Author Topic: Ethical Dilemma  (Read 1630 times)

Midwestern Mustache

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Ethical Dilemma
« on: December 28, 2018, 02:22:40 PM »
Hi everyone,

For those of you who do, thanks for reading my first post on this forum! I'm a longtime MMM reader and am just getting around to posting here.

I am writing to share about my current work situation. I like to think of myself as an ethical guy. I care about our environment, animals, other people and try to support companies that also believe in similar causes.

That said, I have been starting to think more about the company I work for and what the industry represents. I live in Michigan, specifically the metro Detroit area, which means that I have found myself working for one of the big 3 Autos. I'm not an engineer, but a CPA there.

At first, this did not bother me as I took a pretty big raise to start working there, with considerably less hours worked than my previous job. Also, I was just a lower level CPA so while I was technically in the auto industry I didn't really feel like I was. Over the past couple of years, however, I have found myself moving up the chain there. This means I am involved in more important meetings where decisions are being made and my input matters. These decisions seem to be made purely based on the bottom line, and its a little unsettling. All of a sudden I am very much feeling like I am working for a big auto company and am not just an accountant.

When I first started reading this blog, I read MMM's very insightful and motivating words towards clown commuting and tried to implement his ways into my life (with not the most success so far, however I do have big plans). However it seems to be daily now that I find myself questioning whether getting paid by a company who contributes to people becoming broke, and more importantly global climate change, is actually blood money in a way. Like I said above, I took a big pay increase to come here and the raises have kept coming.

What are your thoughts? Am I being paranoid, or am I on to something?

Midwestern Mustache

« Last Edit: December 28, 2018, 05:12:59 PM by Midwestern Mustache »

former player

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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2018, 02:48:18 PM »
Hello and welcome to the forums.  What an interesting question, with lots of possible answers.  Here are some that occur to me -

1.  MMM is all about index investing.  That means investing in a lot of environmentally dubious companies, including yours.  So anyone who comes here and says you've got to leave is being hypocritical, because they are probably invested in your employer or are hoping to be at some point.

2.  There will be vanishingly few companies that can employ a CPA at a good salary who are much better, environmentally speaking.  Federal government is a big user of the earth's resources and emitter of carbon, probably State governments are too (all those roads, don't you know).

3.  It is not your individual responsibility to regulate the environmental damage done by your company, it is the State and Federal governments'.   So you can make your mark/offset your guilt by becoming involved in local, federal or international environmental politics.

4.  Being (relatively) individually wealthy can lead to more consumption, more travel, and so on, with the result that you are personally more environmentally damaging.  On the other hand, if you are responsible with your wealth you can in some respects use those resources to learn to live more lightly upon the earth than can poorer people who have fewer choices - for instance, being able to afford good insulation for your home, or buying only renewable energy electricity.  So you can use the personal wealth you can accumulate in this job in ways which are good for the environment.

5.   Leaving your current employment would have potentially negative effects for you (lower salary, fewer promotion prospects) while having zero effect on the course your company is taking.

6.  Does your role allow you to consider matters other than the immediate bottom line?  Can you bring eg current and future environmental costs into your advice, in the hope of making change within the company?

7.  Can you leverage your recent successes into a well-paying job with a company that does make a difference?  Does Tesla need a CPA?

Anecdote time: a little while ago I started a thread challenging forum members not to take any flights in 2019.  Last I saw (it's dropped down the pages now) it was 75% "I'll fly whenever I want for whatever reason I want".  Even some of our more environmentally activist forum members will regularly take transocean flights, making all the usual excuses.  I'm afraid that if you started this thread hoping for the wisdom of the properly environmentally engaged you are probably out of luck.

Frankies Girl

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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2018, 03:29:49 PM »
Off subject about your questions/dilemma, but you've posted information about yourself that would make it pretty easy to figure out who you are, so you might want to revise this post eventually to remove location/specific job title/company/year/make of vehicle and your eating/ethical stance beginning with a V... because all that taken together would make it pretty darned easy to out you if anyone wanted to. ;)

As far as the ethics involved in working for a company you don't agree with but get really great pay/benefits from... you could do a form of arbitration on your own part. Donate more time/money into causes that you support with each raise/bonus you get. Become a super frugal saver/investor so you can leave this company ASAP for one that aligns better for your beliefs/ethics but may not pay as well (IOW, become FI, and keep working where $ isn't the driving reason you work). Start working on your department to find ways to be more ethical and conserve resources better, and see about expanding those initiatives over related departments, then company wide.
« Last Edit: December 28, 2018, 04:17:21 PM by Frankies Girl »


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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2018, 04:02:49 PM »
you work for a large, FOR PROFIT company with shareholders to answer to, decisions should/will be about the bottom line.  It is not a charity.

Car manufacturers want to sell cars, it is not their responsibilty to ensure people who buy them can afford them.....Just like banks exist to make money, they're 'not on your side'.


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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2018, 04:10:01 PM »
I think that I'd be OK with it, depending on the particular decisions that are being made. This is partly because I, despite being a rather environmental person who works in energy efficiency/pollution reduction, don't have a big problem with the car companies. Yes, internal combustion engines use gas and therefore pollute. But they also provide a very valuable service to people (Transportation), and we don't have a natural/easy replacement for them yet (Electric cars sure seem to be coming, but I can't make an argument that they're ready to replace ICE cars in every case yet. Most people can't or won't switch to a lifestyle based on public transit and/or bike/walk commuting). So I don't see an inherent ethical dilemma in working at one of the Big 3 US car companies. Or any car company, for that matter.

But what decisions are they making? You said that they're all based on the bottom line, which I'd be a bit uncomfortable with (And certainly not inspired by!) but I don't think I'd be deeply uncomfortable with it so long as they aren't doing nefarious things. Are they finding ways to cheat environmental laws? That would be a huge problem for me. How about buying more environmentally friendly car/technology companies just to disband them to protect the ICE car line? Also a big problem for me. Finding ways to cheat employees or contractors? Big issue. If they're running a business with sole focus on the bottom line in an honest fashion, not a huge issue*.

*I'd probably find it so utterly uninspiring that I'd eventually leave because I don't want my life to be that dull, but that's different from having an ethical problem with it.


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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2018, 04:32:03 PM »
You sound a lot like me at my first job.  It was in the healthcare industry and I thought it would be a noble and worthwhile cause that helped save lives.  Nope, my job routinely was to work on making existing devices cheaper to increase the bottom line.  Projects were prioritized based on profit margin, not benefit to society.

If the worst they're doing is prioritizing profits and selling products to consumers... I think you're going to find that anywhere you go.  If there is something more nefarious (VW Dieselgate, for example) and you are aware of it, there are anonymous tip lines in every large company that you should be utilizing.


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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2018, 04:36:41 PM »
Well, you might be able to influence decisions depending on how you present “the bottom line”. There’s a definite move to electric cars (are they more environmentally friendly yet?) and other technology.

But as someone else said, your leaving won’t actually change anything, but your personal actions might.

I too worked for a big company whose “ethics” I came to question, in many ways (business decisions, treatment of employees, litigation, production practices, financial practices, etc.)


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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2018, 05:21:15 PM »
The larger the company you work at, I think the more common is it to run into a variation on this issue.

I decided to leave Little Big Corp and hang my own shingle after I found out that women were being sexually harassed and openly excluded from promotion at one of our foreign satellite offices. When I informed my higher ups, I was told that I had to be sensitive to their corporate culture. Basically sit down and shut up. I don't think I've ever been so angry in my entire life.


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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2018, 07:13:46 PM »
I hate to seem bleak, but there's no way around it. I felt much the same way at every job I had, when I had enough insight and knowledge to perceive goings on at a certain level. As a result, I changed jobs every 2-3 years (a boon for salary increases, if nothing else) and working in every sector: nonprofits, academe, small for-profit companies, large corporations, federal government contracting, everything.

To no avail: I found serious ethical problems at every employer, the most serious of which used data I found and analyzed to put a CEO in jail for his hedge fund that defrauded clients (I'm proud of that, given how few CEOs went to jail for financial crisis crimes at all). The sole exception was a niche consulting firm but, even then, some of the clients were ethically problematic. If you're intelligent and observant and have access to data, as it sounds like you do, I believe you'll find most any business rife with unethical activity that either borders on or is actually criminal. I only wished I'd realized how normal it was, sooner.

Speaking up about it, whether to management or boards or both, rarely resulted in anything except retaliation and other problems for me at work (the still imprisoned CEO being the happy exception).

All a long way of saying that I don't believe any other employer will be any better than the one you have, when it comes to ethics. The only ethical business I've been able to have is my own, another thing I wish I'd done sooner. If ethics control is what you're looking for, you can: 1) build toward self-employment, perhaps by doing some CPA work on the side if you have the time and desire; and/or 2) work aggressively toward FIRE to remove yourself from the unethical situation as quickly as possible; and/or 3) consider work at a place like the SEC, which is one thing I considered but did not pursue, as I understand they don't have much teeth or power, are often cozy with the organizations they're supposed to watch, etc.

I wish you luck, and I understand.


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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #9 on: December 29, 2018, 12:28:04 PM »
Personally, I moved on from a job that I  found ethically troubling. It was more important to me that I feel reasonably good about myself at the end of the day than that I reach FIRE a year or two earlier.

Accidental Fire

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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #10 on: December 29, 2018, 12:40:23 PM »
Not to make you feel any more torn about working for your company, but there's also the 40,000+ good people who are slaughtered in more-often-than-not horrible gruesome deaths on the roads of America every year. 

More than 100 every day, non-stop. 

Our car culture and glorification of all-things-auto has created a car-dependent country that tolerates this and turns it's head.  We even glorify speeding and dangerous driving behavior in our movies, commercials, and pop-culture.  It's more than disturbing and weird and I'll never understand it.

The best thing the car companies can do is get us to full and bomb-proof autonomous cars - not because it'll be fun to relax and read in a car but because it could save the lives of a baseball stadium full of people every year.  I'm just not sure as a country we care...


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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2018, 10:48:20 AM »
What you have to come to grips with is whether cars are something you are truly morally opposed to, or if you just think they're something not quite great that people are going to do anyway. If it's the former then you should absolutely quit, it would be the same as a vegan working for a slaughterhouse. The latter isn't quite so black and white.

I used to work in the casino industry, at first directly with customers (sports book, dealing blackjack and poker) and then later on the IT side of things. I gradually came to the conclusion that while that industry wasn't a positive force for good in the world I also didn't feel it was a malicious force of evil either. Rather it was turning a profit on some of the baser impulses of people. I did eventually move on from that industry for a variety of reasons, one of them was wanting to be involved in something that did more good in the world. But I slept fine at night and was able to make a transition rather than an immediate end due to a moral crisis.


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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2018, 11:37:35 AM »
(Electric cars sure seem to be coming, but I can't make an argument that they're ready to replace ICE cars in every case yet.

I'm curious what your objection to electric cars is?  I have been driving an electric car for 4 years now and have been inconvenienced perhaps 5 times in that time period.  By inconvenienced I mean I switched to using our plugin-EV, rather than the full-EV, due to the longer distance I needed to travel that day.  Over 4 years, I think that is pretty acceptable "burden" on my lifestyle.  Also, my EV is much cheaper to operate than the ICE cars I've had prior.


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Re: Ethical Dilemma
« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2018, 10:59:39 AM »
If your concern is with the business prioritizing profits over other things you feel are more important, I don't think you're going to get away from that, but if it's the industry itself you don't like, I would recommend looking around for other options.  It's refreshing to be part of an industry you support.  My job is super boring to explain when people ask me what I do, and it's a for-profit company, but I'm still proud of what we do.  I think it's worth trying to find that.