Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category
Is management research a folly? If not, whose interests does it serve? And whose interests should it serve?
The questions of good for what and good for whom are worth revisiting. There is reason to worry that the reward system in our field, particularly in the publication process, is misaligned with the goals of good science.
There can be little doubt that a lot of activity goes into management research: according to the Web of Knowledge, over 8,000 articles are published every year in the 170+ journals in the field of “Management,” adding more and more new rooms. But how do we evaluate this research? How do we know what a contribution is or how individual articles add up? In some sciences, progress can be measured by finding answers to questions, not merely reporting significant effects. In many social sciences, however, including organization studies, progress is harder to judge, and the kinds of questions we ask may not yield firm answers (e.g., do nice guys finish last?). Instead we seek to measure the contribution of research by its impact.
Management of humans by other humans may be increasingly anachronistic. If managers are not our primary constituency, then who is? Perhaps it is each other. But this might lead us back into the Winchester Mystery House, where novelty rules. Alternatively, if our ultimate constituency is the broader public that is meant to benefit from the activities of business, then this suggests a different set of standards for evaluation.
Businesses and governments are making decisions now that will shape the life chances of workers, consumers, and citizens for decades to come. If we want to shape those decisions for public benefit, on the basis of rigorous research, we need to make sure we know the constituency that research is serving.
In this post, I’d like to explain why you might want to adopt open borders as one of your issues. First, open borders is an issue that affects all people. Any one of us might want to travel to another country for work or enjoyment. For millions of people, migration represents the only plausible avenue out of poverty.
Second, open borders is a “common grounds” issue. It is a policy position that is consistent with most political ideologies. Liberals should favor free migration because it is the easiest way to address poverty and global inequality. Conservatives should support it on the grounds that moving to find work is an example of self-reliance. Conservatives should also support any policy that allows families to be reunited. Libertarians should support free migration because they favor open labor markets. Marxists should support any policy that allows poor workers to travel freely to be in places with the strongest labor practices.
Third, open borders is cheap. No need to build schools, roads, tanks, or anything. All you need to do is tell the border guards to take the day off and go protect things that need protecting.
Fourth, open borders is easy to understand compared to most policy topics. Honestly, most people don’t understand climate science or Keynesian macro-economics. In contrast, most arguments about the pros and cons of migration can be understood by nearly any educated person. The empirical evidence is also relatively straightforward.
If you have ever wondered how you can change the world, adopt open borders as one of your political issues and tell other people.
A few weeks ago, President Obama spoke eloquently about the Civil Rights movement. He reminded us of the struggle for freedom in this country. The separation Blacks and Whites represented an insult to humanity, a violation of morality that simply could not stand.
Today, we are faced with another immoral policy – the wall that separates men and women of different nations. Whether it be an iron curtain, an electric fence, or a border post, the restriction of peaceful movement between countries is a moral and economic disaster. It separates families, it inhibits trade, and prevents people from helping themselves.
On this day, Open Borders Day, I call on President Obama to tear down this wall. Tear down this wall that makes us deport the parents of young children. Tear down this wall that makes us force human beings back into holes of hideous poverty. Tear down this wall that makes us ship our brothers and sisters like cattle into the slaughterhouses of despotic nations.
Mr. President, the Civil Rights movement taught us an eternal lesson – walls are bad. Let us take that lesson to the present. What we do to the men and women of Mexico, or Nigeria, or Sweden, is no less immoral than what we did to African Americans. Let it stop today.
Tear down these walls. Open borders now. Open borders forever.
A recent column in the NY Time’s “Opinionator” by Jon Grinspan argued that abolitionism was not a successful movement in the 19th century. I have a different opinion so let’s start with what I think is correct in Jon Grinspan’s column. First, he is completely correct that abolitionism – the abandonment of slavery – was not ever a majority opinion in the US. A lot of people, including President Lincoln, were not trying to end slavery in 1861. Second, Grinspan correctly argued that abolition only became a real policy possibility once war began, which was the result of Southern hot heads – not abolitionists.
So where do I disagree with Grinspan? First, Grinspan is taking an incomplete view of abolitionism by having a domestic focus. The US is one of the few nations in modern history that ended slavery via war. Haiti is another, when slaves led an anti-French revolution. But in other places, abolition came in other forms. Most of Latin America abolished slavery after the 1821 revolution. The British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. The Russians abolished serfdom in 1861.
Second, even within the US, slavery was slowly being ended, one state at a time. My own state of Indiana ended it 1823. A cursory inspection shows that the entire North had ended it by the 1840s and the last slave state would almost certainly be Texas, as there were many attempts to make other former Mexican territory slave free. Without war, I suspect a slow and painful, but eventually successful, erosion of slavery would be imposed by the wealthier and more powerful industrial North.
The arc of history was bent by the abolitionists. Many resisted, but thankfully this ended. The abolitionists can only be seen as a failure if we ignore the overall picture and focus on the South.
Last year, Nicholas Christakis argued that the social sciences were stuck. Rather that fully embrace the massive tidal wave of theory and data from the biological and physical sciences, the social sciences are content to just redo the same analysis over and over. Christakis’ used the example of racial bias. How many social scientists would be truly shocked to find that people have racial biases? If we already know that (and we do, by the way), then why not move on to new problems?
Christakis’ was recently covered in the media for his views and for attending a conference that tries to push this idea. To further promote this view, I would like to introduce Christakis’ Query, which every researcher should ask:
Think about the major question that you are working on and what you think the answer is. Estimate the confidence in your answer. If you already know the answer with more than 50% confidence, then why are you working on it? Why not move on?
Try it out.
When we see an act of political violence, such as last week’s attacks in France, we think the perpetrators were motivated by ideology. Earlier in my career, that is how I thought about a lot of political behavior. People read a book, or learn a system of thought, and they try to implement it. A man reads Das Kapital and tries to topple the capitalist system. The religious militant reads the Koran and runs out to build the next Caliphate.
Surely, there are genuine ideologues who really try to make the world fit their views. But I don’t think that is how most people operate in the world. What happens for most people is that they reinterpret religion, or whatever system they happen to be part of, in ways that fit their own agendas. In other words, religion is used in a highly pragmatic fashion.
I am not original in this thought, but it bears repeating because it helps us understand the world. For example, when I was younger, I wondered how evil people could belong to religions that preached peace. How could American Southerners preach Christianity but hold slaves? How could Hitler go to Catholic mass and be responsible for such large scale murder?
Later, I noticed that the link between religion and violence varied greatly. Every religion seemed capable of justifying evil. Catholics gleefully slayed Native Americans; Christians owned slaves; Japanese militants followed Shinto Buddhism. You could even be atheist and still murder at will. Ask the peasants of the Ukraine, or the victims of the Cultural Revolution in China, or victims of the Khmer Rouge. Religion didn’t seem effective in stopping violence, nor was a lack of religion effective in stopping violence.
In today’s world, we have militants who kill in the name of Islam. Many point to their religion and say that Islam itself is an inherently violent religion. What I would say is that it is like a lot of religions. It’s a bundle of beliefs that people interpret and edit in the way they see fit. For example, the Koran itself doesn’t say that people should be harmed for making engraved images. It turns out that the Koran itself only has an oblique reference to “likeness” – and it is not in the context of making statues. Only the later in the Hadith does the Prophet speak out against images – but it seems to be in the context of speaking out against idolatry, not the banning of ALL images. Not surprisingly, within Islam, there are actually some traditions where its fine to make images and even some religious images. Similarly, there are texts that come down hard on non-believers, but people seem free to come up with all kinds of Islam, including non-violent Ghandian Islam.
The point here isn’t to argue about proper interpretation, but merely to point out that texts are texts and people use their predispositions to assign meaning to them. I no longer believe that religions motivate people to kill. Killers provide justifications for their actions that have legitimacy. If you are in Russia 1919, you can kill “counter revolutionaries.” If you are in Florida in 1685, you can kill in the name of Christ. In 2015 in Syria, you can kill for Islam. Ultimately though, it’s not religion, or lack of religion, that counts, it’s something more profound – respect for other people, even those you hate. And that’s the highest social virtue.