunity, and figure out how to get online platforms to disallow misinformation and propaganda, without doing violence to the First Amendment.

Piece of cake!

I think I’m going to go pour myself a very stiff drink….

 

 

About that Dustbin of History….

Indiana culture warriors Micah Clark and Eric Miller cannot be happy campers.

I get Pew Research Center’s Daily Religion Headlines in my inbox. On Thursday, two headlines confirmed what anyone watching the American landscape already knows: gay rights has gone mainstream.

The first headline was from the Detroit Free Press. It read Major Michigan companies want to ban LGBT discrimination against workers. The story highlighted an effort by the Michigan business community to include sexual orientation under the state’s civil rights laws. Note, this isn’t the business community trying to block a mean-spirited measure; it’s an affirmative effort to guarantee civil rights.

The second was a headline from the Christian Science Monitor, in the form of a question. Gay Marriage: Is GOP Tiptoeing Away from Opposition? The article cited a Pew poll  that found 61 percent of Republicans under age 30 favoring the right to same-sex marriage, and it pointed to movement on the issue around the country.

  • Earlier this month, the Nevada Republican Party removed opposition to gay marriage from its platform.
  • On April 19, most of the Illinois Republican officials who tried to remove the state party chairman over his support of same-sex marriage lost their party positions.
  • On April 29, the Washington College Republican Federation announced it had passed a resolution calling for a change to both the state and federal Republican platforms’ stance on marriage to make them more “inclusive.”
  • In January, the New Mexico College Republicans agreed to drop language opposing same-sex marriage from their platform.

The day when Karl Rove could turn out the Republican base by demonizing GLBT folks is over. The party can elect people to Congress by dint of voter suppression and gerrymandering, but if it wants to elect a President sometime this century, the GOP will have to recognize that this battle is over.

The base (in both senses of that word) lost.

Necessary Distinctions

I’ve spent a fair amount of time on this blog criticizing corporate interests–Big Oil, the Kochs, all the mega-corporations evading taxes by any means arguably lawful, and others of that ilk. But a recent story reminded me that markets often exert powerful pressure for good, and not just because competition tends to drive down prices and make goods and services affordable. The vast majority of businesses operate in competitive markets that reward good behavior as well as low prices.

A good example is the fight for equal rights for GLBT citizens. Business has been in the forefront of that fight.

The link in the first paragraph is to an article about Chik-fil-A, which is furiously backpedaling from the anti-gay remarks made last year by its founder and CEO. While it would be nice if that retreat was the result of some sort of moral epiphany, the truth is that it has been forced by the realities of the market. (As one consultant recently wrote,  “There are few more treacherous actions a CEO can take than to make derogatory comments about gay men and lesbians or to be publicly exposed for funding anti-gay causes.”)

Chick-fil-A’s socially conservative agenda, which formerly led the company to donate millions to charitable groups opposed to gay marriage, has been tempered. This, just as the company aims to quickly expand into Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Southern hospitality must give way to urban reality as the 1,800 store chain moves to compete with big city success stories like McDonald’s, Panera Bread and Chipotle.

Homophobia, racism, anti-Semetism and the like are bad for business. That lesson has been learned by hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, middle-managers and HR folks–and along the way, many of them have become true believers in the value of valuing diversity. Their advocacy, in turn, has moved the entire culture in a more inclusive direction.

For every asshole who is buying politicians and squirreling profits away in the Cayman Islands, there are twenty companies genuinely making America a better place–by treating GLBT people fairly, by becoming more environmentally conscious, by adopting local schools or supporting civic and charitable causes.

We need to rein in the bad actors, but we also need to appreciate the good guys. Even the guys who are only being good because that’s what the market rewards.

Playing “Let’s Pretend”

There are two kinds of “let’s pretend” games.

The first is intended to illustrate a principle. For example, let’s pretend that you have a teenage son. You don’t have much money–you live in low-wage, “Right to Work” Indiana–so you’ve been saving  for several years in order to send him to college. He’s also been depositing money from his part-time job into the joint savings account the two of you have established.

One day, you discover he’s dropped out of high school, and taken all the money to buy a car. He explains that he needs a car now, to get to his job at Burger Heaven, where he makes three dollars an hour more than his friends who work elsewhere. Besides, he argues, the future benefits of a high school diploma (forget college) are speculative.

Would you dismiss the unequivocal data about education and lifetime earning disparities and general well-being? Would you endorse his decision to make more money now and damn the future?

Business groups evidently think the kid is doing the right thing.

According to a story buried a couple of days ago in the Indianapolis Star, a coalition of national and state business groups is fighting new rules on greenhouse gas emissions. Indiana  Gov. Mike Pence says Congress should quash the pending regulations because they would hike energy bills and cost jobs.

The new rules will cost businesses and consumers some money now. Those rules, however, are a necessary part of a still-inadequate effort to slow global climate change. It bears repeating that there is no scientific dispute about the reality of that climate change.  We are already seeing its effects. 

Too bad, say the members of the business coalition.

The business coalition, of course, is playing the other “let’s pretend” game–the one being played by people who prefer keeping an extra buck or so in their pockets now to addressing climate changes that will make life miserable for our children and grandchildren. The game played by pretending that the science is flawed, that the warnings are speculative, or that a heavy winter snow is proof that there is no “global warming.”  

As scientists have been telling us for quite some time, a warming planet changes climate patterns. Hurricanes increase in intensity; Alabama and Texas get massive snowstorms while the Arctic ice melts; California has droughts, sea levels rise, species lose their habitats.

All of these things are already occurring. Dealing with them is already costing us a lot more than compliance with federal regulations will cost, and failing to deal with climate change now–pretending that it’s a “hoax” or that the science isn’t settled–is ignorant at best and dishonorable at worst.

When the son who left high school is fifty and still making minimum wage, how will you justify letting him drop out?

When our grandchildren ask why we allowed the seas to swallow New York and Florida, why we failed to prevent the loss of twenty-five percent of the Earth’s species, and why we didn’t protect large areas of the planet from becoming uninhabitable, how will we justify our shortsightedness? Are we going to admit that greed and immaturity–our unwillingness to be even minimally inconvenienced in the here and now–led us to pretend it wasn’t happening?

Playing “let’s pretend” is for children. The businesses fighting for their right to keep polluting need to grow up.

About Those Political Ads…..

There’s an article in this morning’s Star detailing suggestions for catching a liar. The focus was on business interviews, and the advice was for folks interviewing job applicants, but I wonder if the same tips might be useful when applied to the candidates applying for our votes.

According to the article, signs of dishonesty include

Showing an inappropriate level of politeness. Let’s say you respond to a question. Then you suddenly increase the level of niceness by injecting a compliment such as, “That’s a great tie, by the way.” The compliment is a signifier, because psychologists tell us  that the more we like someone, the more we’re inclined to believe him and to shy away from confrontations. The person is using politeness (aka “sucking up”) as a means of promoting his likeability.

Making “referral” statements. This is when a deceptive person responds to a question and refers to having answered the question previously. The idea here is to build credibility through repetition. (This probably doesn’t work when the previous answer was dramatically different than the one currently on offer. Yes Mitt, I’m looking at you…)

Using qualifiers. These indicators are “exclusion qualifiers” that let people “who want to withhold certain information to answer your question truthfully without releasing that information.” They’ll say things like “basically,” “for the most part,” “fundamentally,” “probably” and “most often.”

Another clue is use of “perception qualifiers” to enhance credibility: “frankly,” “to be perfectly honest” and “candidly.”

Going into attack mode. ‘Nuff said.

I don’t know how accurate any of these are, or how applicable to the political arena–but using these clues to analyze the bilge that passes for political argumentation these days might make those 30-second smears more bearable. And who knows–in any given race, one candidate might turn out to be a bigger liar than his opponent.