Human Material Need.
One aspect of human material need is the need for income that is sufficient for physical well-being or, simply, physical need. My research has centered mainly on questions of the definition and measurement of economic sufficiency, poverty, and homelessness and how poverty relates to family dysfunction. Additionally, my research has addressed the economic hardship of unemployment in the context of the several effects of unemployment and the controversy of absolute poverty versus relative poverty. The nature of research on physical need is unavoidably normative. The challenge to the researcher is to make it less arbitrary. The other aspect of human material need is the need for work as a means of personal development. Seen from this perspective, work is more than producing a given good or service. It is an opportunity to be creative and to belong and thereby to realize more fully one’s own potential as a person. Heightened workplace obligations and wider participation in workplace decision-making are two means of fulfilling this side of human material need.
The Workplace: Organizing Principles, Social Values, and Justice.
Three organizing principles — competition, intervention, and cooperation — govern the workplace, each one reflecting a specific social value. Competition is built upon individual freedom, intervention rests on equality, and cooperation is an extension of community. In turn, each of the three social values is foundationally supported by one of the three principles of justice: equivalence, distributive justice, and contributive justice. An efficient, orderly, and tranquil workplace depends on a proper integration of all three organizing principles along with their associated social values and principles of justice. Dysfunction occurs when the delicate balance among the three sets is upended. My research began more than 30 years ago with questions of employment security and (re-)training. More recently it has extended to improvements in productivity and quality and to marketplace innovation. At the intra-firm level, I have prepared reports on productivity- and quality-improvement at companies in Louisiana that apply such methods as statistical process control, just-in-time manufacturing, cell manufacturing, gain sharing, ESOP, team safety awards, focused factories, quality circles, and total quality management. In almost every instance, one finds a stronger emphasis on cooperation and teamwork (i.e., community). I have observed that quality at the source drives productivity and that quality is promoted importantly by enlarging the scope of responsibility of the individual worker. Greater responsibility contributes to the worker’s need for work itself and improved productivity and quality, in turn, make for a more competitive firm. I have noticed that the need of the worker and the need of the employer encompass questions of ethics because, finally, responsibility is a matter of what is owed by one person to others.
Supra-Firm Alliances and Inter-Firm Partnerships.
Most workplace problems in a market economy are managed at the intra-firm level. Problems that do not yield to individual action and that are common across firms are handled from time to time through private-group agreements. Those agreements may be collusive and zero-sum propositions or cooperative and positive-sum arrangements. My research interests are directed toward the latter type as manifested in the workplace. I have visited St. Louis PRIDE, for example, which is a supra-firm alliance for addressing problems in the construction industry. PRIDE’s Memorandum of Understanding sets forth the obligations of the individual members to one another. I have interviewed the senior management of Acadian Ambulance in Lafayette which has built an inter-firm partnership to provide emergency medical care to residents of an area that otherwise likely would be underserved. I have observed first hand the operations of LOOP in New Orleans which is a supra-firm alliance established to help reduce the hazards in handling crude oil notably in the off loading of supertankers and the storage of the oil prior to shipment to the refinery. Future research will be directed toward uncovering additional cases of cooperative and positive-sum arrangements, probing their origins, characteristics, and effects in order to understand better how they differ from collusive and zero-sum arrangements.
Innovation is at the very core of economic development. For that reason, learning more about innovation is instructive on activating economic development and thereby is germane to the problem of unmet human material need. From a Schumpeterian perspective, it is the entrepreneur who drives the market economy. Thus, learning more about economic development inevitably means learning more about the entrepreneur. Between 1988 and 1997 I had a unique opportunity to examine and prepare reports on the process of innovation at all of the Louisiana companies which were designated finalists for the U.S. Senate Innovation Award. Those visits brought me in direct contact with senior managers who were responsible for new products and services which have achieved some marketplace success.
In 1986 I developed a new pedagogy using award-winning feature films to teach business ethics to undergraduate students. That experience roused an interest in company, professional, and trade association codes of ethics. Over the past several years, I have studied in some detail the code of ethics of the American Marketing Association, the Direct Selling Association, the Association for Computing Machinery, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Association for Incentive Marketing, and the Outdoor Advertising Association. My central interest in every instance has been to understand more fully what these codes encompass, how the codes originated, and the extent to which they embody or reflect certain principles of ethics. My interest in the problem of teaching ethics to persons already engaged in professional work has led to the development of user-friendly interactive software programs for members of the American Marketing Association and the Association for Computing Machinery.