What happened to the golden rule?

Gold bars

I happen to live in Croatia, one of the former six socialist republics of Yugoslavia. Croatia gained independence from Yugoslavia during the Balkan civil war (1991 -1995) and became a democracy. The people had high hopes for their future. They would finally be freed from Belgrade and the other socialist republics and could run their own affairs. However, the first president of Croatia, Dr. Franjo Tudjman, had a flaw in his plan from the start. In his vision of Croatia he envisioned a country where 100 families, the elite, would control the economy. And so it was to be, state assets where sold off for a fraction of their value, often for a symbolic “one Euro”. However, rather than reinvest in these businesses, most were closed down and their assets, mostly prime real estate, were sold off to the highest bidder. Now 20 years later the results are painful for the thousands of employees who lost their jobs whilst the elite live off their wealth. The economy is a disaster, GDP keeps shrinking and politicians are busy protecting their own asses and standard of living by raising taxes; believing in the illusion that they can cover the ever growing budget deficits that way. It is not surprising that many long for the years under Marshall Tito. You may not have had total freedom of speech then, but at least they had jobs, and everyone lived a comfortable life. As a result, Today Croatia has one of the highest VAT (Value Added Tax) in Europe, the cost of labor is also one of the highest at about 80% for salaries above 1500€ per month, not to mention the administrative red tape, all together, make it unattractive for foreign investments; in fact all this is further chocking the economy.

Marshall Tito may not have been a religious man, and religion had no place in politics during his reign in power, but he understood the essence of the golden rule.

Regardless of your religion or beliefs, the golden rule can be found in most religion or belief system. It is written in the Torah, the Bible, and the Qur’an, even the Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote about the golden rule:

“One should treat others, as one would like others to treat oneself”.

On this principle everyone seems to agree. In fact in 1993, in an attempt to create the “Declaration toward a Global Ethic”, 143 leaders of the world religion and faith signed the declaration under the auspices of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

However, as I watch the news on TV or read in the newspaper, world events remind me of an old joke about the golden rule:

“The one with the gold makes the rules”

Unfortunately this seems to be the real golden rule nowadays Croatia’s ex-prime minister is in jail, because of corruption and captains of industries don’t pay their taxes. Now this might even be expected from a young Balkan country like Croatia, but the same sort of thing occurs in other countries, maybe not quite as obvious, the actions are subtler but the impact is the same nonetheless. In the US, the bastion of democracy and liberty, companies lobby politicians to pass laws in their favor, with little regards for the impact on the citizens. In fact, when a civil servant bucks the trend and refuses to go along with the nonsense he often gets fired or removed from his position, to be replaced with someone who is more agreeable. Such was the case with “Aspartame” in the 80’s: Amid indisputable research that reveals the toxic effects of aspartame the commissioner of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), Dr. Jere Goyan, was fired before he had a chance to ban the substance, his follower Dr. Arthur Hayes Hull, signed the approval of “Nutrasweet” in dry foods and later in liquids.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of other examples where lobbyists “convince” politicians to pass legislation in their client’s favor whilst ignoring the effects on the population at large; it is scandalous!

A web of lies

A web of lies

Unfortunately, with the 2013 amendment to the US information and education exchange act of 1948. (Smith Mundt act) it is easier for the government to divert funds for propaganda within the US borders; thereby obscuring the truth and feeding the public with their own messages.

So all jokes aside, we now live in a world where:

The ones with the gold make the rules!

Do morals and values need calibrating?

Values-300x224

Picture, courtesy of desert moon rising dot com

I recently entered into a discussion in one of the forums on Linkedin. That got me thinking and recalibrating my views on morals & values. The thread’s topic started with the question “How much are you respected as a consultant?” Someone posted: “Respect has nothing to do with performance. It’s a meaningless babble word like “trust, ethics, values and morals” -all which have numerous meanings”. Although the statement is correct, I was irked by the comment, as I believed that: “defining and sharing values is what holds societies together, it provides a yardstick against which we can judge intentions and actions. If we did not have any values or morals we could not differentiate good from bad”. My colleague and I had a good exchange but I had to admit that smoking marijuana in Texas is considered bad (jail) whilst in Colorado it is good, or at least legal. Morals, values and ethics are “babble” words – not convinced about trust just yet- that have different meanings depending on where you live and where you’re from.

It is true that different moral standards apply to different religion and tribes. A good example is homosexuality, (or sexual freedom). It is measured or ranked on a morality scale very differently in Saudi Arabia (Mecca the heart of Islam) than in Europe (the home of the Christians). Regardless which religion, religions have held the monopoly on morality matters throughout history. Interestingly enough the Jews, Christians and Muslims all share the same root and thus the “old testament”, where the guidelines are very clear:

ten_commandments

Courtesy PreSchools4All.com

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, religions and God have little in common. Religions are all lead by men; all claiming to be speaking the message of God. Although I not contesting the original message or intent of sharing the “message” with others, religions develop a life of their own. Even the seven deadly sins, although noble in their nature, are a fabrication of the church. History has taught us that power is addictive. Today it’s the politicians that get addicted to it, “power” is the drive behind the men who are behind the religions. Regrettably history has also taught us that power corrupts, and the religion’s elders seldom retire as Pope Benedict did. The system just isn’t perfect.

It just seems that once upon a time, value was measured differently; or maybe we just measured more things than just money. Perhaps it’s because presidents of companies did not make a thousand times the salary of their lowest paid employee. Of course you may argue that today’s CEOs generate perhaps a thousand times more value as an employee than the man on the assembly line; and that it is only fair to compensate him accordingly. Good point, if we take shareholder value as the only measure of success. Unfortunately this is the same logic (along with a few other things of course) that has lead China to become the world’s manufacturer, making things where it’s cheapest. How can Europe be facing some of the highest “youth unemployment” ever measured whilst the baby boomers are entering retirement age? Quite simply, the jobs have moved elsewhere because it’s good business, good for the bottom line. In today’s global economy, not only are you competing against the neighbour’s business from across the street, you compete with a business from across the world, and your neighbours are all over the globe. So the decision to move jobs abroad is relatively easy to make; in many cases it may even be imperative to a company and it’s business model’s, survival. It’s just about money and shareholder returns. There is no room for morality. Time goes by and as employees are victims of the circumstance, the greed slowly siphon’s away the jobs and economic activity these jobs provide. This is the kind of actions and reasoning behind paying CEOs large salaries. The only value that count’s today is money. Never mind honesty or integrity, mastery or excellence, reliability and trust are all just words that look good on the vision statement but are hard to recognize in every day actions.

I happen to live in Croatia, a young democracy with an abundance of natural resources; since it’s inception in 1991, the vast majority of politicians have demonstrated with their actions; that they care more about their own pockets than the people, and state, they are meant to represent. Not only did they managed to squander the previously state owned companies, they have indebted the country to the point that fiscal discipline, mandated by the EU, is now very painful. The answer has been to raise taxes; at 25%, we have one of the highest “Value Added Tax” in Europe; and things are not only taxed once, but every time they are resold. These policies are snuffing out any kind of economic spark and this is reflected in the low investment figures. As we watch the evening news report about the corruption trial of the ex-prime minister, Ivo Sanader, the country is facing tough economic times and millions of people are paying for his greed, whilst the people that supported him are living it up immune by their fattened wallets to the hardship their irresponsibility have caused. What is sad; is that Croatia is certainly not the only example.

Many will argue that we have more choice today than ever before. Choice means competition and competition means a better product for consumers. Thereby stimulating innovation, which spews out new products and more choice. Those who don’t adapt to the ever-changing conditions quickly go out of business. Industries become extinct, just like species in nature; essentially a kind of “economic evolution”, where the only law is the law of the jungle: survival of the fittest. It’s only fair to say that in such an environment, it’s not surprising that people start worshiping money rather than god, wrongfully believing that money is the only thing that makes you happy. In fact if we dig a little deeper we find that there are many things that we value in life; we just tend to forget them. They get lost in the rat race that has become our lives, juggling deadlines and priorities whilst constantly distracted by everything and everyone who is seeking our attention.

So to refresh our memories about what is valuable to individuals, and give you the opportunity to recalibrate your own priorities; I thought of sharing this values map (found at with an open heart dot org).

values-mind-map