Monday, February 23, 2004
Earlier today I attended Fordham Law School’s Conference on Religious Values and Corporate Decision Making, put together by co-blogger Amy Uelman. The first panel was an all-star lineup of Russ Pearce, Brad Wendel, Steven Resnicoff, and our own Mark Sargent. They tackled the question, “Does Corporate Decision-Making Allow Room for Religious Values?”
A couple of themes might be of special interest to readers of this weblog:
First, Dean Sargent looked at lawyers’ moral complicity in the corporate scandals of recent times, emphasizing that the moral consciousness of lawyers must be understood sociologically. Building on the thesis of Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes, he argued that the social context of a corporation drives lawyers (and others) to pursue their own self-interest through the prevailing rules of the game, bracketing their own moral codes in the process. The dominant ethos of the corporation is pragmatism, with questions of right and wrong relegated to the sidelines, and, I think Mark would conclude, this ethos was responsible for the scandals much more than the lack of a personal moral code on the part of the primary corporate decision-makers.
Second, Professor Wendel expressed misgivings about the injection of religious values into corporate decision-making, taking a Rawlsian approach to the corporate context. Like the state, he identifies the corporation as an institution with a pressing need for coordinated action, and thus it must justify its action through widely agreeable reasoning. In response to (my) questioning, though, he clarified that, to the extent religious values are brought to bear on corporate decision-making in a transparent manner, there is no danger of coercion, as the investor can take her money elsewhere. In this regard, he would not see a problem with the explicit and open embrace of religious values by corporate decision-makers. Since Wendel seems to have been the designated naysayer on the panel, perhaps the gap between those who see a role for religious values in the corporation and those who do not is not so wide.
Or perhaps those who object to religion's entry into the corporate sphere see no reason to participate in a conference devoted to such a topic. I'm not familiar enough with the area to know what their argument would be. Provided that religious values are brought to bear in a transparent fashion, what is the objection to their entry? I can see why religious values may be inefficient or otherwise ill-suited to the corporate context, but is there any good-faith basis for precluding them categorically?