Friday, April 27, 2012

Treating Employees and Customers Fairly

One of the areas in which I believe we, as a society, have deteriorated recently is care for the customer. Everything now is about improving profit margins, with customer service often being compromised. If we call on the telephone, we get a machine that takes us through many menu items. Often you have to enter your customer number or some other identifying number before the machine will let you continue. Then what’s the first thing they ask you if eventually you connect with an actual person? Of course it’s the number you punched in!

Stores are trying to save money by having fewer sales clerks. Some companies have their customer service reps in another country, thus taking away jobs from Americans. With customer service or technical service in another country, you have to deal with unfamiliar accents as well. I do have to say that when I’ve dealt with Dell’s technical service people in India, they have been very good and capable, but I still don’t like the fact that jobs are being taken away from Americans.

Historically, industry has not always treated employees well. That’s why labor unions were organized. Today things are much better in some respects, but new ways of giving employees less than a fair deal have arisen. Some companies, especially in retail, avoid giving benefits by hiring employees as part-timers and having them work fewer hours. This is especially bad because these employees are typically on the low end of the pay scale, close to minimum wage, yet they are prevented from working 40 hours. Plus they have no medical benefits! How can anybody live on such meager take-home pay?

There was a program recently on CNBC that looked at the success of Costco. Their employee turnover rate is very low compared to the rest of retail. Why? Costco pays its employees well and provides benefits. Does that hurt profit margins? Apparently not, because Costco is doing quite well despite its relatively small markups. They are saving money with less employee turnover in a number of ways. First, they are better able to hire higher quality and more productive employees, and second, there is less training and disruption with lower employee turnover, thus saving money.

Morally and ethically, companies have responsibilities to at least five constituencies.
(1) Provide a fair return on investment to stockholders;
(2) Provide a safe and good quality product to its customers at a fair price;
(3) Provide a good and safe work environment to its employees, pay a fair wage, provide medical benefits, and don’t discriminate;
(4) Pay its vendors on time;
(5) Serve the community and the country by hiring Americans, manufacturing here in the U.S., buying from local and U.S. vendors, obeying laws, not polluting, and paying its fair share of taxes.

When these get out of balance, such as too much emphasis on #1 and not enough attention on the rest, you have a problem. Because so many items are manufactured in China these days – thanks in large part to Wal-Mart – #5 isn’t being served and the customer, while paying less, often gets a poor quality product that won’t last as long. That is false economy, and I believe the American people are being ripped off as a result. Moreover, some unsafe products have come out of China because stores haven’t even bothered to do any testing or quality control. So #2 isn’t being served and people have been hurt as a result.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Post-Christian Society

The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6:7b: You reap whatever you sow. Another way of putting it is: “You will always harvest what you plant.” (from the NLT) We are seeing that happen today. What am I referring to? I’m saying that as we become more and more post-Christian, the restraining influence of Christianity diminishes and society becomes more violent, dishonest, and immoral.

If you aren’t brought up within a moral framework but rather on the loose standards of today’s society, you won’t have much of a guideline for your behavior. If you aren’t guided by something bigger than you (God), then you “do your own thing” which we see happening at the very end of the Book of Judges in the Bible in Judges 21:25: In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes. (NRSV) They didn’t have the restraining influence of a strong leader, so Israelite society was not as God wanted it to be.

Christianity isn’t just a code of conduct, but Bible-based Christianity does provide guidelines for living that come from God, who created us and knows what’s best for us. Our society used to be guided by what’s called the Judeo-Christian ethic, but that is giving way to relativism, situational ethics, and political correctness. As a result, society is becoming ruder, cruder, ethically-challenged. We’ve had Ponzi schemes that have even ripped off charities, a roughly 50% divorce rate, a large percentage of babies born of unmarried mothers, much prime time TV not suitable for children, a serious drug problem that leads to a serious crime problem, and we still have anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice.

Because of sinful humankind, American society was never close to biblical ideals, but I suspect it may have been a little more morally upright and maybe even more honest than we see now. To be fair, there have also been some improvements in the quality of life due to laws being enacted, societal pressure, or other factors. We have less drunk driving, no smoking in public places, workplaces pretty much free of profanity and sexual harassment (some are better than others), better opportunities for women and minorities, more fuel efficient and less polluting cars, leash laws, to name a few improvements.

My suggestion is that you and your children attend church and Sunday school regularly to get a better grounding when it comes to proper behavior. You’ll be amazed at how your life will change for the better the closer you get to God. Isn’t it time for a fresh start?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Women’s Issues Part 2

In an earlier post I discussed the two events which have triggered discussions on some women’s issues: our obsession with looks, and women who stay at home to raise their children and choose not to pursue a career. In that post I criticized liberals for being rather narrow-minded because they claim to want freedom for women, but only if women make the “right” choices consistent with liberal doctrine. If a woman chooses to stay at home, that’s not in keeping with liberal orthodoxy and that woman – such as Ann Romney – is criticized for “not working a day in her life.”

Liberals aren’t the only ones who want to keep women in their place, however you might define “place.” Some conservative/fundamentalist Christians have used certain biblical passages against women. Admittedly, some biblical passages can be interpreted in various ways. However, I believe interpretations that suppress women are in error. In studying the Bible, you have to look at passages in context. Biblical passages should be analyzed and understood in at least five ways:

First, the passage should be understood in its immediate context. What comes before and what comes after the passage gives the reader the immediate context and helps to interpret the passage more accurately. Taking a passage stand-alone without its context can result in an erroneous interpretation.

Second, the passage should be understood in overall biblical context, that is, what the rest of the Bible says on a subject. If the passage your are studying is the only place in the Bible that seems to say so-and-so, then you might question your understand of its meaning. If your understanding of the passage actually contradicts what is said elsewhere in the Bible, then your interpretation is wrong.

Third, for Christians the passages should be understood in light of the teachings of Jesus Christ, also employing church tradition (the traditional interpretation of a passage), reason, and experience.

Fourth, a biblical passage should be understood in the context of the culture, society, and religious practices of the day. That includes both Israelite/Jewish and Greco-Roman.

Fifth, a biblical passage can sometimes be better understood by looking at the original language and understanding the nuances of the words used. Since most people don’t know biblical Hebrew or Koine Greek, we have to depend on commentaries or footnotes in study Bibles to help us with that.

Getting back to women’s issues, men have used various passages written by the Apostle Paul to suppress women. However, when these passages are analyzed using the five steps I described above, a different interpretation emerges (as I see it – of course some will disagree with me).

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Women’s Issues

Two things have happened recently that have to do with women. One is Ashley Judd’s criticism of society’s attitude towards women’s looks. The other was a comment made by a strategist for the Democratic Party and a pundit, Hillary Rosen. She made the statement that Mitt Romney’s wife “hasn’t worked a day in her life.” Let me start with the Rosen remark.

Being a Democrat, I presume Rosen is also a liberal. One thing about liberals, as I see it, is that they are all about free choice – as long as you make the “right” choice according to their way of thinking. If you don’t, you are vilified. Mrs. Romney obviously didn’t make the “right” choice, and thus “wasted” her life by raising her family and not pursuing a career, which apparently would lead to more fulfillment. When you understand where liberals are coming from, Rosen’s comment makes perfect sense.

Rosen made two mistakes. First, she criticized a candidate’s wife, which is not appropriate. Second, she let her liberal bias show in a very mean-spirited way. To her, what she said was consistent with liberal orthodoxy going back to the earlier days of the women’s liberation movement, when women were denounced for being stay-at-home moms. What she wasn’t expecting was the firestorm of criticism, even from her fellow liberals.

As far as I’m concerned, and some will disagree with me, the ideal is for women to stay home and raise the kids. Bringing up kids is never easy, and it seems these days the job is even more challenging. Of course my ideal isn’t always possible. With the cost of living so high, many women have to work outside the home. Some, of course, choose to pursue a career and raise a family, which is their choice and should be respected.

Regarding Ashley Judd’s complaint that people are obsessed with women’s appearance, I think she might have overreacted. As a celebrity, men and women are constantly in the spotlight. Since quite a few celebrities have plastic surgery, it is natural to ask the question if a person’s appearance changed.

However, her main point is valid: people are obsessed with looks, especially women’s looks. It isn’t just men she’s criticizing either, but women too. Unfortunately we as a society have made women into objects, and often beauty is valued more than character or other attributes. On the other hand, most people want to make the most of what they have, and so women get their hair done, put on at least some makeup, and dress well. Some work out or jog. Men also try to dress for success, keep their hair trimmed, shave in the morning, and may also work out or jog. So there’s nothing wrong with trying to look your best. I think the problem comes when looks become an obsession.