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A Warning About Declining Values

August 8, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ The report referred to mounting evidence of an erosion of moral values in society, particularly in the past 20 years, and called it ″a real and present danger.″

You have heard such statements before, but probably not from a group of this sort, which calls itself the Committee on Developing American Capitalism, made up of influential capitalists and academics.

Can business be profitable and ethical, the report asks? It can and must, the group says, or self-respect, business and other institutions, and freedom and democratic principles will be lost.

Leo R. Futia, Walter E. Hoadley and John Winthrop Wright signed the statement. Futia is former chairman of Guardian Life Insurance; Hoadley, former Bank of America executive vice president; and Wright, chairman of Wright Investors’ Service in Bridgeport, Conn., and former manufacturer and academic.

They ask you to consider the startling findings of a survey of Fortune 500 companies conducted by Professor Amitai Etzioni, a committee member. Among his findings were these:

-Between 1975 and 1984, more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies were involved in one or more illegal incidents.

-The top 100 companies were involved in more incidents, 55 percent, than all the others combined.

-″These offenses occurred during a period of unparalleled prosperity and were perpetrated by businessmen in leadership positions possessing wealth, power and influence.

″Virtually every episode of corruption cited builds daunting evidence that its root causes are uncontrolled human greed and lust for fame and power,″ the group’s statement said.

They contend that ″expedience has become a more compelling force in the marketplace than law and ethics,″ and they warn:

″This sows the seeds of distrust and hatred among neighbors, between employer and employees, between voters and their elected officials and between business and government.

″In the extreme, it opens the door of government to anarchy.″

The mounting evidence the authors refer to includes illegal political contributions, bribes, cheating on defense contracts, money laundering by bankers, check kiting on Wall Street, insider trading, fraud, payroll padding.

They cite evidence in other institutions as well, including religion and education. But as capitalists and members of the committee, based at Fairfield University, they are primarily concerned with refining and restating principles of American capitalism, and focusing them on the nation’s key issues.

They question the notion, supported by many, that the impression of moral bankruptcy is created by the media and its ability to spread news globally, and that corrupt and unethical behavior is no greater than in the past.

It is at this point that they express the opinion that mounting evidence suggests moral values have indeed declined.

As their report was being distributed, the New York Times on one day, Aug. 5, carried these stories on its front page:

-″Biaggi Convicted In Wedtech Case; Simon Also Guilty.″

-″Hertz Admits Use of Fraud In Bills For Auto Repairs.″

-″10 Are Indicted In Major Fraud On Blood Tests.″

-″6 Charged With Racketeering In Wall Street Insider Inquiry.″

-″Company Shuts In Fraud Case.″

The page contained only three other stories.

Shocked by such evidence, many graduate schools of business have instituted course on ethics, the notion being that moral values can be applied like a lacquer to provide the product, a graduating student, a finished look.

They suggest the remedy must be more fundamental, and that it might take time. They list several possible explanations for the sense of moral decay, one of them not often cited by representives of capitalism.

It is, they say, ″our affluent society, and the ‘now’ culture which focuses on self-gratification and substitutes self-indulgence for personal responsiblity and self-restraint.″

Training, they suggest, begins in the family, and the American family, they observe, is itself broken down by ″a lifestyle that says, ’me first.‴

End Adv PMs Mon Aug 8

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