Off the hook with Milton Friedman.
Here it is 2017, and the Chairman of one of the largest pharma companies in the country is gleefully telling patients and the FDA to live with the costs of his profit seeking, at the same time he pays his CEO more than $95 million a year. Because he can, and, like many who lucked into top jobs at big companies, because his excuse is simple: He’s just doing his job.
If the idea is so wrong, if it leads to an erosion of the social contract and the deaths of innocent kids, why are we still discussing it?
Because it’s simple, because it diminishes responsibility, and because it comes with prizes and warm chocolate cookies for those in charge.
[More from Seth Godin]
Nearly fifty years ago, Milton Friedman published a polemic, an article that altered the way many people think about corporations and their role in society. Countless writers have explained why it’s poorly reasoned, dangerous and wrong. (Including business school deans, Harvard Business Review and Fortune).
The simple message of the simple article was: “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits…”
Friedman does add a parenthetical, “so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud,” but it’s clear that his emphasis is on the first part.
Businesses, he argues, should show no corporate responsibility, do nothing to further the goals of an ethical society, do nothing to improve the lives of customers, employees or bystanders—unlessthese actions coincidentally maximize profits.
An interesting question that most people haven’t focused on: why did this dangerous idea catch on and stick around so long?
Because it’s simple, because it diminishes responsibility, and because it comes with prizes and warm chocolate cookies for those in charge.
The simplicity of the argument matches up with its mendacity. There’s no need to worry about nuance, no need to lose sleep over choices, no endless laundry list of social ills to worry about. Just make more profit.
Do this, get that.
A simple compass, a north star, a direction to go that absolves the employee/boss of responsibility for anything complicated or nuanced.
People love mechanical simplicity, especially when it benefits them.
The official rules of baseball are more than 250 pages long. Why? Because working the system, cutting corners and winning at all costs long ago replaced playing by the spirit of the game. Since the league can’t count on people to act like people acting on behalf of the community, they have to create ever more rules to keep the system in check.
The problem is far worse in a supposed free market. When humans stop acting like humans and instead indicate that they have no choice but to seek every short-term benefit and cut every possible corner, we can no longer trust each other to act responsibly.
Off the hook feels like a simple way out. “I’m just doing my job, and not thinking hard about the side effects (or to be more accurate, the effects) of my actions. Not only that, but one of the things that’s part of my job is lobbying to have fewer rules. Because working the refs is good business. And because everyone is doing it, I have no choice but to do it too.”
Of course, it’s difficult for us to solely blame poor Milton. Lots of us have bad ideas, I’ve certainly had plenty. No, we need to blame ourselves for letting selfish corporate officers get away with this reasoning. When we go to work, or partner with, or buy stock in a company that signs up for Milton reasoning, we’re rewarding people who have long ago stopped acting like people.
Profits are fine, they enable the investment we need to produce value. But almost nothing benefits from being the only thing we seek, and the pursuit of profit at the expense of our humanity is too high a price to pay.
Here’s a different version: A business is a construct, an association of human beings combining capital and labor to make something. That business has precisely the same social responsibilities as the people that it consists of. The responsibility to play fairly, to see the long-term impacts of its actions and to create value for all those it engages with.
Full Friedman article:
“Ask this question often.
Several times a day, at least.
Endogeneity is a fancy term for confusing cause and effect. For not being clear about causation and correlation.
It’s one reason why smart people make so many mistakes. We think A leads to B, so more A gets more B. While A and B may have been related in the past, though, it’s not at all clear that improving A is going to do anything about B.
There is, for example, an extraordinarily high correlation between per capita cheese consumption and the risk of being strangled by your bedsheets while you sleep:
That doesn’t mean that eating less cheese is going to help you not die in bed.”
“The boom emoji gets a lot of play. It happened. It worked. We won.
The tree emoji, on the other hand, celebrates the patient and generous acts of planting seeds, watering them, caring for them, and then, in a generation, you have a tree.
It doesn’t even have a noise.
Simple growth. With patience. (I prefer the deciduous tree instead of the evergreen, because the leaves coming in and falling off are part of the deal).
Put me down for the tree emoji.” 🌳
“There are very few fences that can stop a determined person (or dog, for that matter).
Most of the time, the fence is merely a visual reminder that we’re rewarded for complying.
If you care enough, ignore the fence. It’s mostly in your head.”
‘Our worldview casts a shadow in the words that resonate.
One reason it’s difficult to understand each other is that behind the words we use are the worldviews, the emotions and the beliefs we have before we even consider what’s being said.
Before we get to right and wrong, good or bad, effective or ineffective, we begin with worldview.
They affect the way we choose a car, engage in a conversation or vote. These cultural and learned worldviews alter the way we see and hear and speak.
Words like: Fairness, change, interference, freedom, responsibility and opportunity trigger different reactions based on worldview. It’s always easier to encourage action based on an existing worldview than it is to change that view.
The columns below don’t line up for everyone (or anyone), but instead highlight different instincts on different axes on how each of us see the world in any given moment…
|An all-powerful authority||Treat others as you’d
want to be treated
right now, right later
|Exploration, truth, working toward perfect, always a little wrong|
power, agency, taking space
|Role awareness, dignity,
giving space, flexibility
|Deserve, entitled, keep||Share, distribute, invest|
|Ends and means||Means and ends|
|Getting things done||Listening, speaking up
and being heard
|Power, authority, compliance, respect, status||Fairness, hope, justice,
|Realism, denial||Optimism, pessimism|
|Equity, fairness and
the alleviation of suffering
long-term thinking, wisdom
Once we understand the landscape that someone sees, we have an easier time using words and images to fill in that landscape, to create a story that they can hear and understand, and, perhaps, we can make change happen.’
A fish is not like a bicycle, but they’re not mutually exclusive. You can have both.
Part of our culture admires reason. It celebrates learning. It seeks out logic and coherence and an understanding of the how and the why.
At the same time, there are other people who seek out influence and authority. Either to exercise it or to blindly follow it.
Sometimes, they overlap. Sometimes, power is guided by reason. But that’s not required, not in the short run. And sometimes, reasonable, informed people wield power. But again, as a visit to a university’s English department will show, not always.
It’s tempting for the powerful to argue with those that admire reason, pointing out how much power they wield.
And it’s tempting for the well-informed to argue with those that have power, pointing out how little reason they possess.
But just as a fish isn’t going to stop you from riding a bicycle, these arguments rarely work, because power and reason don’t live on the same axis. Listening to someone argue from the other axis is a little like watching TV with the sound off. It might look normal, but it is hard to follow.
Before we engage, we need to agree on what’s being discussed.
“But often, what we want is traction. The traction to find our footing, shift our posture, make a new decision. The traction to actually influence what happens next, not merely slip our way toward a goal of someone else’s choosing.”
“How long is now?
Yes, that dog is moving, but not that tree. Plants don’t move.
Well, yes, they actually do. Trees grow and then they decay. It’s just that we can’t see it happening now. It happens over a longer span. Which means it is happening now, just not in a way that matches our frame.
Getting our time scale right is essential. It affects how we perceive the growth of our organization, or the changes in our planet. It changes the way we invest in education and how we react or respond to the news media.
Do we need a sweep second hand on our wrist watch or merely a page-a-day calendar to mark the passage of time?
Alan Burdick’s new book goes into the history of how we think about now (as compared to before and after) and one particular example stuck with me: What would happen if we were creatures that lived for only 28 days? Or for 300,000 days? And if our attention span compressed or expanded along with that outcome?
Often, people who are happier or more effective than we are are merely seeing things in a different (and more appropriate) time window.
And one last example, I’ll call it Dash’s Twitch: It turns out that the insanely stressful ticker that the New York Times had on their home page on election night, the one that kept flicking back and forth, taunting everyone who saw it, was actually using “real-time” data that only updated a few times a minute.
Which means that the twitch was faked. Yes, the data was moving over time, but it wasn’t moving now.
If our now gets short enough, everything is a twitch.
And twitches, while engaging, aren’t particularly useful or productive.”
[Anil Dash is the CEO of Fog Creek Software. He also founded Makerbase, Activate, and the non-profit Expert Labs, a research initiative backed by the MacArthur Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which collaborated with the Obama White House and federal agencies.]
The Candy Diet
If we don’t care to learn more, we won’t spend time or resources on knowledge.
“The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel.
In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.
Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the “L” stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the “History” stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.
And of course, newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn’t want to hear. We’ve responded by not buying newspapers any more.
The decline of thoughtful media has been discussed for a century. This is not new. What is new: A fundamental shift not just in the profit-seeking gatekeepers, but in the culture as a whole.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”*
[*Ironically, this isn’t what Einstein actually said. It was this, “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.” Alas, I’ve been seduced into believing that the shorter one now works better.]
Is it possible we’ve made things simpler than they ought to be, and established non-curiosity as the new standard?
We are certainly guilty of being active participants in a media landscape that breaks Einstein’s simplicity law every day. And having gotten away with it so far, we’re now considering removing the law from our memory.
The economics seem to be that the only way to make a living is to reach a lot of people and the only way to reach a lot of people is to race to the bottom, seek out quick clicks, make it easy to swallow, reinforce existing beliefs, keep it short, make it sort of fun, or prurient, or urgent, and most of all, dumb it down.
And that’s the true danger of anti-intellectualism. While it’s foolish to choose to be stupid, it’s cultural suicide to decide that insights, theories and truth don’t actually matter. If we don’t care to learn more, we won’t spend time or resources on knowledge.
We can survive if we eat candy for an entire day, but if we put the greenmarkets out of business along the way, all that’s left is candy.
Give your kid a tablet, a game, and some chicken fingers for dinner. It’s easier than talking to him.
Read the short articles, the ones with pictures, it’s simpler than digging deep.
Clickbait works for a reason. Because people click on it.
The thing about clickbait, though, is that it exists to catch prey, not to inform them. It’s bait, after all.
The good news: We don’t need many people to demand more from the media before the media responds. The Beverly Hillbillies were a popular show, but that didn’t stop Star Trek from having a shot at improving the culture.
The media has always bounced between pandering to make a buck and upping the intellectual ante of what they present. Now that this balance has been ceded to an algorithm, we’re on the edge of a breakneck race to the bottom, with no brakes and no break in sight.
Vote with your clicks, with your sponsorship, with your bookstore dollars. Vote with your conversations, with your letters to the editor, by changing the channel…
Even if only a few people use precise words, employ thoughtful reasoning and ask difficult questions, it still forces those around them to catch up. It’s easy to imagine a slippery slope down, but there’s also the cultural ratchet, a positive function in which people race to learn more and understand more so they can keep up with those around them.
Turn the ratchet. We can lead our way back to curiosity, inquiry and discovery if we (just a few for now) measure the right things and refuse the easy option in favor of insisting on better.”
Trying to release the collective heartbreak of the past year and embrace hope; that the kindness and compassion of so many in our country will continue to work and strive within community to overcome the senseless greed, hate and lies that our country’s new leadership is seemingly embracing. I will not give up, or in, but RESIST. And love.
‘And if your breath to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing…’
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
I see you.
I am here.
[African Bushmen greeting]
‘To have who we are and where we’ve been be seen. For with this simple and direct affirmation, it is possible to claim our own presence, to say, “I Am Here.”
But just as important as bearing witness is the joy with which these bushmen proclaim what they see. It is the joy of first seeing and first knowing. This is a gift of love.
In a culture that erases its humanity, that keeps the act of innocence and beginning invisible, we are sorely in need of being seen with joy, so we can proclaim with equal astonishment that of all the amazing things that could have been or not, We Are Here.
As far back as we can remember, people of the oldest tribes, unencumbered by civilization, have been rejoicing in being on earth together. Not only can we do this for each other, it is essential. For as stars need open space to be seen, as weaves need shore to crest, as dew needs grass to soak into, our vitality depends on how we exclaim and rejoice, “I See you!” I Am Here!”
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
N E W Y E A R ‘ S D A Y
‘We have been given the ability to inititate a new chain of causation. There is but One Mind and we use it. The laws of nature are universal, but our use of them is individual and personal.
Everyting is continually being re-created. Spirit is forever making all things new. Let us confidently affirm the Divine Presence and actually believe that It is guiding us as we consciously bring a problem we are facing into our thought, not as a problem, but as though we were receiving the answer.
I am open to new ideas, new hopes, and new aspirations. This which so recently seemed a problem no longer exists, for the Mind of God, which knows the answer, is quietly flowing through my thought and feeling. Great peace and joy come over me as I accept this answer from the Giver of all Life.’
-Science of Mind
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
“We need senators who have studied physics and representatives who understand ecology.”
‘I wondered if you realized how long is your past, and how much more there is in your future. I remembered a Peanuts cartoon that my family likes. Lucy is saying to Charlie Brown, “On the oceans of the world are many ships, and some of them carry passengers. One of the things the passengers like to do is to sit on the deck and watch the water. Some of the passengers like to face forward, so they can see where they are going, and some like to face backwards, to see where they have been.” And then Lucy asks Charlie, “On the ship of life, which way are you going to place your chair: to see where you are going or to see where you have been?” And Charlie Brown replies, “I can’t seem to get my chair unfolded.’
‘And now, you must turn your chairs to face the future. You are concerned tonight with more than the fate of atoms. You need jobs, admissions to graduate schools, research support; you want a healthy planet, space, choices. Individually, you will be called by many names: spouse, partner, teacher, professor, writer, representative, president, CEO, doctor, judge, regent. Some will be called scientists. For those of you who teach science, I hope that you will welcome, as students, those who do NOT intend to be scientists, as well as those who DO. We need senators who have studied physics and representatives who understand ecology.’
– Vera Rubin, pioneering astronomer
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
Attitude is the most important choice any of us will make. We made it yesterday and we get another choice to make it today. And then again tomorrow.
The choice to participate.
To be optimistic.
To intentionally bring out the best in other people.
We make the choice to inquire, to be curious, to challenge the status quo.
To give people the benefit of the doubt.
To find hope instead of fear in the face of uncertainty.
Of course these are attitudes. What else could they be?
And of course, they are a choice. No one does these things to us. We choose them and do the work (and find the benefits) that come with them.
Fear, loneliness, anger, shame & hunger.
They drive us. They divide us. They take us away from our work, our mission, our ability to make a difference. And yet, sometimes, they fuel our motion, leading to growth and connection.
When a variety of FLASH shows up, it almost never calls itself by name. Instead, it lashes out. It criticizes what we’ve made or done. And mostly, it hides behind words, argument and actions, instead of revealing itself.
As you’ve guessed, correcting the false argument is futile. Logic doesn’t work either. You can’t reason with FLASH because it is, by definition, unreasonable.
Worth repeating that: We’re rarely reasonable. Most of the time, we’re afraid, lonely, angry, shameful or hungry.
Sometimes, we can address those emotions by seeing that reason can help our problem, but mostly, we start and end with the emotion.
Pause to allow it be seen and heard.
And then, if we’re willing, we can dance with it. We can put the arguments aside, the demands and the expectations and sit with the emotion. Not get defensive, because the emotion isn’t about us or our work at all.
Then, maybe, we can begin to bring civilization back into the conversation, the story of us, the opportunity for growth and connection, and ultimately, the power of thought and reason and forward motion.
So, in reality, “What sort of story are we telling each other? What if the curves were going the other way?”
3rd party vote? Not this election. Seth Godin explains with ketchup, John Oliver offers his 18 minutes of persuasion, and Bernie, well Bernie could be a powerhouse in the senate with a democratic majority.
Sir Kensington’s Ketchup is better ketchup. Most adults who try it agree that it’s more delicious, a better choice. Alas, Heinz has a host of significant advantages, including dominant shelf space, a Proustian relationship with our childhood and unlimited money to spend on advertising.
The thing is, you can buy Sir Kensington’s any time you want to. And when you buy it, that’s what you get.
You’re not buying it to teach Heinz a lesson. You’re buying it because that’s the ketchup you want.
The marketing of Sir Kensington is simple: If you want better ketchup, buy this, you’ll get it.
Elections in the US don’t work this way.
I’m calling it a third-party problem because the outcome of third-party efforts don’t align with the marketing (and work) that goes into them.
Ross Perot, the third-party candidate who ran against Bush and Clinton, cost Bush that election. The people who voted for Perot got Clinton, and it’s pretty clear that the Republicans learned nothing from this, as the next winning candidate they nominated was… George Bush.
Ralph Nader, the third-party candidate who ran against Bush and Gore, cost Gore that election. The people who voted for Nader got Bush, and it’s pretty clear that the Democrats learned nothing from this, as the next person they nominated was… John Kerry.
[Irrelevant aside: John Kerry was married to the heir of the Heinz Ketchup fortune.]
[I’m calling it a ‘problem’ because I have such huge respect for people who care enough and are passionate enough to support change. The problem is that since Gus Hall, and then John Anderson and then the more recent candidates, just about all the changes that third parties have tried to bring to national politics have foundered. It just isn’t a useful way to market change in this country.]
If enough people spent enough time, day after day, dollar after dollar, we could fundamentally alter the historic two-party system we have in the US. But it’s been shown, again and again, that the easy act of letting oneself off the hook by simply voting for a third-party candidate accomplishes nothing.
The marketing of the third-party candidate is: Teach those folks a lesson, plus, you’re not on the hook for what happens. But…
No one in government is learning a lesson.
And you don’t even get who you voted for.
The irony is not lost on me. A small group of voters who care a great deal are spending psychic energy on a vote that undermines the very change they seek to make.
It’s a self-defeating way of letting yourself off the hook, but of course, you’re actually putting yourself on the hook, just as you do if you don’t vote at all.
No candidate has earned a majority of all potential (regardless of registration) voters, not once in my lifetime. Which means that the people who don’t vote, or who vote for a third-party candidate, have an enormous amount of power. Which they waste.
Yes, it’s on you. Your responsibility to vote for one of two people, and to be unhappy with that conundrum if you choose. And then work to change the system, and keep working at it…
But it’s not like ketchup. With ketchup, you get what you choose. With voting, we merely get the chance to do the best we can on one particular day, and then spend years working for what we might want.
It turns out that democracy involves a lot more than voting.
Paul Ryan:f the GOP loses seats in Congress, Bernie Sanders could become the Senate Budget Committee Chairperson.
ranking member of the budget committee, and if Democrats gain control of the chamber on November 8, he would be in line to chair it. But Sanders could also end up chairing then powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which he could use to advance many of the proposals (for affordable college, empowering unions and investing in public-health programs) that made his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination so popular.’The senator from Vermont is the
“The Washington Post, in an excellent article, showed us how far the country is moving toward becoming an oligarchy. Incredibly, just TEN donors have poured more than $1.1 BILLION into super PACs in this election alone.
The lesson here is that the political system isn’t broken, it is rigged and owned by the billionaire class. One of the best chances to un-rig the system is with ballot initiatives this November that will help get big money out of politics.
California and Washington both have ballot initiatives that will instruct their state’s elected officials to do everything in their power to work to overturn Citizens United. And Howard County, Maryland, has the chance to enact a strong system of public financing to level the playing field for local elections.
CALIFORNINA PROP 15
If these ballot initiatives pass, they will send an unmistakable message that the American public wants to get big money out of politics.
As Abraham Lincoln reminded us more than 150 years ago, there must be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. That starts with taking the country’s destiny out of the hands of the billionaires who want to buy elections.”
Cable news – – platforms for a language of hate and fear. “Every time we hook ourselves up to a device that shocks us into a fear-based posture on a regular basis, we’re making a choice about the world and how we experience it.”
“What if the fear and malaise and anger isn’t merely being reported by cable news…
What if it’s being caused by cable news?
What if ubiquitous video accompanied by frightening and freaked out talking heads is actually, finally, changing our culture?
Which came first, the news or the news cycle?
We seem to accept the hegemony of bottom-feeding media as some natural outgrowth of the world we live in. In fact, it’s more likely an artifact of the post-spectrum cable news complex in which bleeding and leading became business goals.
There’s always front page news because there’s always a front page.
The world is safer (per capita) than ever before in recorded history. And people are more frightened. The rise of the media matches the rise of our fear.
Cable news isn’t shy about stating their goals. The real question is: what’s our goal? Every time we hook ourselves up to a device that shocks us into a fear-based posture on a regular basis, we’re making a choice about the world and how we experience it.
They want urgency more than importance. What do we want?
[I wrote this months ago, and every time I’m about to post it, I hesitate because recent events make it look like I’m writing it for that reason. Finally, I realized that it’s never a quiet moment in the media cycle any more, is it?]
‘For as the Earth was begun like a dish breaking, eternity is that scene slowly reversing, and you and the things we’re drawn to are merely the pieces of God unbreaking back together.’
Not a human love…
‘Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be
careful and smart in matters of love,”
who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,”
but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
only those know what I’m talking about
in this talking about love.’ <Mary Oliver>
…a love of life that that although pain – suffering – it is at its foundation an undeniable love of being.
‘The chance of a lifetime.
That would be today.
And every day, if you’re up for it.
The things that change our lives (and the lives of others) are rarely the long-scheduled events, the much-practiced speeches or the annual gala. No, it’s almost certain that the next chance you have to leap will come out of nowhere in particular, and you’ll discover it because you’re ready for it.
Someone to inspire, to connect with, to lead. A system to transform. An idea to share. Responsibility is often just lying around, waiting for someone to take it.’
‘The self starter creates a spark, turning nothing, or what certainly appears to everyone else as nothing, into something.
The self starter doesn’t see it that way. That ‘nothingness’ was actually an opportunity, a chance to make a connection, to do something a little better than the status quo, to get things moving.
Has there ever been a project, an institution or a community that hasn’t needed that?’
‘There’s a space between where you are now and where you want to be, ought to be, are capable of being.
A gap between your reality and your possibility.
Imagine that space as a gulf or a chasm and you’ll become paralyzed, stuck in the current situation.
And refuse to see it at all and you’ll merely be self-satisfied, and just as stuck.
The magic of forward movement is seeing the space as leap-sized, as something that persistent, consistent effort can get you through.
The most likely paths are the ones where you can see the steps.
Your problem might not be that you’re not trying hard enough. It might be that you’re seeing the opportunity in the wrong way.’
‘If you’re not happy with the feeling, try dropping the narrative. After all, it’s your narrative, the story you have to keep telling yourself again and again, that’s causing the feeling to return.’
Empathy is difficult.
If you believed what he believes, you’d do precisely what he’s doing.
Think about that for a second. People act based on the way they see the world. Every single time.
Understanding someone else’s story is hard, a job that’s never complete, but it’s worth the effort.