Pascal’s Wager and Business Ethics

When business ethics is discussed, I immediately think about Pascal’s Wager. The 17th century philosopher, Blaise Pascal, is famous for his wager about the existence of G-d. With so many theologians before him attempting to prove the existence of G-d, Pascal came up with the Wager.

Here is a summary: If you wager that G-d exists, and G-d doesn’t exist, you’ve lost nothing. However, if you wager that G-d doesn’t exist, and G-d does exist, you’ve lost everything.

Of course, this is more in line with Christian thought, rather than Jewish thought, but I interpret this wager as a businessperson.

If you do the right thing instead of doing the wrong thing, and no one notices either way, you’ve lost nothing and gained the added respect and good feeling of doing the correct thing.

If you do the wrong things or just don’t do the right things, and get caught either way, you may lose everything.

It’s important to strive to do the right thing in every situation whether anyone is paying attention or not. For example, if you own a restaurant or cafe and you haven’t cleaned out the ice machine every 6 months, no one may ever notice that you have some mold growing in the ice machine. No one may become ill and the health department may never see it. So, how are you going to wager? If you do the right thing, clean your ice machine or have a company like McCarver Mechanical do the cleaning, you lose nothing, and gain the knowledge that your customers are safer, and therefore your business is safer. If you do nothing and expect no one to notice, and a customer becomes ill or your employee tells his friends how disgusting the ice maker is, you may lose everything.

Another example is with weights and measures. Within Jewish tradition and lore, the first question that one gets asked in the Jewish version of heaven is, “Were you honest in your business dealings?” One of the worst things one can do as a business person is to deal dishonestly with weights and measures. If you sell a half pound of coffee, and it’s a bit shy of a half pound, and the customer realizes that inconsistency, you’ve lost that customer forever. No credibility is left in the relationship. However, if you always make sure that there is .520 lb. of coffee in that half pound bag, no one may realize or care or applaud you for your honesty, but you haven’t lost anything.

If you’ve been the subject of my serial interviewing of customers, then you know that I ask any new customers, “What do you do for a living?” That question creates new connections that may help grow my business and life and the life and business of my friends and customers. A man who measures the accuracy of scales was a regular customer. If, G-d forbid, I realized that my scale was inaccurate, I would be personally embarrassed and shamed. Even if no one knew that the scale was inaccurate, I would feel disgraced. Therefore, I had the gentleman certify the scale and our weights and measurements.

Everyone knows everyone else or worse, they’re related. Never do anything illegal or unethical, in your personal or business life. Everyone will hear about it and tell their friends and family. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.” One reason for the repetition of the word, justice, is to remind us to act correctly even though no one is looking. My advice is to be a zealot when it’s time to act justly. As with Pascal’s Wager, your life depends upon it.


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