Legal vs Ethical

Mazel Tov cocktail.jpg

Mazel Tov Cocktail

Basically a French 75, the recipe illustrated here first appeared in the New York Times in response to a malaprop uttered during the Presidential campaign. The Creme de Violette softens the Genever quite nicely.

In the past several weeks, we have seen an administration hell-bent on bypassing protocol and unilaterally asserting its own agenda.Wherever one stands on any of the issues that have shown up in the cross-hairs, it is undeniable that the changes will be to the detriment of at least one group. Some of the threats, such as eliminating the Affordable Care Act, are legitimate, while others, such as abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency may be nothing more than the abolition of Executive term limits that tends to pop up somewhere along each President’s second term. How do the new laws affect the way we conduct business?

To many, the elimination of the ACA or EPA bring us one step closer to a dystopian future, but as business leaders, does it have to be? Let’s assume for a moment that providing group health care coverage and protecting our land, air, and waters have an ethical value and that the ethical value is a net positive. Does that value change if the law no longer requires that people have a baseline coverage? Dare we regress to the smog-laden skylines of the mid-70s and create a Love Canal in every community without the federal oversight to keep us in check? I’m sure if I asked every reader individually, the answer would be “of course not,” but we assume “the others will.” Why do we make that assumption?

Perhaps we assume we have a moral and ethical high ground over our competitors, our neighbors, our partners. Is this really the case? Perhaps it’s naive of me to believe that others share my altruistic bent, that the concept of “all for one and one for all” exists outside French literature. Or perhaps the blind spot is internal.

How many times have we slipped that 12th item into the 10 items or less express lane or put a little extra pressure on the accelerator even though we’re already a standard deviation over the speed limit? Similarly, how do we respond when a business decision runs up against a law? In truth, even with laws in place, many companies expend time and resources seeking loopholes–identifying employees as “independent contractors” to avoid paying taxes or letting a driver continue his/her run off the log books to keep within the hours of service or, perhaps, dumping materials down the storm drain.

Okay, dear reader, you’ve never done any of that. Only an unethical swine would consider such chicanery. Be honest, though, was it because of an ethical decision or just the fear of the consequences of breaking the law? (I’ll not touch on unjust laws. Thoreau and Rev. King had plenty more to say about that) Knowing that the law is usually just a baseline–think minimum wage vs living wage–if we are to change direction simply because sets of laws disappear, we are none of us more ethical than those who remove the law.


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