It Is Not 'Self-Interest' to Take Illness Lightly

Monday, November 30, 2020

Replying to someone whose employer is oblivious at best to the pandemic, Alison Green wisely observes (Scroll down to no. 3.) that how a business handles a crisis isn't just an indicator of how they might handle other crises, but of how they operate in general:

I think it's strongly correlated in several ways. First and foremost, it says they're cavalier about public health, and their employees' health in particular. In your company's case, it also says you can't trust what they say; they might tell you something's okay but then penalize you for it.
Yes, and that goes for individuals, governments, and political factions as well.

But I can give only one cheer, because Green's acumen in management is dulled by her acceptance of common stereotypes about selfishness as short-sighted and predatory -- as we see in the rest of her response:
And it says they're either willing to buy into the politicization of a serious public health issue if it suits their own agenda or -- if they'd be doing this even if Covid hadn't become politicized -- that they prioritize their profits way over the safety of their employees (beyond even the typical amount of self-interest you normally see under capitalism). [bold added]
This business is being short-sighted, yes. But that is actually the opposite of what an exemplar of selfishness or a consistent capitalist would do.

The best short response to these notions I can muster is to combine Ben Bayer's recent observation, from a column titled, "Be More Selfish: Wear a Mask," with Walt Disney World's excellent safety record since reopening in Florida.

Bayer makes the following observation, which would probably be obvious but for our culture's saturation with the ethics of altruism:
This, but with fewer people, and everyone wearing masks. (Image by Christian Lambert, via Unsplash, license.)
Other people's lives contribute immensely to one's own self-interest. A world full of sick and dying people is not to anyone's advantage. Anyone who misses the life we all lost in March is already familiar with this. Whether you've lost a job or are grieving for a loved one, or even just miss being able to go to a restaurant with friends, you know other people matter to your interests. They are the potential employers, producers, innovators, and friends who help each of us live a happy human life. So why would you want to slow the return to normal life with people by getting them sick?
Applied to business, this emphatically means taking precautions against spreading this illness, something Disney has shown -- where it is free to operate -- is quite possible regarding its workers (whom it needs healthy to be able to function, let alone prosper):
"'We've had very few [cases], and none, as far as we can tell, have been from work-related exposure,' said Eric Clinton, president of UNITE HERE Local 362, which represents roughly 8,000 attraction workers and custodians."
It is also self-interested to protect customers -- obviously for the sake of income and reputation. I can speak from experience on this count: Our family went there a couple of weeks ago, and I was amazed at how well-thought-out the precautions were. Most activities were available in some form. (Exceptions seemed mainly related activities that could result in prolonged contact between guests. Hands-on activities after some rides at Epcot were closed, there were no fireworks shows, and parades were very short, reducing both crowding and duration of any exposure.)

My wife and I are both moderate risk and we both felt comfortable there the whole time. At the risk of beating a dead horse: It was plainly in Disney's best interests to keep their employees and customers safe. The company did this by taking the pandemic seriously, learning how transmission occurs, and changing operating procedures and rules to allow operation at a level of risk most people would find acceptable.

Not only does capitalism not prioritize profits over safety, the fact that people are free to trade with each other (or not) in capitalism means that one cannot have profits without safety, at least not for very long.

-- CAV


Amlan said...

I saw that too in Allison's post and it was disappointing.

Gus Van Horn said...

I know she regards herself as "progressive," but I'd still go so far as to say that, and also that I was surprised.

The idea that it's in any way in one's interest to disregard the health of an employee does not comport with the vast majority of the rest of her advice.