Recently I was fortunate enough to be in the presence of Peter Singer. Peter Singer is a philosopher, and is in Time Magazine’s top 100 most influential people in the world. He is also, I am proud to say, an Australian.
The event was organised by the School of Life in Sydney and due to the demand for tickets they had to move to a larger venue. It was heartening to see the audience was predominantly young people.
Peter Singer was talking about ethics and “What Really Matters”.
This resonated strongly with me for a number of reasons – and I want to describe those reasons to you because it really matters to me. And also hopefully to you!
That same day I had an interesting discussion with someone – let’s call him Terry. Terry had asked me for my opinion on what I considered to be an ethical matter.
He was considering hiring a new casual employee in his business, for a few hours each week and he asked me “Is it OK to employ her off the books?’
My immediate response was to clarify what he meant by “off the books.”
He explained “it means paying cash for each time she works.”
I was curious why he would be motivated to employ somebody “off the books” and pay them cash.
He said “everyone does it, because it’s easier.”
Even more curious, I asked: “easier than what?’
Of course this is not the first time I have heard someone talking about having some cash transaction in their business “off the books“.
Every time there is cash in a business there is the opportunity for the transactions to be “off the books.”
I let Terry know that I have a very firm belief that it is important to stay on the ethical side of the rules that govern business. Of course what he decided to do was completely up to him. I know what I would do.
There’s a very good reason, especially for employing people “on the books”; i.e. paying the correct amount of superannuation for them, ensuring they are covered by workers compensation insurance and even more important, sending the correct signal that the right thing to do is to follow the guidelines for running a business.
Over the years, we have all heard about cash businesses stashing money under the bed or employing people off the books, so the issue Terry raised is a common one.
Terry is not the first person to consider this as a solution for employing people. The idea that it is okay to do this “because everyone else does it” and “because it’s easier”, I find intriguing.
“Easier” can potentially become very messy as others may then want some sort of similar employment arrangement. “You do it for her, why can you not also do it for me?”
“Because everyone else is breaking the law” never sounds like an ethical reason to do something.
Terry and I went on to have an interesting discussion about how seemingly small things that stray outside “the right thing to do” like paying someone for a few hours “off the books”, can lead to increased levels of corruption in any environment.
By allowing questionable ethical standards Terry sends a signal to the others in the business that they too can be dishonest.
When it comes down to it, employing some one “off the books” is not an honest transaction.
We live in a terrific country and yes from time to time it might feel like abiding by legislation, bureaucracy and taxation rules stifles our ability to really create and grow our businesses. And yes, it can be frustrating at times when others might appear to be rorting the system. Try living in a country where there are no rules, no systems and corruption is everywhere.
Peter Singer’s talk was really thought-provoking as he argues that there are objective moral truths, and other normative truths that we believe, want, and do. He challenges a view of the ‘role of reason‘ in our actions. I found myself agreeing….. and I wished Terry had been there in the audience.
“…. the role of reason in action” made me think of Terry’s reason that its “easier and everyone else does it.” Is that really a valid reason?
What do you think about this?
As always, I aim to provide thought-provoking and informative information for you in your business startup journey.
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