Oh Please

I see that some Harvard MBA students are signing onto an MBA oath in which they pledge to be good scouts and maybe even sprout wings before they sally forth into the grubby world of work.

I hope they will excuse the rest of us if we engage in enough eye-rolling to warrant an ophthalmological exam. I'd like to think that Harvard students already know its wrong to lie, cheat and steal, and certainly any who don't won't be signing onto this oath. (Unless of course they're really devious, in which they case they'll sign, the better to disguise their perfidy.) I'm reminded of the uselessness of parenting books, which are bought and read only by adults so conscientious they don't need any parenting books. (How often do you think some drunken child-abuser is deterred by T. Berry Brazelton?)

I'm not even sure the oath is all that ethical. Here's the lofty beginning (the whole thing is similarly elevated in tone):

As a manager, my purpose is to serve the greater good by bringing people and resources together to create value that no single individual can create alone. Therefore I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term.

"Serve the greater good?" That's funny, I thought the job was to make as much money as possible for the owners consistent with law and human decency. The "greater good" part is supposed to be gravy; otherwise things are going to get pretty confused. Does serving the greater good mean not beating the competition to a pulp because that would result in suffering for its workers, shareholders and community? Should you send jobs overseas to employ starving Third World peasants, or keep them at home to maintain middle-class families? Sooner or later, won't the exigencies of business make this decision for you, with or without the oath?

Anyway,  you can't seriously be claiming you enrolled at Harvard Business School to serve the greater good. A cock-and-bull story like that surely violates the oath.


Presented by

Daniel Akst

Dan Akst is a journalist, essayist and novelist who wrote three books. His novel, The Webster Chronicle, is based on the lives of Cotton and Increase Mather. More

Dan Akst is a journalist, novelist and essayist whose work has appeared frequently in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Wilson Quarterly, and many other publications.

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