TED RALL: Profit-Driven Morality

During the 1960s, Baby Boomers justified bombing buildings on Midwest college campuses to fight for peace in Vietnam. In the eighties they cynically turned their backs on idealism and rationalized the most extreme wave of runaway capitalism in history by chucking social activism like some boring, obsolete toy.Employing the same soulless greed that has characterized them all along, America's most coddled generation has now come full circle by trying to run the country on profit-based morality: Doing well by doing good.Recently, uber-Boomer Bill Clinton addressed corporate executives at a White House-sponsored Corporate Citizenship Conference, advising them that "you can do the right thing and make money."Clinton didn't threaten CEOs with capping their salaries. Instead, he asked them to be kind and gentle: "What I want to see us do is to elevate the good practices that are going on, show how they are consistent with making money and succeeding in the free enterprise system, and hope that we can reinforce that kind of conduct that so many of you have brought to bear in your own companies and with your own employees." In other words, bosses shouldn't underpay and overwork their drones, because even tiny increases in salary result in much larger improvements in productivity. Factories shouldn't dump mercury into their local reservoirs, not because it's wrong to pollute, but because cleaning up toxins is more expensive than disposing of them properly.Greed and ethics have become synonymous.Yvon Chouinard, chairman of the Patagonia outdoor clothing company, best explained the Brave New Ethics. Rationalizing why his company provides his employees with on-site childcare, flex-time and paid maternity leave, he said: "I want them to bond with their children. I want them focused, and if they are distracted by guilt, they can't focus. We don't provide these benefits because we're nice."One can just imagine two slaveowners in the antebellum South discussing why it's best not to avoid splitting up slave families: "I want them to bond with their children. I want them focused, and if they are distracted by guilt they can't focus. I don't provide these benefits because I'm nice."Life in the Nasty Nineties doesn't cater to namby-pamby notions of traditional morality. In an era when nobody reads, law, history and philosophy are irrelevant scraps of recyclable paper. Organized religion has discredited itself with hypocrisy and stale precepts. Forget the personal sense of right-versus-wrong that used to guide human beings in times of moral turmoil; holding down three jobs and catching six hours of television a night doesn't allow the necessary introspection to compose an individual ethical code. Besides, haven't the postmodernists convinced us that all morality is arbitrary? So we're left with simple arithmetic: Honor is calculated from cost-benefit analyses.Religion, politics and the family have imploded, but the dismal science of economics remains. Priests bugger little boys, mayors smoke crack and dads disappear, but the Dollar never lies.Profit-based morality has infinite applications:In Parenthood: "I don't feed my children because I'm nice. I don't pretend to pay attention to their stupid second-grade stories because I'm nice. I want them healthy and happy so they can focus on their homework, go to a good college, get a good job and send me money when I retire in 30 years without Social Security."In Dating: "I don't refrain from date-rape because I'm nice. What with the rising costs of mounting a good legal defense, not to mention the expense of missing days from work-which would impact on my career and possibly cost me a promotion-my accountant tells me to simply accept that no-means-no and quietly go home."In Charity: "I don't volunteer at the soup kitchen because I'm nice. I couldn't care less if the poor live or die, but I don't want homeless people breaking into my house, or maybe burning it down in a riot. It costs me a lot less to serve those filthy scum a bowl of soup a few hours now and then, and it's a hell of a lot cheaper than any insurance."In Marriage: "I'm not faithful to my spouse because I'm nice. Treating even minor sexually-transmitted diseases like gonorrhea can get really pricey, especially without health insurance. And if I were to get caught, I'd get wiped out in divorce court. Who needs that?"The advantage of the New Amorality is that it's easy to understand. Say adios to arguments over the mysteries of papal infallibility, existentialism and juror nullification. Every moral dilemma can be resolved by a profit-and-loss statement created under generally-accepted accounting principles. Let's fire all those theologians, philosophers and legislators-and think of the money we'll save!

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card


Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.