Candidates for public office are saturating the airways again. One common theme is the importance of creating jobs. Some candidates have made jobs the most important issue on their platform. But an increase in jobs should not be the No. 1 priority, scare tactics that preach of massive emigration from the state notwithstanding.
One problem is this: Jobs can be very unethical things. A job can devalue the human spirit. It can be part of a multinational company’s profit-making scheme, a scheme that cares little about the health of Maine. If everyone in America had a job, it would not guarantee or even necessarily indicate a state of happiness. A politician can do better than promise to strive to create jobs.
Anyone worthy of representing the people of this still wonderful, green, and attractive state should be able to say that they are going to strive to create not just jobs but ethical jobs, meaningful jobs, ones that validate the inherent dignity of human life and the miraculously precious beauty of unfettered nature.
We have been dulled to the need for ethical jobs by a certain cliche -that “business ethics” is an oxymoron. If it is an oxymoron then we are all in trouble. First, ethics, which equates to spirituality for many of us, is crucial to a fulfilling life. Who wants to look back from their deathbed and realize that they could not bring their deepest beliefs into their actions? Second, business is money and money, we all know, speaks as much a vote in a ballot box in regard to the state of the world. So, we cannot settle for “business ethics” as an oxymoron. The result for most citizens is a life of toil that flouts the urgings of their consciences and promotes a shameful situation, shameful because a truly great society emanates an aura of virtue not the odor of greed.
Fact: Businesses can be ethical. Ethical businesses can and will exist. These uncommon endeavors, such as Polartec in Massachusetts, often fail. Often they are dwarfed by disgusting spectacles like the Enron mess. But what’s impressive about the American way is that we seek to be moral fighters. We struggle to attain excellence, not simply as it is measured by the GDP but as it uplifts the soul. We don’t settle for inferiority and we don’t unquestioningly accept. If our state is dominated by interests more concerned with mere jobs than ethical jobs, we need to fight for something more. And our politicians, guardians of our destiny, should be at the forefront of that imperative battle.
Most all companies have a code of ethics that looks fine on paper (Enron does). But codes or a window dressing of charitable donations do not an upstanding business make. Here’s some questions to ask politicians when they make generic references to jobs. Do most of the employer’s profits leave the state to become lost in a corporate headquarters in Bermuda, or stay to benefit the infrastructure of Maine? Do the jobs offer health insurance (as a benefit, not merely a pay-for-access option)? Is the employer constantly fighting legislation meant to protect the environment? Is the employer treating the employee with respect or as a cog in a wheel? On average, how long do employees last at the company? There are plenty of ways to elaborate on the simple mantra of jobs, jobs, jobs.
Chris Crittenden, Ph.D. teaches ethics at the University of Maine at Machias.