Sociological Imagination, Ethics, and the Steroid-Era of Professional Baseball


1) What are the three sorts of questions that the best social analysts have consistently asked? How does this relate to C. Wright Mills’ “sociological imagination”?           

The three types of questions consider society’s structure, standing, and stand-outs.  The first of these questions asks about the particular structure of a society as a whole and its essential components.  C. Wright Mills finds the structure in which an individual belongs to be essential to understanding how they both shape each other.  Using marriage as an example, Mills offers an example of how the structure of some issue in society can be more to blame than the individual who experiences the personal troubles.  Next, where society stands in human history and the mechanics by which it is changing are questioned.  The intersection between history and biography can only be understood by asking these questions, which is essential to possessing quality of mind.  Last, the best social analysts ask what types of men and women stand-out and prevail within that society and within that time period.  This enables the individual a feeling, in Mills’ words, “that they can now provide themselves with adequate summations, cohesive assessments, comprehensive orientations.”  Asking questions regarding these three topics is what typically makes up the classic social analyst.  Having this socialogical imagination enables us to grasp our biography and history in relation to its intersections, providing a much greater quality of mind.

2) Trevino and Nelson say that the most serious ethical scandals result from multiple parties contributing in different ways to join together in the creation of the catastrophe.  What are some of the different parties that came together in forming the financial crisis of 2008, and what pressures led to these actions?  Lastly, were all of these actions unethical, or just a result of common practice?

The first factor that played a role was that borrowing money was cheap.  However, Alan Greenspan’s decision to lower the Fed Funds rate was just a common act driven by the soaring stocks in high-technology companies.  The rise of investing in real estate then became a major factor with such low borrowing rates.  At this point, nobody had acted unethically, but the rating agencies might be the first to blame.  They listed investments in the real estate industry as the highest “AAA” rating, which gave investors confidence that they would at least recover the initial value, if not more, from their investment.  Of course this was a primary cause of the catastrophe, but many factors on Wall Street also contributed.  Highly-paid CEOs and executives, a focus on short-term profits, and bonuses for employees taking great risks, also led to the problem.  These pressures to get ahead and have short-term personal gain are possibly a result of the society in which we now live.  Like Trevino and Nelson said is normally the case, many factors did come together to lead to the end result of the financial crisis.  However, while some factors were clear of any wrong-doing, there were certainly others that could have their ethics called into question after seeing their personal benefit at the expense of many others.

 

3) Describe a situation in pop culture in which the ideas of the sociological imagination can help shed light on an issue involving business ethics and cynicism.

“I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish, and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.” – Mark McGwire, January 2010

 These words from Mark McGwire, one of baseball’s greatest home run hitters of all-time, really exemplify the attitude many baseball players had during the 2000s in Major League Baseball, “the Steroid-Era”.  He was sorry that he cheated, but then again, doesn’t it sound like he is trying to excuse himself on the grounds that nearly everyone else did too—like his guilt was simply a product of having played in the steroid-era?  Well, his apology did not help him much, as he failed to be voted into the Hall of Fame again this year for the seventh time.  Interestingly though, this year’s Hall of Fame voting was only the third time since 1965 that not even a single member of the ballot was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  With the ballot consisting of many new names, nearly all from the steroid-era of baseball, perhaps the general cynicism of society played a role in voting down a number of player who would otherwise have statistically qualified when being compared to the Hall of Fame’s existing members.  The best sports journalists and analysts of the sport have found themselves in a situation where C. Wright Mills’s idea of the sociological imagination comes into play.

 

“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”  This quote from C. Wright Mills gives depth to the steroid-era and the players who played during that time.  Clearly there was an ethical issue involved with using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to increase your performance, and consequently, your future salaries, but it was not all the fault of the players.  The structure of the league was such that testing and enacting penalties for those caught using these PEDs was entirely misconfigured.  It was everywhere in the clubhouses, but team personnel always seemed to turn a blind eye.  The society in which this issue took place is also relevant.  More home runs were being hit, attendance was up at games, TV contracts were going through the roof, and the game of professional baseball, more importantly the business of professional baseball, was stronger than ever.  Finally, the main type of individuals who prevailed in this society of steroid-era professional baseball were those who chose to take part in the cheating.  Not only did it go unpunished, but instead, the decision was often times rewarded.  These three questions that C. Wright Mills says are essential to developing the quality of mind necessary for a strong sociological imagination, should probably be considered more closely by the journalists and baseball writers who will be voting in next year’s Hall of Fame ballot.

 

Yes, these players acted unethically by taking steroids, but enough with the cynicism.  The game of baseball, now with a better structure, has proven to clean up its image greatly.  However, the shadows cast by the giants of the steroid-era continue to loom large in the media.  Just like the professors Trevino and Nelson talk about in their piece on Managing Business Ethics, there were many pieces that came together to cause the debacle of lost trust in the MLB that resulted from the steroid-era.  Of course the players played a role in it, but when you consider the previously mentioned three questions for the society in which these players belonged to, while also considering the commissioner, salary-driven incentives, and other factors that played a role in creating the catastrophe, maybe some of these players should be elected in to the Hall of Fame.  They were great for the game in the time in which they played.  Their unethical actions, while not excusable, were not entirely a result of their personal character, and therefore, I believe they should be recognized in the Hall of Fame with the many players who came before them who also made similarly massive impacts on the game, and business, of professional baseball.

 

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/the-cove/Barry-Bonds-Not-Elected-to-Hall-of-Fame-186198441.html

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/steroid-era-stars-bonds-clemens-sosa-hall-ballot-article-1.1209463

 

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Enforced Ethics


1. Why does Mills make the argument that it is critical for society to have a sociological imagination?

He argues that the sociological imagination is crucial not only for individuals, but also for groups, to use when making decisions.  Throughout the article, he explains that if people act with this kind of consideration, they will be able to operate in a more understanding manner. By doing this, it not only makes society better, but it would create a cohesiveness of decision making for both one’s personal and business life. Mills continues that society needs the sociological imagination in order to think carefully – using the information to act in a way that is significant or sometimes insignificant to them.  Mills suggests that motives of one’s behavior wouldn’t be questioned since the thought process could by the society that used this method of thinking.

2. What did Standard and Poor and Moody do to contribute to the financial crisis of 2008?

Listed above are the two largest rating companies that helped contribute to the recession. Their purpose was to rate the riskiness of securities, and especially mortgages. Although the questions asks, “what did” they do, the question should be asked in terms of “what didn’t they do?”

The businesses continued rating mortgages on the highest possible levels, which in fact in some cases, have been disqualified. The problems were that the companies did not foresee a decline in the housing market, and therefore failed in their responsibilities. The system in which they were giving these ratings was thoroughly defective.  The companies were giving high ratings, not because the people deserved them, but in order to be hired by the agencies that were giving these ratings. This in turn ensured more happy customers, and therefore created a higher paycheck for Standard and Poor and Moody. By failing to give appropriate ratings, high-risk investments were made because of a falsely high rating.

3. Should large businesses leaders be obligated to make sure that their company is run in an ethical manner?

“Ethical” is a loose term, for the definition can vary depending on who is answering the question. If we reflect on the sociological imagination that Mills discusses, there is an explanation of ethical reasoning outlined that business leaders should use. By utilizing the imagination, there will always be a simplistic or creative solution that is likely to end with a positive outcome – not only for oneself, but also for the community involved. Although events cannot be changed, it is the reaction and adaptation to these occurrences that define the nature and ethical practices of a business.

The company Barclays was involved in a scandal in which they were being accused of rigging interest rates. After months of a quiet lull, Anthony Jenkins came out publically to publically uphold the five values most cherished by the company: respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship. He also states that he doesn’t “want to do it for public relations…it is simply how [he] will run Barclays. Yes, this announcement was made after a scandal, but it simply amplifies the point that leaders should make sure that the company is run in an ethical way. Not only will they have to out and apologize to the public, but will have to take the time to restructure the way the company runs; meaning time wasted. Leaders do have the obligation to enforce ethical practices, for it is the only way to ensure self-preservation from a shaming community.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323468604578247461697635932.html?KEYWORDS=ethics

 

You know what you did…and so will everyone else…


Question 1: How responsible is the media for cynical attitudes?

In today’s society, words can spread like wildfire, especially when it comes to “hot news”.  Think about how many news channels, magazines, websites, social networks, and people you know of.  That why it is so easy for news to get around. Continue reading

Exploring small effects on the brink of mistrust.


1)      Is the Sociological Imagination a tool that can help understand the butterfly effect?

Sociological Imagination is defined by C. Wright Mills as a tool by which its possessor can understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and external career of a variety of individuals. Simply, this is a way whereby individuals can come to understand what is around them by taking all actions by themselves and others into account. Understanding the concept of Sociological Imagination would also help an individual understand that, not matter minutely, they have an effect on their surroundings. This is the concept that no matter how big or small of an action, everything has an effect on its surroundings. Furthermore, this is the concept that even a small action can have extremely large effects on the world surrounding them or in other words, the butterfly effect. Continue reading

Contemporary United States and Corporate Reputation


1)     Explain the condition of uneasiness and indifference and how it defines our current period.

C. Wright Mills declares that uneasiness arises when people are unaware of any cherished values, but still sense a threat. The experience of indifference occurs when people are neither aware of any cherished values nor experience any threat. This indifference can turn to apathy, if it encompasses all of a persons’ values. Our current period is marked by uneasiness, which is a personal trouble, and the issue of indifference. Mass leisure, as opposed to poverty, has become the center of concern. The problems created by this leisure time, coupled with the ambition of men at work in the incorporated economy have shaped the problems of public and private life. Uneasiness and indifference now form the social and personal climate of American society. Social scientists must distinguish the elements of uneasiness and indifference while possessing the sociological imagination quality of mind.

2)    Explain how unethical actions affect not only single businesses, but also entire industries and countries.

Business behavior affects personal and company reputations, society, and national reputation as well. Reputation in the business world influences everything. For example, reputation influences trade relations, who will hire you, buy from you, or who will finance your debt. Unethical behavior can tarnish the reputation of a business with lasting consequences.

National reputation can be compromised when unethical actions lead to a major crisis. The 2008 financial crisis had its roots in the United States. The reputation of the U.S., in turn, suffered greatly because of individuals and certain companies. China’s reputation has also suffered due to the contaminants found in some of the country’s exports. These scandals point out the key takeaway that corporate misbehavior does not solely affect corporate reputations. This sort of unethical behavior has detrimental effects that impact entire industries and countries.

3)   How much does corporate reputation actually affect the bottom line?

Corporate reputation greatly impacts consumer buying patterns. Companies that take part in unethical behavior run the risk of harming their bottom line in today’s business world where reputation means everything. For example, two recent scandals have surfaced in corporate Japan that have each been highly detrimental to the companies involved. The first of these scandals occurred when the former chief executive of Olympus, the medical imaging and digital camera maker, released internal documents proving that the company made over $1 billion in improper payments over a series of acquisitions. As a result of this behavior, the company has lost half its stock market value this month.

The other major controversy of Japan concerned the country’s leading tissue maker, Daio Paper. The company filed a criminal complaint against its former chairman who allegedly borrowed $140 million in company money and channeled some of it to a Las Vegas casino company. Ex-chairman, Mr. Ikawa has admitted to borrowing the money but has suggested he intended to return it. Consequently, Daio Paper’s share price has dropped about 15 percent since the reports about the loans began to surface in the local media. Both of these scandals mark the importance of maintaining strict corporate responsibility. Unethical decisions have the ability to greatly upset a company’s bottom line.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/29/business/global/new-scandal-presses-corporate-japan.html

The root of the problem


1.  How did the rating agencies Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s contribute to the financial crisis of 2008?

The largest rating agencies involved in the 2008 financial crisis were Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s, which were responsible for rating the riskiness of securities, such as mortgages.  Starting in around 2004, many credit rating companies were giving the highest possible ratings to products that were incredibly risky and should have been ranked accordingly.  At the time, many wall street companies were peddling collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s) that were given incredibly high ratings.

The root of the problem lies within the system of rating products.  The rating agencies that are hired by many firms are selected by the companies whose products they rate.  As a result, the rating agencies would be slightly biased and give the products higher ratings in order to be hired.  This was incredibly misleading, because people thought that they were getting the best possible deal and it turned out they were very misinformed.  The Dodd-Frank act in response to the act does grant the SEC more authority over agencies, but it did not eradicate the underlying issue that raters are still hired by the companies whose products they are supposed to rate.

2.  Why, in W.C. Wright Mills opinion, is it important that individuals realize their own biography within their time in history?

Mills stresses that the link between an individual and their position in history is the key to understanding sociological imagination.  It is important that people are able to deal with their own dilemmas in the scheme of what is happening during a specific time period.  Mills uses the example of unemployment, by explaining that a person may feel depressed if they are fired, but if many people are being laid off then the issue is not personal but public.  Issues such as these are rooted in economic and political issues, and therefore should be treated in this manner.

Mills further explains this phenomenon by distinguishing the key differences between a personal trouble and an issue.  Troubles are considered to be individual; they are due to the experiences of a person and not considered to be a public matter.  However, an issue is something that a population is facing, and therefore the person feeling the “troubles” should not think of himself as alone, but instead a part of a whole that is experiencing similar predicaments.  Once society is able to look beyond the personal milieu and able to embrace changes, then everyone can be interconnected and not feel isolated within a larger issue.

3.   Are there any similar examples of countries that have experienced similar financial crisis such as the US financial crisis in 2008?

Around the time the United States realized they were knee deep in a financial crisis, Spain’s similar growing expansion rapidly came to an end, as their own property bubble burst and the their public debt skyrocketed to whole new levels.  Their crisis definitely mirrors our own, in that they are now facing huge unemployment, high interest rates, and massive amounts of debt.  Spain had previously had been enjoying their new boom after joining the Eurozone, which granted them the highest ratings in housing.  Now, since the property market has collapsed, Spain can no longer afford to pay its debt and it has become one the biggest worries in the European Union.

Ever since 2010 when it was clear that Spain was problematic within the Eurozone, the country has been enacting many austerity measures to lessen their debt.  However, these measures were not significant enough, and Spain sunk further into their recession.  In September, the European Central Bank had pledged to buy bonds to lower the interest rates that had skyrocketed, but Spain refused due to the strings that would be attached if they accepted such a deal.  This situation is paralleled to the situation in the US, when the Federal Reserve injected capital into the United States to help regulate the inflation rates.

In October, the country reached a new low, when unemployment rates reached an astounding rate of 25%.  This, and their further increasing debt, led to the European Commission approving a payment of 37 billion euros to Spain with many conditions attached.   Ever since, The European Central Bank has continued to grant payments, in addition to lowering interest rates and providing cheap loans to increase the flow of money in Spain.  However, their current Prime Minister Rajoy, is skeptical about receiving any support from Europe, and many economists worry that the ongoing delay will make the situation increasingly worse.