Service of When Is It Worth Selling Your Soul to the Devil?

November 15th, 2018

Categories: Ethics, Investment, Money, Morality, Politicians

Photo: theodysseyonline.com

There was a day when many wouldn’t buy products from companies or countries they disapproved of. There may be a few who still don’t though I suspect less than in earlier periods. Stock brokers ask if there are industries clients want to avoid investing in. Some PR and Ad agencies refuse to represent certain clients because they don’t like what they stand for or how they operate.

Photo: cnn.com

But this isn’t always the case. As recently as the midterm election constituents voted into high office—the Senate–a man who was indicted on federal corruption charges. [The Justice Department dropped the charges against him after a hung jury and mistrial.] In order to win, another senatorial candidate [photo right] swallowed his dignity and unctuously made up to a former opponent who had seriously trashed his father and his wife. He also won.

Emperor Vespasian. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

The Roman emperor Vespasian is said to have remarked “money does not stink.” The headline of Eliot Brown’s Wall Street Journal article illustrates how true this still is: “In Silicon Valley, Saudi Money Keeps Flowing to Startups Amid Backlash–Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have remained generally quiet about Saudi funding since grisly killing of journalist.”

Brown wrote: “Two startups— View Inc., which makes light-adjustable glass, and Zume Inc., which uses robots to make pizza—disclosed investments over the past week totaling a combined $1.5 billion from SoftBank’s Saudi-backed Vision Fund.” Katerra Inc. that constructs housing units, is into SoftBank for $3 billion. SoftBank is in negotiations to lend WeWork $15-$20 billion. Wikipedia describes WeWork as “An American company that designs and provides shared workspaces for technology startup subculture communities and services for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, small business and large enterprises.” [This reporter wrote in a subsequent article on November 14 that the actual SoftBank investment in WeWork is $3 billion, although his sources told him that the larger amount is still under consideration.]

WeWork. Photo: wework.com

SoftBank is Japanese-owned. The Vision Fund has $100 billion to invest in tech companies. According to Bloomberg’s Pavel Alpeyev, “Saudi Arabia is the biggest investment partner.” Brown reported “Saudi Arabia has become the largest funder of U.S. startups in recent years as it works to diversify its economy by steering a big chunk of its Public Investment Fund toward technology. The kingdom has committed more than $12 billion to U.S. startups since mid-2016, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, largely through its $45 billion commitment to SoftBank’s $92 billion Vision Fund.”

After Turkish allegations about journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder some companies refused to attend an October conference “in Riyadh sponsored by the Saudi sovereign-wealth fund,” Brown reported—even some backed by SoftBank.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Companies that wanted to cut ties with Saudi Arabia include what Brown called Hollywood’s biggest talent agency, Endeavor, as well as Virgin Group and “multiple Washington lobbying firms…. Republican and Democratic lawmakers also have called for curbing ties with the kingdom. …Other companies, including many in the energy industry, have stood by Saudi Arabia through the controversy.”

Are there exceptions in which crossing a moral line is legit? Have you boycotted purchases or refused to work for a company or organization on ethical grounds? Have we lost our compasses that determine right and wrong now more than before? Have expedient choices always been pretty much acceptable here?

Photo: medium.com

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8 Responses to “Service of When Is It Worth Selling Your Soul to the Devil?”

  1. David Reich Said:

    I guess we all make moral decisions when we purchase products or do business with companies.

    I remember when I was young, many Jews wouldn’t buy a Volkswagen or a German-made camera, even though they were among the best. And more recently, remember when many Americans wouldn’t buy products from France, even going so far as to rename French fries Freedom fries.

    I’m sure if we looked more closely into many companies we do business with every day — banks, insurance companies and many others — we’d find practices or business partners we might consider questionable for a variety of reasons — hiring practices, environmental concerns, political leanings and so much more. I know there are environmental groups that publish lists of companies that they consider environmentally careless, and I’m sure you could find lists of offending companies based on any number of parameters.

    In this global economy, it’s hard to find a company that’s totally clean.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    David as my dad was a prisoner of war in Germany we didn’t buy German-made products either.

    Because my dad was French I protested the freedom fries and pouring of French wine in gutters—John McCain’s idea. I ran into a liquor store the day he poured the wine and asked for a bottle—any bottle—as long as it was French. I guess that’s an example that’s the reverse of my post!

    I recently wrote about Elaine Fisher and how she manages her company. She gets five stars. I admire Virgin and Endeavor for breaking their relationship with an investor country for moral reasons. My father resigned an account in the day because he knew the partner they added was a crook. The owners eventually came to the same conclusion, got rid of the man and my dad represented them again. These are my models.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    In order to sell one’s soul to the Devil, he must exist. Assuming he does, standards vary, so while one person sees him/herself making a deal with said entity, another fails to recognize him, let alone barter with a figment of popular imagination.

    Boycotting goods seldom, if ever, hurt those considered to be societal monsters –. Ages ago, anti-Communist organizations urged the boycott of Polish hams with an eye to damage Communism. Trouble is, it’s the worker — the one with a family to feed who gets hurt. The targets of displeasure will fire him if belts must be tightened. As to the Devil, real or imaginary, rest assured he doesn’t give a damn!

  4. Protius Said:

    It was about forty years ago when I made the mistake of trying to explain to an especially bloodthirsty batch of hyper leftwing progressive New York opinion leaders why the bank I worked for continued to do business with then apartheid South Africa.

    An old friend and former mentor needed help with what for him was an important relationship, The World Council of Churches. Out of kindness, I had reluctantly agreed to do what I could do. We met these self-righteous zealots at the Riverside Church on New York’s Upper West Side, perhaps then best known for its recently retired former pastor, the passionately left wing Rev. W.S. Coffin.

    I started off by explaining how my bank respected the right of all its employees to their own opinions and beliefs, but had decided, as a matter of principle, not to presume itself to be qualified to make moral judgements. We did business lawfully and honorably everywhere in the world where we were permitted by and in accordance with U.S. law. (For example: We did not pay bribes overseas even though it was market practice to do so, whereas some of our competitors did.) We limited ourselves to making judgements as to our clients’ creditworthiness, community standing and sense of responsibility to meet its commitments.

    This commonsense approach to the subject got nowhere. These radicals wanted only to hear that we wouldn’t do business with segregated South Africa. Two hours later, beaten down and bent, I emerged from the meeting wondering why I had bothered to go in the first place.

    Nothing much has changed in the world for the better since then. Right and wrong are still arbitrary concepts changeable from community to community even in the same country (Witness Donald Trump’s Republicans.), and now we have big business deciding what is good and bad? No thank you. I prefer the approach my bank took.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Eons ago consumers stopped buying beef as the price had gone sky high. Prices decreased as a result. I was impressed that enough people around the country joined the initiative to have that kind of impact. At the time I didn’t think of workers without work. Shortsighted. I didn’t know about the Polish hams.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Protius,

    As I wrote this post I kept thinking of the expression, often said with a Texas accent, “buidness is buidness.”

    Your example illustrates that some can’t be as black and white, right and wrong, as I wish things could be. No doubt there were banks at the time that might not have worked with South Africa. As you pointed out, it wasn’t illegal. I would be curious to know whether there were countries you would not have lent money to–other than you didn’t think you’d get your money back.

    I couldn’t tell if by your answer you were saying that you were fine with the companies that accepted investment money from Saudi Arabia.

  7. Protius Said:

    Following up, yes, there were countries where we did little business, not because of fear of loss but such market-driven thin margins that we would have made an inadequate return on investment.

    Despite constant pressure to book new business, which was consistent with how the capitalist system actually works, we did discreetly check out the integrity of our customers, and not on the basis of nationality, religion or ethnic origin. Consequently, we had few problems with newsy items such as mob and drug money, and money laundering. (Others did less so.)

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Protius,

    I wonder how this model would fly today. It makes sense and seems honest. I worry that for big business to succeed cheating must take place. Headlines about some big banks make it seem many depend on squeaking by the law and often breaking it to meet demands expected of them for growth at all cost.

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