Comment Of The Day from The 4/10 Open Forum

This is a Comment of the Day by Michael R. on what amounts  to a provocative stand-alone post by JimHodgson. He wrote,

Yesterday I taught an ethics course for a group of thirty corrections officers at a local sheriff’s office detention facility, and will teach the same class tomorrow for a second group. The attendees ranged from veteran staff, with ten or more years of service, to recent hires just out of basic training. Ages ranged from early 20s to mid 50s. Due to medical/surgical issues I have recently been “out of the saddle” as a trainer for two years and had not taught this particular course for nearly four years. As we discussed ethical considerations in the corrections context, I was struck repeatedly by one thing: The older, more experienced officers, who one might have expected to be quite jaded about their role, duties, and in their outlook toward professional / occupational ethical issues, were instead the most thoughtful and consistent in their ethical logic as we dissected various scenarios and case studies involving the application of ethics -or the lack thereof, and they displayed the greatest understanding of ethical concepts and principles. Conversely, the younger and less experienced officers’ reasoning was tilted toward ethical contingencies and excuse-making, and in some cases the idea that “what is acceptable to my peers is ethical.” As I always do, I posed Michael Josephson’s somewhat rhetorical question, “How many times do you get to lie before you are a liar?” To my consternation, some of the younger people seemed to think that the answer could be quantified!

Of course, I have no delusions that any instruction by me can correct an adult’s ethical deficiencies, but I always endeavor to at least provide a fairly comprehensive summary of ethical decision-making principles and processes, the legal and ethical duties of the job, the standards of the institution, and the likely consequences for failing to meet those ethical and legal standards. Based on their responses, I was not encouraged about the future of many of those younger officers. I recalled my own daughter’s experiences with “character education” in school, and our many related discussions about character and ethics, and wondered if these young officers hadn’t shared that educational experience, being of about the same age. If so, I saw little residual evidence of it.

This particular detention facility is seriously overcrowded (nearly 25% over designed capacity), chronically understaffed (no staff positions added since the facility was at 60% of capacity), and has about a 40% annual staff turnover (mainly newer hires leaving for better-paying, less stressful jobs). A round of retirements about five years ago decimated the ranks of the most experienced staff. Over 50% of staff have less than four years experience. The corrections officer’s duties include a multitude of low-visibility discretionary decisions that often involve the use of coercive authority, and making ethical decisions is essential.

Here was Michael R.’s Comment of the Day in response:

That sounds like a psychology experiment on ‘how to create a hellhole”. I have noticed that the phenomenon of ‘be understaffed’ and ‘get rid of experienced workers for inexperienced workers’ is now the rule, not the exception. Usually, it isn’t even a matter of the money. There is usually plenty of money in the overall system, it is just that very little gets allocated where it is needed.

When I look for a root cause, it seems to be the death of capitalism is the cause. There are very few capitalists left. Who owns GM, GE, Pepsi? Retirement funds own them. Who votes the stocks for the retirement funds? Wall Street does and it votes as the board recommends. The actual owners have no say. The boards are now stocked with the CEO of the other boards (who do you think thought it was a good idea to stock your board with the CEO’s of your competitors?). The CEO’s do what they please with other people’s money. Their goal is to get the other CEO’s to vote them big bonuses (in return for voting those CEO’s bonuses on their own boards) and get a big golden parachute if things go badly. Forget about profits, forget about building the company, and forget about the workers. This may be oversimplified, but about 7 years ago, I voted against the Coca-Cola board proposal to give over 20% of the value of the company to the top managers as bonuses for LOSING MONEY THAT YEAR. Almost every stockholder voted against it, but it wasn’t enough to offset the Wall Street vote.

You could really see the difference in the auto bailouts. GM got bailed out, Chrysler was left to rot, but Ford got to work. Ford sold off assets, concentrated on their core markets, and rebounded without taxpayer help. Why? Ford is owned (substantially) by the Ford family and they aren’t going to let THEIR company fail. Capitalists don’t want their companies to fail or do poorly. Successful capitalists will pay good wages for good people if it makes their company better. They keep experience around, they reward loyalty. They may not be nice people, but they will be as nice to employees as they need to be to make their companies succeed.

I worked for a capitalist once. He was probably the best manager I have ever seen. He had really high goals, made people work like crazy, and paid them well for it. He paid what everyone else paid, but he had a work quota 50% higher than everyone else. Why would people work under those conditions? Well, a 100% Christmas bonus if you met quota, that’s why. He gave good raises for good work. He sided with good employees over bad. He demoted his own daughter-in-law for firing the experienced hourly workers and replacing them with lower-paid replacements. He wanted to make money. If you helped him get more money, he didn’t mind letting you have some for your trouble. He paid $1.25 million for 5 fast-food restaurants. He made $5 million/year in profit for 20 years on those restaurants, all the while paying managers double and paying hourly employees up to triple the minimum wage. When he was bought out by a big corporation, those stores made a combined $500,000/year paying half of what he paid. That man was a capitalist. He didn’t pay me double minimum wage as a high-school student out of the goodness of his heart. He paid me that because I could cook $500 worth of food/hour for him.

Capitalists like that used to be fairly common. I knew of 5-6 in town when I worked in high-school. How many are there now? In many respects we are the bosses now, the public either owns the businesses (like a prison) or owns the stocks in our retirement accounts. We hire professional managers to run them. We theoretically oversee them. However, it turns out that we are much worse to our ’employees’ that the capitalists are. We already live in the socialist utopia and it looks understaffed, overworked, underpaid, and corrupt.


8 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day from The 4/10 Open Forum

  1. Professional managers more often than not lack vision. The are employed to minimize risk not increase it.
    The professional management compensation is too often aligned with institutional investor goals who could not care less if the firm’s viability is 6 months or 100 years. For them the goal is to meet the goals he or she has convinced the board are achievable until such time they accept a better offer from a larger firm in a related industry.

    The problem is they lack real skin in the game like the Ford family.

    • I should add that if we treat investors as key inputs, the institutional investor adds little value to the production process and then demands more costly inputs be replaced with less valuable inputs. It becomes a vicious cycle.

      As Michael pointed out the capitalist adds significant value. If we extend our thinking, the institutional investor adds marginally less value as the capital needs grow and the pressure to deliver short term profits. This represents diminishing marginal returns to capital.

  2. I know Ford didn’t receive any funds from TARP, but as I recall, they lobbied in favor of bailing out GM and Chrysler, and they also received a federal loan.

  3. When I read Michael R’s comment, his description of his “capitalist” immediately reminded me of one of the wealthiest men in our county, who started and owns several business and seemingly turns all that he touches into money. I don’t know him personally but do know several people who work or have worked for him and their descriptions of his management style resound in Michael’s description: focused, demanding, but consistently rewarding those who help him make money.
    The first and last paragraphs of his comment most directly address my post, related to ethics in a Corrections setting. “Hellhole” is definitely where this facility seems to be heading, and yet I know there ae good, capable people working there who want the facility to be and do better. In my state, each county jail is operated by the county sheriff but is built, maintained and funded by the county legislative body. The sheriff proposes an annual operating budget and the legislative body decides what will actually be budgeted. Nothing novel there. The challenge always lies in convincing the legislative body that important operations like the jail should be spending priorities, ahead of something like the recreation department, for example. They get a lot more phone calls in favor of building new soccer fields than they get in favor of adding jail staff. What it usually takes to precipitate action is that jail conditions get so bad that the jail no longer meets state jail standards and the state threatens to decertify the jail, which would have financial consequences for county government as well as increasing their liability exposure in the event of lawsuits related to jail operations. I’m not sure that capitalism has much to offer as a solution to these issues, since the private correctional companies that I am aware of don’t have the best track record of either controlling costs to the taxpayer or treating their employees well.

    • And I don’t see a way to make it better, without state mandates which never work out in the end.

      I believe this in an outgrowth of too many ‘rights’ for inmates. Jail should be a place you never want to be, doubly so if you have been there once. Now it is ‘three hots and a cot’ for far to many who could be productive if motivated by staying out of jail.

      Pink underwear and tents without air conditioning should not be disallowed. Don’t like it? DON’T COMMIT CRIMES, dammit!

  4. For your consideration, comes now this article from Bloomberg mocking conservatives in Michigan for trying to pass a law requiring the United States to be referred to as a “Republic” rather than a “Democracy.”

    What we have here is the right taking a page out of the Left’s playbook — trying to control the language. The Left’s efforts have yielded many college speech codes as well as censorship of many types on social media and in private forums. Heck, representatives from social media companies yesterday wouldn’t answer the question whether or not Mother Theresa of Calcutta’s quote:

    Abortion is profoundly anti-women. Three quarters of its victims are women: Half of the babies and all of the mothers.

    constituted “hate speech.” Ted Cruz asked representatives of Twitter and Facebook point blank if the quote above was “hate speech,” and both of them filibustered the question and never answered in the affirmative or negative. (Google if you want the article, or find it at Instapundit. I don’t this comment shunted to moderation for excess links.)

    So the right is learning from the opposition to try to control the language, but they are so bad at it it’s embarrassing. Even though the author of the piece (no less than Johnathan Bernstein) is full of crap when he says that “democracy” and “republic” are interchangeable and citing the etymology of the words to prove it, his point that it’s an attempt to control the language is right.

    Why does the right fail when the Left succeeds? The Left are smarter at picking the battle and the battlefield.

    • Oops, I misread the title of this to be an open forum. Please excuse the off-topic comment, I haven’t quite had enough coffee, apparently.

  5. That sounds like a psychology experiment on ‘how to create a hellhole”. I have noticed that the phenomenon of ‘be understaffed’ and ‘get rid of experienced workers for inexperienced workers’ is now the rule, not the exception.

    This seems to be true at most businesses as well as institutions these days. For example, in my wife’s business, when older, more experienced people move to other jobs or retirement, their replacements have been categorically young, inexperienced workers without the training required to do the complex work she is in.

    The result is a chronic understaffing situation without actually having too few bodies — instead, the totality of the workers have collectively insufficient experience. This leads to errors, short-cuts, and ad hoc training which impedes professional development, not to mention having a profoundly negative impact on customer service.

    When I look for a root cause, it seems to be the death of capitalism is the cause. There are very few capitalists left. Who owns GM, GE, Pepsi? Retirement funds own them. Who votes the stocks for the retirement funds? Wall Street does and it votes as the board recommends.

    Exactly right, and this is both a root cause and effect. The commoditization of stock positions (reminiscent of the mortgage crisis) and enlistment of stock positions to perform social activism are a further cause of this degradation in corporate governance.

    Capitalists like that used to be fairly common. I knew of 5-6 in town when I worked in high-school. How many are there now?

    Perhaps that’s why socialism is so popular now. Nobody wants to work for a living anymore, and those that do only want it to be a pro-forma job.

    We are becoming a nation of minimum-wage workers demanding experienced workers pay. Socialism, indeed.

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