Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Social Conscience

Yes, yes, it's been a long while since I've posted. (confessional here?) Strange, especially since I love to write.

Of late, though, I feel the distinct need to jump on the 'recession bandwagon' and through out about a nickel's worth of verbiage. It all has to do with the title above. Well, this particular tome will address social conscience in any case.

I've been with Team Mates for seventeen years. One of the things that we did originally, when we started doing contract work (doing work for sales people and distributors who then sold directly to client companies), was to protect our customers. At the time when we started doing that sort of work, embroiderers were sometimes prone to go direct to the customers and discount their prices in order to steal the customers, increase their sales and basically be direct competition with the folks who were bringing work to them.

I found this way of doing business to be incredibly unethical. As we grew, quite often companies would come to us directly for bids for embroidered shirts and hats and so forth and occasionally those companies were doing business with one or more of our distributor customers. Our first reaction in each and every case was to call the distributor (if they were our customer) and let them know that their pricing was being shopped. Of course, if they didn't care, we would bid the work directly, but more often, our distributor customers would thank us and get back out to sell to the companies.

There was a direct upside to that sort of process. Our own clients became more loyal. We sacrificed a few opportunities along the way, but we did increase the amount of decorating that we were able to do over the long run. Most importantly, I slept much better at night.

Today, there's a recession. Right now. At the moment I write this blog, it is happening. It is global and it is no longer possible to ignore. I'm pretty sure that it has affected every single person who is presently alive. Business is down, credit has crawled under a rock and there are programs proposed, and passed, by many governments that are designed to assist all of us in some way or other to survive and maybe to get us back to work again.

Social Conscience, though, seems not to be considered, at least not as often as it could be.

Life and business are competitions. In life, we compete for the girl, we compete for jobs, for better homes, for space on the treadmill at the gym. We send our kids to play sports, which are ALWAYS competitive. We compete for time and recognition in expressing our opinions.

In business, competition is the same. Most of the time, more than one company competes in an industry for market share, for goods and services, for employees and for customers. Each business survives through its own ability to compete, whether it be through efficiency, pricing, great advertising or just plain hard work.

Social Conscience, though, is not always considered.

As parents, we try to teach our children that when they go into the cookie jar, they are not allowed to take all of the cookies. They are taught to share. When the kids are old enough to play sports and have a game against an outclassed opponent, they are taught not to run up the score and they are also taught that everyone gets to play. It has always been that way. We teach these values because even though the temptation is there to take it all, to beat someone to death or to simply humiliate them, we are taught that the social consequence is most often a negative reaction, both personally and publicly. You just don't beat someone when they're down, unless you're a really bad person.

So what happens when a credit card company starts raising its rates to cover the large numbers of defaults it is having? And why does the credit card company locate its offices to states that have no usury laws? Why do the heads of the largest corporations in the world insist on taking bonuses that make the lottery look tiny, even in the face of the kinds of adversity that require them to go to the government for bailouts? Why, in fact, do unions (not to leave anyone out) continually negotiate higher rates, permanent jobs for every member, regardless of ability or willingness to work when the non-union employees are forced out of work because the unionized companies are going broke?

I have lots of those questions. And they all relate to Social Conscience. The basic question that leads to the ones in the preceding paragraph is this: "When is enough enough?"

We are all members of a society. We are fast becoming a global society, a global economy where competition creates a need for efficiency and cost-awareness. It also creates the possibility, especially in 'Free' markets, that people can become incredibly wealthy. They can also become extremely poor.

Trouble is, whether one allows for the global concept or insists on making their society local or national, more than one person participates in that society. That means, naturally, that there are competitors. In any competition, the Winner Takes All concept doesn't mean that you get to take everything including the winner's life. Humiliate a foe once and you either make them murderous or you make them go away. Either way, you both lose. Your society loses and eventually, even if you own your market or are the richest kid on your block, you end up with a situation where people hate you. They won't allow you to continue or, if you start making up your own laws, they'll revolt.

It goes back to that social conscience thing. We need one. I can't imagine where it seems to have gone but I see government bailout programs handing out cash like there's no tomorrow and many say it is not enough.

This goes to the high and the low ends of the economic and social scale by the way. We are all expected to take what we need. We are also charged with taking no MORE than what we need. We are not supposed to gouge, steal, vote ourselves corporate cash-gutting bonuses or golden parachutes, nor are we, if we receive unemployment or welfare, supposed to take more than what we are able to survive on. We are certainly expected to go back to work as soon as possible.

So what happened to the cookie jar here? I see a lot of companies and individuals with their hands out and their mouths open and they seem to be taking an awful lot of cookies, stuffing them in their pockets and forgetting about them. There's enough to share, you know. And we ARE all in this together.

Social Conscience. Fairness. There already IS a law about that. Or maybe it's a commandmant. Something important anyway.
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