Wanted: A Mormon Corporate Ethic

A thread at Times and Seasons titled “LDS Need Not Apply” has sparked discussion of the Marriott Corporation’s decision to make p0rnography available to their guests. Mormon’s tend to see Marriott as a “Mormon corporation” and are quick to pass judgment on business practices that are perceived to be contradictory to church teachings. Of course Marriott is not the only corporation that is held to this unusual standard, but it is probably the most well known so it is the one I will use as an example.

Two camps generally emerge when discussion turns to whether Mormon owned or Mormon run corporations should be held to a different standard than the rest of their industry. The first camp puts out a “hypocrisy argument,” expressing outrage or shock at the businessman’s behavior. The second, what I think of as the “duty already owed” argument, says that a duty is owed to a constituency that requires a course of action that may be contrary to the church’s teachings or the person’s personal beliefs. Several times I have heard fellow church members condemn Marriott for trafficking in p0rn. Occasionally I hear in response that Marriott is a public corporation and the corporation owes a duty to shareholders to maximize profits.

Not maximizing shareholder return itself, however, does not violate any duties-at least in the state where it counts (and every other state that I am aware of). The Delaware courts have held that directors must maximize shareholder value only when the breakup of the corporation is certain or there is a change of control. Corporate directors are required to act in the best interests of their shareholders, but this does not require them to maximize profits without taking other constituencies into consideration. The legal doctrine known as the business judgment rule protects directors and officers from personal liability as long as they are acting in good faith-which amounts to having an articulable reason for pursuing a course of action.

While there is no real legal reason compelling a Mormon director or CEO to act against the teachings of the church, there may be competing moral reasons. I am sympathetic to the Mormon CEO who feels a certain way about an issue but believes that the shareholders to whom he owes a duty expect him to act differently. I’m not sure a CEO ought to feel comfortable imposing his moral values on a company if he doesn’t believe it is in the best interests of the company-this is precisely the “imperial CEO” behavior that the business publications have spilt buckets of ink over for the last three years. On the other hand, it seems to me that a Mormon corporate leader is no different than any other corporate director or CEO in that he shouldn’t check his ethical and moral convictions at the door.

What I’m interested in, then, is a corporate Mormon ethic that considers competing duties and interests that a Mormon corporate leader faces and thinks about how to approach them systematically.


  1. ” Pimps versus hookers is the wrong hypo”

    Dave, how can you say that, when it FEELS oh so right?

  2. “Profits from sin” . . . don’t you just feel great when you say that? Isn’t it fun to mix envy with judgment? Seriously, to meet with the Lord’s approval, Marriott would have to remove televisions from all rooms (seen network TV lately?) and demand marriage licenses of all couples renting rooms. So it’s foolish, I think, to pretend that before PPV adult stuff Marriott was somehow in God’s good graces. Corporations as a general class (great and spacious buildings) are the devil’s domain.

    The Bible labels interest as usury, sinful income. I’ve read Presidents of the Church denouncing investment income because its not money earned “by the sweat of our brow.” Funny how church types always decry private profts and government taxation while extolling (surprise!) the virtues and blessings of charitable contributions to churches.

    Rather than using selective morality to selectively label as sinful someone else’s income (never our own, of course), I think we’re better off to recognize all legally earned income as morally okay; not perfect, but okay. God is not a farmer and there is nothing morally superior about being a farmer or teacher or LDS bureaucrat to earn one’s income. If one has moral sensibilities, apply them to one’s own personal choice of vocation and let God take care of those corporate sinners in the next life. No doubt hell will be full of corporations.

  3. … unambiguously believes that pornography is a serious evil in the world. Therefore, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the family values the incremental wealth generated by offering pornography over the purported costs on society imposed by the hotel facilitating the use of pornography, and it is unsurprising to see that Mormons, who share similar values to the family, believe that to be hypocritical.

  4. Also interesting that Catholic politicians and public figures seem to feel no obligation to support Catholic teachings (see Kerry, for example…) while Mormon figures do.

    Fundamental differences in the religions? Or (more likely) if/when the LDS Church gets to be that big we’ll run into the exact same situation…

  5. Jeff Rowes says:

    By the way, who’d a thunk I’d wind up being called out on an LDS blog for being TOO moralistic and TOO unyielding!

  6. Dave makes a good point when he calls trying to differentiate one type of “sin” business from another a “selective morality”. On the other hand, the idea of recognizing all money legally earned as morally OK doesn’t seem like much of a solution [Insert extreme hypo here].

    There is a reason why stigmas accompany certain businesses and why many of those businesses, at one time or another, operated on the black-market–we have long recognized them as morally problematic. So trying to draw distinctions between businesses and levels of involvement doesn’t strike me as a useless exercise.

    When thinking about this question Jeff benefits from not being a member of the church and so he is freer to level hypocrisy argument and say that it is an aesthetic choice rather than a moral choice. I don’t buy the idea that choosing to live with one evil while excising another is only a matter of aesthetics. On the contrary, it seems to me that choosing between two evils is at the heart of many moral decisions–these are the truly hard ones. Of course it may not be necessary to choose either evil and calling choosing the lesser evil a moral decision runs the risk of becoming a self-important justification, but that is not always the case. And it doesn’t mean that the choice will always be only an aesthetic one. The problem for Jeff, I think, is that he sees neither booze nor porn as an evil and so tends to believe that Mormons who call both evil treat them inconsistently are only being hypocritical. I have always liked and found inspiration in the two or three lines in The Brothers Karamazov where Father Zosima encourages Fyodor to close his bars and then, seemingly recognizing human weakness, tells him that if he can’t close them all, to close two or three.

    Loren makes the very good point that it is difficult to find the right place to draw the line, but that it will be drawn for us if we don’t draw it ourselves. Of course one could always say that it is a personal choice and an individual should decide for herself. Certainly. But developing a general framework helps me think more clearly about business decisions. Of course the church itself provides a barebones structure–but the point of this thread has been to see how it can be applied to corporate work in anything other than an ad hoc manner. It seems that most of us see the corporation as an effective buffer between us and sin businesses and it seems like there are some good reasons for this–most obviously we are at least one level removed from the dirty work. We object even less to owning mutual funds that have casino stocks because we are several levels removed. This makes sense at a practical level because in our interconnected world it would be impossible not to be connected to sin businesses in some way. Presumably the closer we get to the actual businesses, the more control we can exert over the business and the greater our responsibility for what happens in tha

  7. dave: the casino-work temple recommend prohibition ended some years ago. you can now be the CFO of a casino, or a dealer, & still have a temple recommend. One bishop I know of in Gulfport is a casino CFO.

  8. Great discussion. Pimps versus hookers is the wrong hypo because that is illegal activity. Casino manager versus blackjack dealer is a much better hypo. Anyone who thinks casino manager is okay and blackjack dealer is a proscribed job is falling for the strong Mormon bias in favor of white collar employment and the reverse bias against blue collar workers. What’s wrong with dealing cards? Sheesh.

    Now I’ve never lived in Nevada–maybe someone is going to chime in with a “my sister can’t get a temple recommend because she’s a blackjack dealer” story. I hope not.

  9. Great thoughts, Jeff. Stick around and keep crashing the party :)

  10. Jeff Rowes says:

    Hi, I’m a non-LDS party-crasher.

    The relevant question, it seems to me, is why draw a “moral” line at p0rn, but not somewhere else. Marriott, after all, doesn’t make sure that it’s guests are married. It lets rooms to premarital, adulterous, and gay couples. It also serves
    alcohol. Why facilitate these acts but not watching p0rn? In other words, as between illicit sex and booze and being “moral,” Marriott picks illicit sex and booze. Why then would Marriott care about p0rn?

    People like Mat who advocate the porn prohibition are making an aesthetic choice, not a moral one. As long as Marriott can bury its head in the sand and pretend that it’s not supplying a venue for, for example, gay sex, it will rent rooms for that purpose (Marriott could, after all, make its guests sign affidavits stating that they won’t have illicit relations). But when Marriott can’t pretend that it’s not complicit in immoral behavior, as when it sells p0rn, then it’s supposed to make an ostentatious show of “doing the right thing.” This is a self-serving rule, and consequently isn’t “moral” in any meaningful sense.

    In any event, as in the case of illicit sex and booze, I think Marriott’s just following its wallet. Losses from not selling p0rn will probably be balanced out by gains in goodwill and publicity among those who think such stances are admirable.

  11. How about “Don’t commit crimes” as a bedrock lowest-common-denominator ethic. Being asked or expected to do things that boil down to breaking the law is a bright-line test for when you have to say “No, I won’t do that” to the boss and probably start looking for another employer.

    Of course, there’s nothing particularly Mormon or Christian about this test. Nonetheless, it’s surprising how many people manage to fail even this weak workplace ethical standard.

  12. I see two issues in this problem. First, what is an officer of a corporation’s legal duty to the shareholders and other constituents? Without researching Delaware law, my guess is that it is as vague as the duty imposed on directors — a little business judgment here and a little fiduciary duty there. These rules are thought to be enough to punish and deter fraud and self-dealing but seem to be pretty far removed from dictating how an officer or director should act in situations where his or her personal morals seem to interfere with the profitability of the company. I’m not sure I have much to say about this because certainly it is not impossible for that individual to decide to take a morally conservative position if he or she feels uncomfortable about promoting or abetting behavior of which he or she disapproves. The consequences are to lose his or her job, but that is probably a good gut check to determine how strong his convictions should be. Hiding under the shield of “shareholder wealth maximization” doesn’t seem to get you very far, though.

    Jeff’s thoughts bring the other issue to the surface — what is an individual’s obligation in the business world to promote or deter behavior the individual sees as unsavory or immoral. I’m not sure we could devise a test or a standard to answer this question because it involves too many subjective intuitions that are difficult or impossible to verify. For example, calling alcohol central to the industry is, in the words of too many law school professors, “putting the rabbit in the hat.” As Jeff notes, if alcohol, why not porn or fornication? It is inevitable that people use hotel rooms for the privacy and anonymity just like people use them for convenience as business travelers and vacationers.

    I don’t, however, think that one’s morals should be dismissed as matters of aesthetics just because they initially appear to be disjointed. I can see an individual making a reasoned choice to refuse to facilitate one item of commerce while permitting another. For example, one could decide to make available a room for whatever purpose, but not make available pay-per-view pornography (or, for that matter, make ppv pornography available, but not a room). That individual would not be burying his head in the sand on any one issue, but merely permitting it because he feels that one action is “worse” in the moral sense of the word (or perhaps less administratively burdensome to prohibit) as compared to another behavior. In other words, the sum total of the individuals choices do not necessarily amount to an act of hypocrisy, but a determination of what he or she feels is right or wrong and to what extent. The individual isn’t a government actor, so I would be hesitant to impose any sort of rationality test to the decision.

    The Marriott problem, in my view, is the tough case because refusing to permit ppv pornography in hotel rooms is administratively simple and the LDS church unambiguously bel

  13. Jeff Rowes says:

    I should add, Loren, that I think it’s fine to distinguish between booze and p0rn in an ordinary sense, meaning a hotel owner might say: “booze is a problem and p0rn is a problem, but I’ll only selll booze because I make a lot of money off it that I can use for good things like supporting my family.” This is a sensible approach to life that we do everyday. It’s just that I think of this as a self-interested cost/benefit analysis, not a “moral” attempt to conform life to scriptural teachings or closely held principles. As such, I don’t think people like the Marriott’s who make this sort of decision should be given any credit for being “moral.”

  14. Isn’t this exactly the reason why the Church sold off ZCMI (now Meier & Frank)? I had heard there was a lot of complaints about non-LDS standard clothing ads and the like, which since it still bore the ZCMI name people still associated it closely with the Church, even though it hasn’t been for a long time. The bad PR was one of the main reasons the Church got rid of it for good…

  15. Isn’t this the same dilemna faced by LDS politicians? I.e. support LDS church policies in public policy vs. Duty to electorate? Reminds me of Prof. Daynes at BYU prattling eruditely re: the stewardship vs. representative theories.

  16. It’s this kind of complexity (see this post for more on that), that Mormons simply aren’t good at. We all know there are many self-confessed sex-obsessives over at T&S. Where are the workers’ rights and anti-violence obsessives? :)

    The fact that the word ‘morality’ speaks specifically to sexual purity in Mormon parlance shows how far our emphasis on the sex issue has gone. Throw in smoking and R-rated movies, and you’ve got a full-fledged theology there, don’t you?

  17. Jeff — By your own definition, are you not admitting that your belief that alcohol is more pernicious than p0rn is more than likely a self-serving preference? Or are you implicitly arguing that p0rn is demonstrably less harmful than alcohol? If so, I wonder whether your conclusion is biased because measuring the effects of the harm of alcohol is easier than porn. I think these difficult interpretive issues lead me to think that the “gut check” sense of morality may be more important than we would like to believe. I reminds me somewhat of our discussion of _Descartes Error_.

  18. Jeff — Perhaps our disagreement stems from how we define “morals.” I don’t see it as being much different than a reflection of an individual’s intuitions about the social costs of an activity. I think this is especially true for Mormons, whose moral positions on things like consuming alcohol and viewing p0rn seem directly tied to the social harms that stem from these activities. Where the religious moralist and the pragmatic moralist disagree, I think it probably stems from the difficulty of measuring the harms of the particular activity. In this sense, I don’t see religious morality being based on pride or a sense of righteousness, but a perception of what is best for society.

  19. Jeff,

    First I’m interested in your position that morality is an all or nothing proposition. This seems to be a direct contradiction to your normal appreciation of the complexity of moral issues. Applying this back to my earlier comment, I’m surprised that you can’t recognize a moral framework in which one might sell alcohol but not porn (mind you I’m not saying this is the optimal moral framework, just that it is a concievable one). The sort of moral framework that you want to impose would seem to create moral gridlock that would preclude people from ever taking any action — it’s wrong to pollute God’s creation, Earth, so I won’t drive to work or take public transportation because even though public transpo is marginally more environmentally friendly, it’s still wrong; for that matter my current habit of riding my bike full of low-impact sanctimony is misguided because of all the polution that goes into making my bike and replacing my non-biodegradable tires. Since I can’t go to work I need to find something to do because it is morally wrong to be lazy . . . eventually you wouldn’t get out of bed. Recognizing competing moral positions and realizing that we make choices on the basis of what we believe to be the relative importance of these competing moral positions is a reality of life. Dismissing that as irrational, silly or disingenuous is unfair and seems to me to be an attempt to define morality out of existence (this might be tempting if you see all moral positions as silly natural law anachronisms and you are an empiricist).

    Let me turn the tables on you to evaluate your last post. I can’t see how booze v. porn is an empirical question. There may be an empirical dimension to your analysis but that can only take place once you have establsihed a normative (read moral) rubric with which to judge the harm. So it’s not clear to me that you are avoiding moral quesitons at all, you’re just asking the same question and using different words (maybe you’re offended at the word “moral” since it has a lot of baggage).

    Anyway, I’m not particularly troubled by the idea that moral positions are “self-serving preference”. Because I believe in morality and because I believe that God is speaking to us and communicating morality to us through his spirit, I would imagine that moral intuitions would be a major part of our decision making process. This becomes a bit of a chicken-and-egg question if those moral intuitions consistently coincide with our personal preferences, but even this would seem to be the natural result of the kind of plan I imagine (one in which God creates a moral framework for us to maximize our hapiness in the long-run and one in which as we act morally we prefer increasingly moral things).

    None of this, of course, explains the Marriott question and indeed the Marriott quesiton casts clouds of doubt on my theoretically compelling, if I must say so myself, system. In this sense I think your cynici

  20. Jeff,

    I keep accusing you of imposing moral absolutism largely because it seems to me that something like alcohol, in your framework is a binary issue not influenced by other considerations. This hypo sounds vaguely Islamic law to me, largely because I spent so much time wondering how all the rules came about in my Islamic law class, but imagine that someone has a moral imperative not to drink alcohol but also feels a strong obligation to be hospitable to strangers. The stranger comes and brings his own alcohol to the moral person’s home. I think the two moral imperatives could intersect in a number of ways (1= no drinking while staying with me, 2=no drinking in the house, go out on the porch, 3=drink, and as a matter of fact pass the bottle over here, you get the point). It isn’t clear to me that feeling that you should choose option 3 would always be an amoral, self-centered decision. It might be, but nothing logically requires.

    In the end I probably feel more compelled to enteretain the theoretical possibility of a following moral imperatives in situations like this than you do. In practice I’m almost certain the Marriotts of the world are behaving just as you describe, in which case I agree that they should just admit what they’re doing and move on.

  21. Jeff, I accept one of the criticisms that you make of MatÂ’s point but not the other: the booze question is a fair one, that you donÂ’t allow a distinction between providing hotel rooms to potentially unmarried couples of either sex or of mixed sex and providing porn is not a fair one.

    Taking the second point first, I donÂ’t read Mat to be advocating that Marriott has a moral responsibility to preclude its guests from watching porn. Rather, at most he is saying that Marriott should not be complicit in providing porn to its guests. People hell bent on watching porn in their hotel room could still bring in videos that they could watch on their computers or personal DVD players; under MatÂ’s advocated position, Marriott wouldnÂ’t require that you sign an affidavit saying you wonÂ’t view porn in your room. The better analog of the current state of affairs would be if you could order a person to have sex with using your in-room television (in which case you would be charged a 200% premium from what you could get the same prostitute for if you picked up the phone). You might, perhaps, maintain that this type of prostitution by a hotel is not offensive, depending on your viewpoint on prostitution and the place of hotel in the prostitution supply chain. However, I think it is difficult to argue that there is no moral difference between a hotel allowing unmarried couples to rent a hotel room and a hotel providing sexual partners for its single guests who are willing to pay for the service.
    If you donÂ’t allow this distinction you are taking a very hardline stance on what is required of morality. Surely one can be taking a moral stand that includes allowing people to bring in partners to have non-marital sex with but excludes providing prostitutes. Similarly, I think it is not unfair to ask someone to make a moral stand that precludes them from providing porn but does not preclude them from allowing guests to watch porn that they provide for themselves. I think this kind of hardline stance on morality is the kind of simplistic and binary morality that is convenient for critics to retreat to when they want to accuse their opponents of being hypocrites — forcing them to make a binary choice when there is clearly some middle ground. IÂ’m not sure if IÂ’m overstating my argument but IÂ’m sure youÂ’ll let me know. I think this is a significant point because providing something as a business is qualitatively and arguably morally different than simply not prohibiting something.

    The second point, however, is much more problematic. I think there are a number of decisions that Marriott could make with regard to what kind of movies and beverages they will provide. Also I think I should highlight that the reason I find the MarriottsÂ’ situation so compelling with regard to this question is that they purposely hold themselves out as something different — they put a Book of Mormon in every room. The narcissists have a portrait of themselves in the entr

  22. Jeff, that’s a very challenging statement, because ultimately no one is completely moral (except, for purposes of this board, Christ). We all make self-interested choices guised as morality, and we are all internally inconsistent. Are you simply reminding us that our morality may sometimes be of this nature, or are you suggesting an alternative course of action?

    In other words, what is the practical impact of your last comment? It seems to me to provide a helpful dose of introspection, but perhaps at the same time would discourage otherwise ‘good’ decisions based on the idea that the choice would be actually generated out of self-interest.

  23. Kevin,

    “Also interesting that Catholic politicians and public figures seem to feel no obligation to support Catholic teachings (see Kerry, for example…) while Mormon figures do.”

    That hasn’t been the case among Mormon politicians in many instancees, especially when the Church has taken positions to the left of the Republican party. On more than one occasion, gun control bills that the church has supported publicly have been defeated by the Utah legislature and Utah voters. The Church recently publicly stated that it would not oppose a hate-crimes bill, but the Utah legislature defeated it anyway. The Church had to speak out against the MX missile no less than three times before Utah’s senators and congressman finally broke ranks and joined the church in opposition.

    Also, re: Kerry–there are many Republican Catholics who have voted against their Church’s positions–take, for example, the Pope’s vocal opposition to the Iraq war and his opposition to the death penalty, or some moderate Republicans’ pro-choise stance (Pataki, Giuliani)–but because the GOP has successfully marketed itself as having a monopoly on churchiness, it’s Kerry that everybody watches to see if he takes communion.


    I never thought I’d see you utter the phrase “In Sen. Kerry’s defense…”


    I’ve been interested to see this thread develop both here and over on T&S. Some seem to be of the opinion that responsibility to profitability shields corporate decision makers from any moral fallout from their decisions–that is, they don’t seem to be sinning in making in facilitating or indulging the immorality (however one wants to define it) of others.

    I wonder how far I could take this… If I’m a movie producer, and I know that if I throw in some nasty language or some sex the movie will sell better, am I obligated to do so, for the benefit of shareholders (as long as I get somebody else to do the dirty deeds)? It just bothers me (more among the marketeers at T&S than here) how spotless executives emerge from hypothetical circumstances in which profits from sin are enjoyed all around but the actual sinning gets delegated (I mean, somebody MAKES the p*rn they show in Marriots).

  24. Kevin: In Sen. Kerry’s defense, he is arguably more in touch with some Catholic teachings than others (i.e. good on helping the poor [although I would dispute that also] while bad on abortion, stem cell, etc. So, while at worst he could be called a cafeteria style Catholic.

    re: Boardroom ethics. I had a great discussion recently with Matt Evans on a similar topic. While we have both, at one time or another, wanted to create an alternative to the “profit” motive in business…neither of us have been successful in this endeavor & instead, it seems to defeat/make the effort less efficient.

    Look at the plethora of non-profits trying to help people with credit problems and/or out of credit card debt. Yet…the “budge management” companies that are for-profit do more business, make money & help more people than the non-profit groups. And no, this isn’t a matter of the non-profits lacking funding, capital, etc.

    My personal ethic: I’m contradictory. I’ll buy a friend a Cuban cigar while in Mexico because he likes them & would serve alcohol if BYU got to be the host for the Federalist Society conference (the UT state leg is currently facing this problem vis-a-vis the national state legislature conference they are hosting this summer). However, when I open a chocolate shoppe…I don’t want to serve coffee or tea. And when it comes to buying stocks…I simply refuse, and won’t invest in mutual funds that might have tobacco, alcohols stocks, etc.

    Perhaps we could ferret out via our myriad connections who does the Church’s portfolio investments? I’d love to lay to rest the rumor that the LDS Church owns most of the stock in the Coke company.

  25. Jeff Rowes says:


    Sure, I’d accept that. Your example is one of statutory construction: how do you operationalize a set of general principles. All of us have to weigh goods and bads. This isn’t what I’ve been concerned about throughout these posts. I just think we need to be cautious everytime some smiling face steps forward to be praised for “moral” decisionmaking. If that smiling face has been making big $$$ off one bad thing but then decides not to make big $$$ off another thing, we need to doublecheck and make sure that the second decision really is moral and not self-interest masquerading as morality. (In the case of the Marriotts, it may be good business to get a lot of publicity by rejecting p0rn).

    Your example doesn’t worry me much because it’s about two people in a house. I start getting a quesy feeling when some prominent person, usually rich like the MArriotts, steps forward for pats on the back because of doing something for the greater good. Before I dish the pats, I want to know who’s getting paid. It’s as simple (and cynical) as that.

  26. Loren, keep posting! You might be tempted to watch porn! Then you’d be forcing the manager and the owner of the hotel to sin, not to mention all those actors and actresses. We’re here to support you. It can’t be easy – especially in Detroit.

    (Happen to catch any NBA finals?)

  27. Jeff Rowes says:

    Loren, you note that my “hardline” stance on morality — making no distinction between providing a generic room and providing porn — is simplistic and binary. Others make the same point.

    I took this hardline stance merely to illustrate what principled moral consistency looks like. If you serve booze, you should serve p0rn. Efforts to tiptoe around this principled consistency — for example, you can manage a casino but not deal blackjack — don’t reflect moral sophistication, just the self-serving rationalizations of people who want to seem “moral” while doing things that make a lot of money.

    Personally, I think principled moral consistency is absurd. Of course we need to make choices between what we’ll do and what we won’t do. When we make these choices, however, we should be very cautious about claiming to be “moral.” We may, after all, just be making self-interested choices with little internal consistency, and we may be making these choices more as matters of social convention than genuine moral conviction.

  28. Marko — like you, I don’t think the reasoning behind commandments is inherently unknowable. I just don’t think we can know them through our own inquiries — God/the Prophet give the revelations, and I think ultimately they’ll tell us why they’re given, too.

    That’s not intentionally a cop-out — I know that line of reasoning is close-minded and tends to quash discussion — but it’s a helpful thing for me to keep in mind whenever I speculate about the Gospel. Otherwise, the importance of my own ideas would start to trump the reasons given by God, and hello, apostasy!

  29. Jeff Rowes says:

    Marko and Loren,

    I don’t advocate an all or nothing morality, Loren. I just advocate honesty. Accordingly, if it’s immoral to pollute God’s green earth and you nevertheless drive an SUV, don’t go through unseemly mental contortions to rationalize your act as something moral or, worse yet, excusable “human weakness.” Have the guts to say: “ok, I shouldn’t do this according to scripture, but screw it, I’m gonna do it anyway because I like it or I make money off it.” (No one NEEDS to pollute the earth).

    Marko, you’re right. I don’t tend to think of social costs analysis as morality as much as just plain social policy. I just accept peoples’ preferences as a given (booze, p0rn, drugs, pollution) and then sort out which ones have net benefits. You might be right that p0rn has greater need social costs than I believe. Like I said, it’s an empirical question for me. I tend to think of truly moral acts as rare, something that occurs when someone puts the well-being of others above him or herself. Thus, I don’t consider it moral for Michael Jordan to donate $5 million to charity because he gains more than he loses (5 mil has no impact on his life and he gets heaps of praise). I sincerely admire someone who stops to help someone change a tire more than the most generous philanthropists. Nor do I consider adherence to scripture particularly moral, especially if one’s upbringing makes it psychoclogically painful to deviate from church teachings. Perhaps the greatest example of morality I’ve encountered in a long time is Debbie’s courageous decision to donate an organ to her father (Debbie is Loren’s wife). There is no way that this can be described as a selfish act.

    This is a bit simplistic, of course, and I realize it can be “flipped” as we say in law school, but it more or less expresses my view.

  30. Jeff Rowes says:


    My hypothesis that booze has much higher social costs than p0rn is just an educated guess based on my own intuitions and what I believe about the world. It’s more or less an empirical question for me, though I realize that it’s a moral question for many others. In this sense, I’m consistent with what I was posting earlier, meaning my preference for p0rn over booze (as matters of social concern) isn’t something I feel a “moral” pride in or a sense of righteousness about.


  31. Marko, I have to disagree with you when you say that Mormons’ aversion to alcohol seems directly tied to the social harms related thereto. While I agree that may been a factor in the analysis, you seem to overlook the strict doctrinal prohibition.

    Your idea of morality being an inherent evaluation of social harms is interesting, but complicated in the LDS context by revelations and commandments that may or may not rely on that kind of thinking.

  32. Marko, that’s just it — it wouldn’t have been more accurate, because we can’t really speculate fruitfully as to why our religion prohibits certain behaviors, at least not to the extent you extrapolate the societal-harm theory. In my mind, it’s similar to saying that we can’t drink coffee or tea for X or Y reason (such as caffeine) — we really can’t say, though we can make some good guesses.

  33. Marko?! Hey, man, welcome aboard!

  34. Mat,
    I can’t lay out a whole ethic here, as you ask, but I’m not convinced it is needed either. You work in a big law firm. Even though you aren’t a litigator, I’m sure by this point you’ve seen the inside of at least some of the cases circulating – Enron, Worldcom, etc., – where “ordinary folks” get caught up in unethical and unlawful behavior to the tune of robbing people of billions of dollars and everything is okay until someone gets caught. As Primo Levi said of his experience at Auschwitz, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are … the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking question.” Ethics can’t be checked at the door anywhere- whether it is home, work, school, Auschwitz, or the friendly accounting firm downtown.

    I know this probably comes off very hard-lined – perhaps it stems from my feminist training -“the personal is political” – but I happen to think we all get into big trouble when we do that. I don’t think pornography is ever okay, and if I were a CEO, I hope I would have the mettle to stick with that stance.

  35. Jeff Rowes says:

    Mat, I think we’re getting closer to agreement. (It’s not that I think booze and p0rn are unqualified goods. Either could be bad, though I think alcohol is vastly more pernicious than p0rn.)

    I think we need to examine our principles very carefully when we distinguish between two things — such as booze and p0rn — because our choices may be more ones of taste, convenience, or self-interest. In such cases, the moral person will resist the temptation of sanctimony and self-righteousness, and simply acknowledge that the choice in question involves issues apart from, though perhaps including, morality.

  36. Maybe I’m just not capable of deeper thought, but I see no difference between dealing the cards or having an upper-management job that ultimately requires someone else to deal the cards.

    I suppose that’s why I find I’m sympathetic to Jeff’s arguments. I agree that moral choices are sometimes difficult and that we are forced to choose between “two wrongs” on occasion. But I suppose I just see the distinction (much like Dave) between dealing the cards and sitting in an office hiring someone else to deal the cards as a cultural preference more than actual truth or godly righteousness.

    My limited experience suggests to me that Mormon culture generally values “black and white” moral issues over more complex moral issues. You either drink alcohol or you don’t. You either have sex or watch pornography, or you don’t. Not much complexity in those issues, usually. So we find those being emphasized over, say, ethical business decisions.

    Since everyone on Mormon-themed blogs seems to be a lawyer except me, I’ll turn to the law :) If an LDS attorney went to Church and told everyone he was defending Ken Lay or the Tyco guys, I suspect that would be far better received than announcing you’ve just picked up Larry Flynt as a client.

    Even our discussions in this thread reveal our biases for what kind of morality we value. The discussions have centered almost entirely on pornography or alcohol being available at the Marriott. Yet no one has raised the issue of whether the Marriott’s pay their employees a fair wage (while corporate officers make millions), whether they hire illegal immigrants to clean rooms, whether they put a mom-and-pop motel out of business when they move into a new area, and so on. I’m not arguing that Marriott is guilty of any of these things – only that these are more complex areas of morality that are often overlooked.

  37. None of this, of course, explains the Marriott question and indeed the Marriott quesiton casts clouds of doubt on my theoretically compelling, if I must say so myself, system. In this sense I think your cynicism comes into play and is justified. I agree that a moral system that prohibits selling porn but allows selling alcohol is a bit silly. But that isn’t a Marriott problem, it is an us problem, why is it we don’t complain about the Marriotts for selling alcohol . . . wait, I think we just did!

  38. On a related note, what about an LDS ethic of urban (re)development? The LDS Church is buying up more & more (and I mean _most_) of downtown SLC. The Mayor of SLC just started complaining. I tackle this at my blog, feel free to visit & disagree…as I take a fairly _intolerant_ stance :)


  39. Part of this grand ethical dilemma involves personal and cultural definitions of what is “moral.” (I’m not trying to wander into moral relativism territory or anything.)

    I think Mormon culture tends to value issues such as Word of Wisdom and sexuality above business ethics. Therefore, you most likely would have disapproval of someone who works for Anheiser-Busch, even if they don’t drink, more than you would have disapproval for business executives caught up in questionable behavior.

  40. Presumably the closer we get to the actual businesses, the more control we can exert over the business and the greater our responsibility for what happens in that business. If the amount of control one can exert is the important thing–then objecting to the blackjack dealer’s line of work but not the casino president’s line of work seems like a fallacy. In fact it seems like a sort of a whitewash that favors white collar workers.

    It seems fair to expect a person who has enough control over a business to decide what lines of business he will be involved in to take moral responsibility for what the business does. In the Marriott case there are a lot of missing facts–it may be that the CEO doesn’t have any moral objections to profiting from services that he has personal moral objections to (this sort of behavior raises a whole host of questions and I think it is interesting that a completely separate discussion would be necessary for public servants as opposed to private business people). It may be that he doesn’t really have control over certain aspects of the business–it seems likely that the board would never allow him to stop selling liquor. It may be the case that they would stop him from selling p0rn, although I have already said I think this probably not the case. It may be that the economics of the hospitality industry require you to be in the p0rn business, but not the gaming industry (which I think that Marriott is not).

    In sum, then, I have two thoughts–corporations serve as useful buffers between businesses we want to be in for the money but which we object to as sinful. I think these sorts of buffers are less convincing, both to ourselves and to others, if we exert a large amount of control over the business.

  41. Random comment:

    I recently asked my wife’s uncle, a prominent Church member in Vegas, how Church leaders look upon members’ employment with the Casino/Gaming industry in Las Vegas. He memorably responded that local leaders subscribe to the “It’s O.K. to be the pimp, but not the prostitute” standard. In other words, dealing cards at the Blackjack tables is a no-no, but if you’re higher up in management, that’s O.K. I wonder if that’s just a pragmatic rule of thumb that’s evolved out of necessity, or if we should draw some moral/ethical conclusions from this. Seems troubling …

    Aaron B

  42. Sorry for the uber-long post but I’m bored in a hotel room in Detroit and somehow writing too-long responses keeps me warm at night!

  43. Sorry, Marko, I still don’t follow. My experience with Mormons and their reasoning behind moral issues is so radically different from yours, perhaps that’s where I’m missing your argument.

    I see Mormons arguing that the social dangers of some immoral behavior (porn, alcohol, etc.) is only secondary to the fact that “God said so.” The social benefits of following Mormon morals seem to have been cooked up by Church members to explain their views to outsiders. And you can tell they’ve been cooked up by those in the Church because so often they use extremes in their reasoning, largely unaware that the extremes are just that – extreme examples that aren’t the norm.

    So, for example, you have Mormons who talk about drinking alcohol sounding like just about everyone who drinks is an alcoholic. Perhaps this is more of a Utah thing, but it’s something I’ve grown up with. I have friends and family (including my wife’s family) who literally only knew one or two people who drank alcohol – and that was the alcoholic uncle no one talked about or ever saw. So then comes this warning that if you drink, you’ll become an alcoholic.

    The reasoning is terribly flawed, but it is also secondary to the “God said so” reasoning. Ultimately, if Church members were forced to strip away all their half-baked ideas about drinking alcohol, they still wouldn’t drink, because they are commanded not to. This is something unique among Church members that I find very interesting (and that has both very positive and very negative implications). There is a sense of pride that Mormons don’t budge, even in the face of superior reasoning or science. So no matter how much Church members hear about a glass of wine a day being good for them, or whatever, they’ll never start drinking.

    This sense of pride that Church members feel, that they know what is right from God, and that nothing is going to change their mind, outweighs any secondary logic about social dangers, IMO.

  44. Steve — My Mormon history is terrible, and this may be a canard, but wasn’t alcohol originally only a suggestion or “word of wisdom” and then some prophet, perhaps HJG, had a vision where he saw the societal harms that would result from alcohol abuse, after which he made it a strict requirement?

    What revelations or commandments did you have in mind? I don’t think my societal-harm lens would serve to justify all revelations and commandments, but I also have to believe that there is likely some “real world” justification for most if not all behavioral-based religious laws.

  45. Steve — When I reread your response to my comment, I think your comments were based on my post being ambiguous. My reference to “Mormons” was used to reflect the doctrine of the church rather than individual Mormons collective preferences. It would have been more accurate for me to state that the revelations and commandments of the Mormon church regarding certain behaviors like consuming alcohol and watching p0rn are probably based in large part on the perceived societal harms that stem from such activity.

  46. Steve, just wanted to congratulate you on perhaps the funniest lawyerly hedging I’ve ever seen.

    “. . . ultimately, no one is completely moral (except for purposes of this board, Christ).

    I love that you threw in the “for purposes of this board” part. Never know what pharisee will twist your words to make it sound like you think Christ was completely moral in every context. :) (I’m guessing you intended the irony- but kudos either way).

  47. suggests that weÂ’re not using our mini-communal mores to make judgements but rather broader societal norms. Applying those societal norms, the issue for which the Marriotts are most likely to be judged negatively is pornography. This is most likely because a large number of people — even people who personally donÂ’t object to pornography — feel like in their public life they ought to object to the dissemination of pornography. There are those few brave souls who are willing to admit their private feelings for the stuff in public, but I suspect lots of people who watch porn in their rooms take a less permissive stance in public (three cheers for Jeff and the few brave souls like him — I mean that seriously Jeff, I do admire you for your consistency and courage to confront your preferences without hypocrisy). Alcohol and coffee donÂ’t inspire so condemnation, even of the disingenuous sort.

    The morality you are going to be judged by is the morality of the observer, not necessarily yours. People are going to hold a CEO responsible for not living up to his idiosyncratic morality only when the critics share that morality. For this reason Marriott can safely serve alcohol and coffee, but perhaps will suffer reputational consequences for providing pornography (and the church might suffer ancillary harm). Mind you none of this directly relates to the central question, which is when a CEOÂ’s personal morality should inform his leadership of his corporation, regardless of the communityÂ’s preferences.

    As for the question Mat asked when should a CEO business decisions based by their personal morals. I donÂ’t think there is anything inherent in the corporate form that precludes this sort of morality. The real problem is the quest for success and wealth, which, despite all of the warnings to the contrary in the scriptures, seems to be a persistent problem in the church. This is why JeffÂ’s cynicism is warranted. I have no doubt that if it cost Marriott significant cash to provide porn, that is if it were a net cost, it wouldnÂ’t be in my hotel room right now (is it on his TV right now, or is he just saying itÂ’s available???). But the question presupposes that there might be some situation in which economics wouldnÂ’t dictate the answer to a mixed economic-moral quesiton

    In short, I donÂ’t know where that line should be drawn. But I do know that if we donÂ’t draw it as individuals, society will draw one for us. If we fall short of that standard our source of morality (church) will be judged by our failure in the eyes of our critics. So we should either take sufficiently moral positions to avoid this, develop an attitude of indifference to the criticisms of our church, or renounce our flouted beliefs and embrace unvarnished capitalism.

  48. Thanks Ryan — believe it or not, it was intentional, although it was also a nod to the non-mormons that occasionally post their comments. I personally believe that Christ acted morally in all contexts, but somehow in this discussion it seemed off-topic…. :)

  49. The narcissists have a portrait of themselves in the entrance to every hotel. They have chosen to be the face of the corporation in a way that they could have avoided. Given that they have taken on this high profile, I think their status as Mormons, which they are wearing on their sleeve, requires them to do more (I would think that someone like Mel Gibson with the high religious profile that he has assumed would have a similar duty to do more; similarly if I knew that Hilton was run by a group with a strong moral code I would examine their policies through the moral code they claim they hold(given ParisÂ’s lifestyle I hope theyÂ’re not)). I think Marriott is taking a moral stand, just not the absolutist stand that you seem to want to paint them into, Jeff.

    IÂ’m quite ambivalent about the question of where Marriott should draw the line when it comes to movies and to drinks. For example, why stop at porn; why donÂ’t we criticize Marriott for showing R-rated movies (despite our less that perfect record on this matter, Jeff, the Prophet has recommended that we not watch R-rated movies). If R-rated movies are out, why arenÂ’t TV programs that take the LordÂ’s name in vain. IÂ’m not sure where to draw the line.
    With regard to beverages, where do we expect the Marriotts to draw the line. Should they be totally permissive, not provide mini-bars, preclude the restaurants they run from serving alcohol, preclude restaurants they lease space to from serving alcohol, or require their guests to sign an affidavit that they will not consume alcohol on the premises. A similar question could be asked about coffee: in-room coffee makers, coffee in the restaurants, coffee in lessorsÂ’ restaurants, affidavits. It appears that they have taken a permissive stance, the only thing they donÂ’t do is have mini-bars in the room (though perhaps this isnÂ’t a moral stance, maybe the mini-bars just werenÂ’t profitable).

    HereÂ’s my resolution of the issue, though as I said IÂ’m ambivalent about it. It seems to me that the Marriotts arenÂ’t being judged by their personal moral stance, rather they are being judged by the moral stance of their consumers. However, since they have made themselves, as individuals, the public face of the corporation, their personal morality will be judged by the conformity of the business to generally held societal norms or at least societal norms will be used as the floor below which the supposedly higher moral standards cannot fall without being criticized. (A similar example is when the StorminÂ’ Mormons were known as the dirtiest basketball team at HLS — either donÂ’t name yourselves after the church, live up to your standards, or expect people to judge the church by your personal behavior) One community, perhaps the one most likely to be critical, is the Mormon community. Curiously, Mormons donÂ’t criticize the Marriotts for alcohol, which suggests that weÂ’re not using our mini-communal mores to make judgements but rather broader socie

  50. The SEC has rudely interrupted our correspondence (and the rest of my night), so I can’t respond as well as I would like or adequately consider your responses. I agree with both Steve and John that the “God says so” reason ultimately trumps any other argument, even if you are merely trying to describe your beliefs to a non-believer.

    Steve — I think we are doing more than just making good guesses because I don’t think the reasoning behind commandments is inherently unknowable. If there is no real-world harm (societal or individual) in an activity religion prohibits or proscribes, then perhaps God is arbitrary and capricious and faith is based completely on warm fuzzies and not at all on pragmatic application. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

    John — The fact that some Mormons you know have a flawed understanding of the social costs of a particular activity has no bearing on the actual social costs of the activity.

    I may be too cynical, but I believe that the perceived personal and societal costs directly impact the number of Mormons who follow a particular rule.

  51. Two things. First, I think that DJ265’s comment a while back that Loren boil his posts down to a few bullet points should be resurrected. Second, could it be the case that religious morality is in some sense more powerful than personally derrived morality? Maybe that’s another post (maybe all of this is another post), but you could make the case that personally derrived morality is nothing more than disingenuously advocating our personal preferences as societal oughts whereas religious morality imposes a belief system on the adherent that may not coincide with that person’s preferences. I concede, however that people self select their religion and their degree of devotion within any particular religion, so the point may be irrelevant.

  52. Well, there is a difference between what goes on in the generically rented room–which is simply part of the hotle business–and the ethical questions that arise from “auxiliary services” actively provided to boost profits. Since Marriott is piping in the movies the ethical question, to the extent there is one, is more pressing.

    I suppose one can argue hookers might visit clients in Marriott rooms, but I don’t see that as any real ethical fault for the hotel. On the other hand, if the hotel provided an in-room hotline to local escort services (for a percentage or fee from the escort company, of course) along with glowing recommendations by the phone from satisfied customers, then it’s more of an ethical issue for the hotel because they would be “partnering” with the service provider.

    As a practical matter, I find it difficult to criticize the provision of legal products or services on moral grounds. There’s more than just a technical difference between partaking and providing. Selling a drink is different than drinking.

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