Capitalism, Trust, and the Ted Williams Attitude


I don't like people who don't play by the rules. If Tiger Woods won tournaments by playing from the women's tees, would anyone really think he was the best golfer in the world? That mindset doesn't always seem to apply in the business world, and I don't understand that. If I had to cheat and lie and fudge numbers to earn a few extra points of return or to meet my Wall Street whisper numbers, then I didn't really do it did I? What is there to be proud of when you win by cheating? I love capitalism, but it falls apart when it isn't set on a secure foundation of honesty and trust.

Ben Stein address trust and capitalism in a nice article he wrote for the New York Times.

When yeoman farmers sent their savings to banks in London and Glasgow and Paris, they had to be able to count on it not being stolen. That was what allowed capital to be accumulated and deployed, and for the entire world economy to take off.

When I see what the top dogs at all too many corporations are now doing to that trust, I feel queasy. Outrageous – yes, obscene – pay. Greedy backdating of stock options, which in my opinion is straight-up theft. Managers buying assets from their trustors, the stockholders, at pennies on the dollar, then forestalling competing bids with lockups and insane breakup fees.

These misdeeds and many, many more are hammer blows at the granite foundation of trust we built in the 1940s and '50s. How long democratic capitalism can survive these blows before it gives in and gives birth to revolution or to an out-and-out aristocracy, I am not sure.

I'm not sure either. Americans don't mind when someone makes money, but they do mind when it comes from questionable practices. I wish more business people had the attitude of Ted Williams, the last baseball player to hit .400 for the season. Here is what he did on the last day of the 1941 season, with his .400 average on the line.

Unfazed by a 3-for-15 slump and not interested in going into the record books as a .400 hitter who actually hit .39955, Ted refused manager Joe Cronin's offer to sit out the twin bill. He then took the field and went 4-for-5 in the first game and 2-for-3 in the nightcap to finish the year at a more respectable .406.

Williams wanted to hit .400 for the season for real. If you are going to make money as a capitalist, do it by providing real value. Manipulating numbers and cheating shareholders is more suited to greedy hacks with no managerial talent.

pic via thorinside

  • Rob,

    I, too, read Stein’s article and was moved to ask “why?” I think cheating comes down to two drivers: greed and power. The first represents a false assumption that “money and things” equate to winning and happiness. The second speaks to an unrealistic view of self and a belief that those with power are entitled to screw the rest of us. Both denote a deficit of moral and ethical living, and, in my mind, weakness of spirit.

  • Good piece. The Stein article is excellent.

    I was reminded of two pieces I wrote in my used-to-be Monday Memo. There was a piece about trust, written around the time of the Enron implosion. It’s called “Trust (or Not).

    And there was the piece I wrote when Ted Williams died. It’s called “Ted Williams: Hero, Hedgehog, Hitter.”

  • Just in case you see a bump in traffic, we selected you as a top financial blog. We tried our best to make sure that the blogs selected were actually in the state we thought they were in, so I apologize in advance if we accidentally put you in the wrong spot.

  • Cheating and greedyness is also a result of have and have nots. Television and movies show many unrealistic things which also deludes people’s minds.