Friday, September 18, 2009

Business Ethics: Doing Well by Doing Better

In the 1990's there was a lot of discussion about "The Third Way" -- something "between" the private and public sectors. I had an opportunity to study the thinking at the time both in undergraduate and graduate school with the preeminent thought-leaders at that time. Truly I now believe that idea was merely an attempt to appease the prevailing dogmatic anti-regulation thinking of the prior 25 years, before Reagan's "government IS the problem" mantra.

Now today, I don't think there's a "third" way. I think we have the private sector, the public sector, and the not-for-profit sector, the third being entities that are exempt from their profit-making mandate legally to serve a social purpose of some kind, but are mostly privately funded with untaxed dollars (deductible) -- all three sectors very well established. Those are the three main entities we need I think and that we can work very well within: public, private, not-for-profit.

So we have the three great pillars we need for the strongest and most competitive economy in the world. But I think since the 80's and before, the past 30 years for this nation now have clearly demonstrated to the world that we need government. We need effective regulation. It's no ideological. It's sound economics. Free markets require a level playing field, and that's where regulation plays a critical role in any great global economic power.

"Government" (such a ridiculously sweeping notion) is NOT "the problem." I began my professional career in business ethics and regulatory & policy consulting to the Fortune 500. We need regulation to function. Business ethics is not about boy scout economics. It's my sense that business ethics is best advanced through a) effective regulation to level the playing field (which politically is an expression of the body politic's shared value system, like the law itself in many ways), and b) as "concerted advocacy" for best practices that achieve the best earnings results from a long-term fundamentals perspective. I think historical case studies taught in business schools around the world about the Ford Pinto, Tylenol, Alcoa and others clearly illustrate these points.

Our firm strives to be a platform from which to launch a) the strictest compliance with both regulation and organizational (National Association of Realtors) code of ethics, and b) advocacy for much higher standards of business practice designed to reform how real estate is transacted in the great State of Texas. There is so much room for improvement, and we think in our private brokerage that we have found so many practices that aren't obvious and yet produce very solid earnings results.

Under-regulated industries, as we all have seen, inevitably fall into a "dive to the bottom," a phenomenon that a marginalized ideologically-driven economics view have unfortunately demonstrated in any number of areas both macro and micro in the last 30 years.

It's not about "The Third Way." It's about "A Better Way." And we can do that already with what we all have. America has the best markets in the world. If we put our minds to it both politically and in our own every day business practices, we will forge that better way. It's hopeful and exciting.And it's a reason why we absolutely love what we do.