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2.5 Case Studies

Skin and Money

In the mid-1980s in Los Angeles, Somen “Steve” Banerjee and his friend Nick DeNoia pooled money to start a new kind of strip club: men baring it for women. Since they had no idea what they were doing, it didn’t go well. What finally helped was a couple of showmen from Las Vegas. Steve Merrit and his partner (professional and romantic) Mark Donnelly came aboard and hatched the idea of a Vegas-type song-and-dance show wrapped around the disrobing.

To find performers, they cruised the muscle beaches outside LA. They brought the guys back to a studio, applied some Village People–style outfits (policeman, fireman, construction worker, and so on), and ran the group through a line-dancing routine.

Their idea was simple but innovative: sex sells; but instead of making the show lustful, they made it entertaining. Drawing on their Las Vegas experience, Merrit and Donnelly understood how to do it, how to produce a fun theatrical fantasy instead of a crude flesh show. The general concept made sense and the execution was professional, but on opening night, no one knew what would happen.

Chippendales exploded. Women went crazy for the performances, first in the United States, then Europe, and then everywhere as Banerjee and DeNoia rushed to form multiple traveling versions of their production. The time they didn’t spend together mounting the shows they spent in court fighting over who was entitled to how much of the profits and who really owned the suddenly very valuable Chippendales name and concept. The dispute ended in 1987 after DeNoia was shot dead in his office.

One major problem Chippendales faced is that it wasn’t a hard show to copy. Get some muscled guys, some uniform-store costumes, a pop music soundtrack, and pound it all together into a dance routine with a little teasing; you don’t need a genius to do it. So others started.

Michael Fullington was a junior choreographer for Chippendales. He struck up a friendship with some of the showguys, and they split away into a group called Club Adonis. The original choreographers—Merrit and Donnelly—also got in on the act, forming their own traveling revue called Night Dreams.

Unhappy with these copycat acts, Banerjee hired a hit man to go around killing the whole bunch. The hit man, it turned out, was an FBI informant. Banerjee ended up in jail. The ensuing investigation led to more charges. There was arson (he’d burned down one of his own clubs for the insurance money some time back) and also another count of conspiracy to murder since it was Banerjee who’d arranged to have his original partner shot.

The case never got to trial. Banerjee agreed to plead guilty, absorb a twenty-six-year sentence, and give up his rights to Chippendales along with nearly all his money and real estate holdings.

While the lawyers worked out the details, Banerjee’s wife Irene worked feverishly to organize a group of character witnesses. By bringing a parade of people to testify about her husband’s good side at the sentencing hearing, she was hoping to get the jail time reduced a little bit. Or maybe she was hoping to hold on to more of the money and real estate they’d accumulated.

No one got the chance to testify. On the morning of the hearing, Banerjee hung himself in his cell.

Because the trial was never completed, the plea deal never went into effect. And because the guilty man was dead, there was no one left to charge with any crime. Chippendales and all the money and property associated with it went to Banerjee’s wife Irene.

Questions

  1. Is being a Chippendale’s dancer honorable work?

    • How could the perennial ethical duties to the self—develop our abilities and talents and do ourselves no harm—be mustered to support the idea that these men should be proud of what they do?
    • Ethically, how does this job compare with working for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, an outfit that calls itself “a vibrant home for the world’s most creative and talented artists working in opera”?
  2. Is hiring and training a Chippendale’s dancer honorable? Imagine you were one of the original choreographers cruising California beaches in search of beefcake and dance talent. You bring the guys in, choreograph their routine, and send them up on stage.

    • Thinking just of the perennial duties to the self, is hiring and training them honorable? Under what conditions?
    • Thinking just of the perennial duties to others—avoiding wrongful actions toward others, honesty, respect, beneficence (promoting the welfare of others), gratitude, fidelity (keeping promises, honor agreements), and reparation (compensating others when we harm them)—is hiring and training them honorable? Why or why not?
  3. With respect to the ethics of duties, is Chippendales a respectable company in terms of how it treats its clients? How does this company compare with the Metropolitan Opera’s treatment of its clients (note that the Met occasionally replaces the word clients with the more flattering patrons)?
  4. Leaving aside the legal issues and using only the perennial duties, what ethical case could be made in favor of Banerjee getting a hit man to eliminate the people who were copying his show?

    • Should he have hired someone or done the job himself? Explain.
    • What’s the difference between hiring a hit man and hiring a beefcake dancer?
    • How would Kant respond to these questions?
  5. The Club Adonis group worked for Chippendales before splitting to do the same thing elsewhere. Use Kant’s categorical imperative to show that their action was wrong.
  6. According to the perennial duties, did Banerjee do the right thing hanging himself in the end?
  7. According to Kant, did Banerjee do the right thing hanging himself?
  8. When Banerjee hung himself, he lost his life, but he did manage to preserves his life’s property and wealth for his wife. Can a libertarian ethics be used to show that Banerjee did the right thing?

Two at the Same Time

On a real estate discussion board,“Ethical dilemma with submitting two offers at once? (contingency, clause, agent),” City-Data, accessed May 11, 2011, http://www.city-data.com/forum/real-estate/710433-ethical-dilemma-submitting-two-offers-once.html. someone with the sign-in name BriGuy23 asks, “Does anyone on here find any issue with submitting two offers to buy two different apartments at the same time? My friend thinks that it’s unfair due to the fact that one of the offers is definitely going to not go through which means they’re tying up the seller’s time (and money in a way). From a seller’s standpoint I think I would be annoyed but I really don’t see anything wrong with it from a buyer’s perspective. Thoughts?”

A response comes from middle-aged mom: “Sellers can negotiate multiple offers so there is no reason why a buyer could not make multiple offers on different places. Assuming you are represented by a buyer’s agent, I would use the same agent to make both offers. Make certain that your contract gives you an out in the unlikely event both are accepted.”

Questions

  1. What does BriGuy23 suspect might be unethical about submitting two offers to buy two different apartments at the same time? Can you wrap this suspicion in the language of the duties?
  2. Is middle-aged mom appealing to the concept of fairness to justify making multiple offers at the same time? If she is, then how? If she isn’t, what is her reasoning?
  3. If Kant decided to make a contribution to this discussion board, what do you think he would write?
  4. Middle-aged mom writes, “Make certain that your contract gives you an out in the unlikely event both are accepted.” She means that when you make an offer to buy, you actually offer a signed contract to buy the apartment, but there’s a catch, an escape clause that lets you pull out if you choose. Is that ethical, offering a signed contract offering to buy a property that includes an “out”?
  5. You need a date for Saturday night.

    • Would you have any problem with inviting two different people at the same time (by, say, leaving a message on both their phones)? Why or why not?
    • Would you leave yourself an out in case both answers were yes? If not, why not? If so, what would it be and how could it be justified ethically?

Working at American Apparel

Dov Charney is an American immigrant success story, but he’s not exactly a “Give me your tired, your poor” kind of immigrant. He’s a Canadian who came to America to attend an expensive private university.

He ended up founding American Apparel (AA), a clothing manufacturer producing trendy t-shirts and basics selling mainly to a young, edgy crowd.

Based in Los Angeles, their factory is among the biggest clothes-making operations in the nation. It employs almost five thousand workers. Those workers are well known for a number of reasons:

  • Just having workers sets AA apart. Nearly all US clothing manufacturers outsource their cutting and sewing to poor countries. From Mexico to China, you can find factories paying locals fifty cents an hour to do the same kind of work they do at AA. The difference is the sewers working in Los Angeles typically get around fifteen dollars an hour. That’s not a lot in Southern California, but it’s enough to make them—according to AA—the best paid garment workers in the world.
  • The workers don’t report to bosses so much as each other. They organize as independent teams paid a base wage of eight dollars an hour. On top of that they receive a bonus depending on how much they produce. So they get together, set their own targets, and go for them. This liberating of the workforce led to nearly a tripling of output and was matched by about a doubling of wages.
  • The company features a generous stock options program to help workers buy shares in the enterprise.
  • On its own initiative, the company provides basic health-care services through a clinic tucked into a factory corner. It provides bikes to employees, helping them zip through the downtown traffic morass without adding pollution to the infamous city smog. There are free telephones in the factory for employees to use to call family members at home.
  • Many of those employees’ family members are in other countries; AA has a very large immigrant workforce.
  • Many of those immigrants are in the country illegally, which partially explains why the company has been on the forefront of amnesty campaigns, organizing public rallies and media events of all kinds for the undocumented. Called Legalize LA, the campaign’s title references the fact that a tremendous number of Southern Californians outside AA are also illegal immigrants.
  • In 2009, the federal government indicated to AA that 1,800 of its workers were using Social Security numbers and other identifying documents that had been purchased, stolen, or just plain invented. In any case, they didn’t match up. The company was forced to fire the employees.

Questions

  1. Workers at Charney’s America Apparel are the highest-paid mass-production sewers in the world.

    • In terms of Charney’s duties to the self, what ethical case can be made in favor of this high pay?
    • In terms of Charney’s duties to others, what ethical case can be made in favor of this high pay?
    • Are these wages fair? Why or why not?
  2. In terms of duties—either the perennial duties or Kant’s categorical imperative—which is more recommendable: keeping the AA plant where and how it is, or moving it to Mexico and cutting the workers’ wages in half? Why is the decision you’ve made the better of the two?

    A few factors to consider:

    • In Mexico, the workers’ real pay in terms of local buying power would be much higher, even though the actual amount is less than what they receive here.
    • Many of the workers are illegal immigrants from Mexico; their legal situation would obviously be remedied and proximity to family would increase.
    • The national Mexican economy would benefit more from AA’s presence than does the US economy.
  3. Kant’s categorical imperative requires that others be treated as ends and never as means.

    • In what way could the argument be made that the employees at AA are being treated as means, and therefore Charney’s plant is unethical no matter how high his salaries may be?
    • Besides high pay, the company provides workers with considerable freedom to set their own work pace and schedule. The company also provides a stock purchase program. Do either or both of these factors alleviate the charge that the workers are treated as means and not ends? Why or why not?
  4. Eighteen hundred of AA’s five thousand workers were using false papers and Social Security numbers to get their job. Charney knew all about that but chose to overlook it.

    • Leaving the law aside, how can that overlooking be justified ethically?
    • Leaving the law aside, how can Kant be used to cast that action as ethically wrong in terms of lying? In terms of stealing? In terms of using people as means instead of ends?
    • Charney and AA support illegal immigrants in two ways: by giving them jobs and by organizing popular protests in favor of their legalization. Ethically, are these two activities recommendable or not? Or is one recommendable and the other not?
  5. Assuming it’s wrong for illegal immigrants to be working in America, who deserves the sterner ethical reprobation, Charney or the illegal workers? Explain in ethical terms.
  6. The basic and natural rights of mainstream rights theory include the following:

    • Life
    • Freedom
    • Free speech
    • Religious expression
    • The pursuit of happiness
    • Possessions and the fruits of our work
    • How can these rights be mustered to support Charney’s hiring and keeping workers he knows are in the country illegally?
    • How can these rights be mustered to ethically denounce Charney for hiring and keeping workers he knows are in the country illegally?
    • Thinking about those workers, do these rights give them an ethical license to use false Social Security numbers and identifying documents? Why or why not?
  7. Eddy Lepp ended up in jail for his medicinal marijuana garden, yet Charney sleeps in a million-dollar beach house. Is this fair?

Pirates

The following is from an online discussion:“My cd-burner wont let me copy the cd..why...,” Hardforum, accessed May 11, 2011, http://www.hardforum.com/archive/index.php/t-711331.html.

overstand: I’ve been having problems with copying cds and trying to burn them…when the copy process gets to 4% the used read buffer will go down to zero and continue fluctuating…will someone let me know the procedures on fixing this.
retardedchicken: May I ask what CDs are you copying? Usually big companies put copy protection on their CDs so people dont ILLEGALLY copy their CDs.
-=iNsAnE=-: why do people post worthless crap like this? its none of your business what cd’s he’s copying…dont accuse him of making illegal copy’s of cd’s…maybe try posting somethign useful next time
Flipside: It’s not worthless crap mongloid.…Copyright protection does prevent the copying of some disks especially in main-stream programs such as Nero. Try using Clone CD—you may have better luck with a pure duplication program (No fuss).

Questions

  1. The unanswered question here is whether the CD being copied is copyright protected, in other words, whether this is a piracy case. Assume it is. If retardedchicken had to fill out an ethical argument against CD piracy that relied on either the perennial duties or Kant, what could he say?
  2. While overstand may be pirating, no one doubts that the original disc is legitimately his. Maybe he bought it or maybe someone gave it to him; either way, what’s the libertarian argument against retardedchicken? How could a libertarian justify overstand’s copying?
  3. Would a libertarian believe that the company producing the disc has a right to lace it with code that makes duplication impossible? Explain.
  4. It sounds like Clone CD is specifically made to help pirates get around the copyright protections manufacturers put on their discs.

    • What’s the Kantian case for condemning Clone CD for their project?
    • What’s the libertarian case for congratulating them?

    Which of the two cases is stronger? Why?

  5. Retardedchicken implies that overstand is a thief and -=iNsAnE=- calls retardedchicken’s post “worthless crap.” Flipside calls -=iNsAnE=- a “mongloid.”

    • Is there an ethical case that can be made against the tone of this discussion?
    • Does online interaction foster this tone? If so, can an ethical case be made against the existence of Internet discussion boards?

Gun Shop under Attack

The headline from a local Oakland newspaper reported that a gun shop is closing due to unfair taxes.Alexandra J. Wall, “Jewish Gunshop Owner Closing Store; Cites Unfair Taxes,” Jweekly, July 21, 2000, accessed May 11, 2011, http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/13657/jewish-gunshop-owner-closing-store-cites-unfair-taxes. The gun shop’s name was Siegle’s Guns. Closing was inevitable, according to owner Mara Siegle, after Oakland residents passed Measure D, which levied a huge tax on gun dealers. They had to pay $24 for every $1,000 earned, in comparison to the $1.20 per $1,000 that all the other retailers in Oakland fork over. “No one can stay in business paying that kind of tax,” Siegle said while preparing her going-out-of-business sale. “And that’s exactly what Oakland wanted.”

No one disputes the point.

The disputes are about whether Oakland should want that and whether it’s fair for the city to use taxes as a weapon.

  • Tracy Salkowitz says yes to both. “Except for hunting rifles, the sole purpose of weapons is to kill people.” Getting rid of gun shops, the logic follows, is a public welfare concern. And about the taxes that brought the store down? She’s “delighted” by them.
  • Mara Siegle’s opinion is that people who don’t hunt and shoot for recreation don’t understand that guns are a legitimate pastime. “They don’t see this side,” she says, “because they don’t try to.” Further, she asserts, over the years gun owners have told her that they own guns to defend themselves.
  • Outside the store, mingling customers agreed with Siegle. They said closing gun stores was the wrong way to fight crime and then cursed the city for the unjust taxes.

Amid the winners and losers, Mara Siegle certainly got the rottenest part of the deal. She has two sons, fifteen and seventeen, and she doesn’t know what she’ll do for income. “I need a job,” she said.

A hand-lettered sign posted in the store’s backroom for the benefit of Siegle’s five full-time employees displayed the phone number of the unemployment office. The sign said, “You paid for it, use it.”

Questions

  1. With an eye on the concept of fairness, form an argument in favor of the drastically higher taxes imposed on gun shops.
  2. Kant’s categorical imperative prohibits killing. Can it be transformed into an argument against a gun shop in Oakland?
  3. Would an ethics of duties or an ethics of rights work better for Siegle as she defends her business? Why? What might her argument look like?
  4. Unemployment benefits are the result of unemployment insurance, which is not optional. Workers are forced to pay a bit out of each paycheck to the federal government, and if they lose their job, they get a biweekly check partially covering lost wages.

    • Would a libertarian approve of the unemployment insurance program?
    • Would it be right for a libertarian gun shop owner—someone defending her business on libertarian grounds—to accept unemployment benefits after her shop is forced out of business by extreme taxes? Explain.