Compliance Interview

In a recent interview, Mark Pastin discusses a wide range of issues on corporate compliance. Please feel free to offer comments on any of the topics discussed in the video.



headshot of Mark PastinWelcome to Mark Pastin’s web site. You will find information about Mark and his publications, services and speaking engagements here. Mark started working on ethics and compliance problems in business, government and the professions in the early 1970s. His 1986 book, The Hard Problems of Management: Gaining the Ethics Edge, was the first to take a managerial approach to ethics in business. (See Publications for details.) In his new book, Mark shows readers how to use their own innate ethical sense to create organizational and social change. Make an Ethical Difference: Tools for Better Action was released late in 2013 and is available now at and Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Author Interview

The attached video explains the main themes of Mark Pastin’s new book Make an Ethical Difference. One novel theme of the book is that individuals have an innate ability to make ethical judgments. Pastin calls this ability the “ethics eye.” More on this topic in coming posts as the main themes of Make an Ethical Difference are previewed.

Leaders and Bystanders

Presidential candidate Ben Carson was recently widely ridiculed for saying that when a gunman sets out to shoot a bunch of unarmed people, someone should rush the gunman. This idea was ridiculed because it seemed to put the burden on the victims of mass shootings. But, whether or not Carson knew it, he was a discussing a well-known phenomenon called “the bystander effect.” And, given what we know about the bystander effect, he may have a point even it if it was inopportunely raised. Read more at Did Ben Carson have a point?.

A Final Lie: Seek the Advice of Counsel

When confronted with an ethical issue, many people and companies will turn to their legal counsel. This is a mistake. A good lawyer is someone who will judge your actions according to a set of black and white rules and try to find the path most advantageous to you – which has nothing to do with ethics. When you are looking for ethical advice, it is typically because there are no black and white rules for the situation or the black and white rules seem to be giving you the wrong answer. Of course, many things that are unethical are also illegal. So if you are planning on doing something unethical, it is not a bad idea to have counsel at hand.

Ethics Is Not about Feelings

It is sometimes said that ethical conversation is pointless because it all comes down to how people feel about things. This is clearly nonsense. When I want to know about your ethics, I want to know if you will pay me back the money you owe me. I want to know if I can count on you to tell me the truth even if it is unpleasant to do so. I want to know what you will do, not how you will feel when you’re doing it. Your feelings may be an indicator of what you will do but it is what you will do that is really at issue.

Another Lie: There Is No Progress In Ethics

It does often seem that progress in ethics is hard to come by. But can anyone doubt that it is more ethical to live in a society in which slavery is not tolerated than to live in one in which slavery is tolerated? Is it not clearly more ethical to live in a society that allows participation by women than in one that prohibits it? What is true is that ethical progress is not easy or equal. But did anyone expect ethical progress to be easy, automatic or universally acknowledged? Ethical progress may come slowly and at great cost – but it does come.

How Could Volkswagen Do Anything So Stupid?

Volkswagen is a company known for technological prowess and market innovation. This raises the question of how the company could engage in a plot as plain stupid as trying to trick emissions tests. I share my thoughts on this apparent puzzle in a recent piece that appeared in the business section of the Huffington Post. You can read it at

Lies about Ethics

The Profit Motive Undermines Ethics.

Many people believe that capitalism itself is unethical because the profit motive causes people to act unethically. But the truth is that any motive carried to an extreme can undermine ethics as much or more than the profit motive. Can anyone doubt that the power motive distorts the judgment of politicians and public officials? Or that the ego motive corrupts the judgment of celebrities, who are often quick to blame the profit motive. The problem is not with the profit motive per se but with any motive carried to an extreme.

Lies about Ethics

No topic is more subject to lies than ethics. In fact, our thinking about ethics typically begins with a lie. Each of us tells our self that we are ethical while we are uncertain about the ethics of most everyone else. We are always the exception. Ethics is the subject of a lot of lies because it is very personal to us and is part of our self-esteem. If you do a lot of thinking about ethics, you may end up challenging the very foundation of who you are. But lies about ethics are not harmless. They keep us mired in endless ethical disagreement about some of the most important issues of the day such as immigration, executive compensation, and climate change. Over the next several posts, starting here, I will talk about some of the big lies about ethics.

You Can’t Teach People Ethics.

This is patently false since most parents teach their children ethical basics, albeit with varying degrees of success. Parents teach children ethics by using rewards, punishments, persuasion and example. And this mostly works. The goal of parental teaching is to equip us to make ethical judgments once we no longer have our parents to guide us. Since we know ethics can be taught, we have to ask whether we should be using the same tools to continue ethics education into adulthood. However, these tools are less effective with adults just because adults believe that they already know the truth about ethics.


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