December 2020

Prof. Richard M. Robinson, PhD
Department of Business Administration,
SUNY Fredonia

December 4, 2020

Current and Recent Efforts:

I am currently working on two articles, each an application of my “nexus of imperfect managerial duty theory,” one on firm growth, and the other on managerial compensation. The first is a better developed version of my recent paper at the AOM Annual Meetings, the other an expansion of the last chapter of my recent book. But in addition, I am still working on completion of a new book, Our Environmental Organizations and Reasoned Public Discourse. A significant publisher is currently considering its merits. The purpose and theme of this effort is that during these cynical and difficult times, our environmental discourse still has a record of being “reasoned and fair:” (i) it has been inclusive of scientific and socio-economic information and analysis; (ii) it has often been logical in its resolutions, (iii) it has been led by our environmental NGOs, but with the participation and representation of industry interests. Nevertheless, some recent policy decisions have been corrupted. These are documented in this monograph as well as our more reasoned policy decisions. Currently I am composing chapters that document some world-wide efforts to restore forests and arctic areas, and also to preserve ocean resources.

My more recent book, Imperfect Duties of Management, (Palgrave-Macmillan) published in January, 2019, is selling well, particularly in Europe. Its theme is that the “contracts theory of the firm” is overly narrow for deriving full and proper insights into management behavior. The contracts theory describes a nexus of perfect duty, meaning the duties aimed at fulfilling those narrowly defined goals of prohibition, i.e. do not commit fraud, do at least expect to fulfill contracts, etc. It is, however, the nexus of imperfect duty that is the bedrock of management. Imperfect duties are aimed at wide moral goals and have practical limits and tradeoffs due to our limited time and resources. In this volume, I argue that it is useful to classify these imperfect managerial duties into three overlapping categories: (i) building and reinforcing the management team, (ii) reasoned discourse with all stakeholders, and (iii) pursuing due diligence in a broad sense. The latter includes more than merely being careful in business decisions. It includes management’s creativity in its efforts aimed at the growth of the firm. Examples are provided that illustrate the interactions of these three imperfect duties. They describe the extent of the firm’s activities and provide insights into why some firms fail while others prosper. The theory is extraordinarily useful, and represents a new and fruitful vision of management. My recent paper at the Academy of Management further expands this nexus theory. (See presentation or PDF version of the paper.)

The four peer-reviewed journal articles published in the past two years at the Journal of Business Ethics (“Business’ Environmental Obligations,” “The Managerial Nexus of Imperfect Duties,” “Friendships of Virtue and the Ends of Business,” and “Duty and Boycotts”) have more than 9,000 downloads. For this I am certainly grateful for the interest. This journal continues to be the leading outlet for business ethics peer-reviewed material. It is always worth reviewing in search of what is new and interesting.

My 2017 article on dividend signaling (QREF) continues to elicit some interest. I wrote this article in the early 1990s because I wanted to apply optimal control theory to finance. I needed some appropriate data to test the theories, but I just left it alone for many years. Eventually I turned it over to my coauthor, Surav Batabyal, who submitted it to the QREF. (See Robinson, Richard and Surav Batabyal, “Capital Change and Stability when Dividends Convey Signals,” Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Vol. 65, August 2017, pp. 158-167.) There is so much in this article that can still be empirically explored further if anybody is interested.

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Publications of Interest to All of Us

Please read Leah Sottile’s and Andy McGlashen’s recent article, “Sanctuaries Under Strain,” in Audubon, Fall, 2020. It concerns the condition of “America’s National Wildlife Refuges.” Under the Trump Administration, our refuges have become severely underfunded even while more people are visiting them. The infrastructure is deteriorating, and the staff is overburdened. We need better volunteer and community commitment to restore these national treasures.

In my continual perusing of publications that examine our current and critical environmental problems, I have found a few that I suspect should demand our current attention. One is Andy McGlashen’s “Federal Government Moves to Gut America’s Most Important Bird Law,” in the Audubon Magazine, January 30, 2020. (See The article reviews attempts by the Trump Administration to undermine the century old “Migratory Bird Treaty Act.” The article explains that the Administration wants to eliminate prohibitions against the “incidental” killing of birds by industry. The Audubon Society estimates that one quarter of North America’s bird population has been lost over the past 50 years. What sort of world will we bequeath to our future generations, one without birds and other wildlife? Note that I am a long-term member of the Audubon Society.

I also thank God that “The Waterkeepers” are at it again. They always are! In this latest incidence, it is the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeepers, with a new article, “EPA rolls back critical protections for streams & wetlands,” January 24, 2020. The article states “The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers announced on January 23, 2020 that the federal government will drastically reduce the protections of US waterways by decreasing federal limits of known pollutants entering smaller waterways, wetlands, and groundwater throughout the US. (See the article at The Pend Oreille was a stomping ground of mine when I worked for the Corps in the late 70s and early 80s. It is an area we should all consider worthy of preservation.

The third article I wish to point out is slightly old. “The Short Life of the BLM’s Master Leasing Plan,” was published by the Bill Lane Center for the American West, of Stanford University, on January 22, 2018. (See The BLM’s “Master Leasing Plans” (MLPs) were designed to take local conditions and characteristics such as Native American artifacts and sacred areas, and local environmental conditions into consideration. On a panel discussion many decades ago, I argued that taking local interests into consideration would be more protection oriented. Others argued the opposite. I believe the record supports my position of so long ago. This is why the Trump Administration’s Interior Department has now withdrawn the MLP process. The result is more oil and gas leasing in lands bordering Arches and Canyonlands and similar areas. During a time of global warming and glut in fossil fuels, eliminating MLPs is another symptom of the sickness of greed.

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Course and Student Concerns

I am constantly looking for appropriate documentaries and other historically based and accurate films that point out either the “process of evil,” or the exercise of imperfect duty, i.e. pushing the boundary of volitional duties. These I hope, make my Business and Ethics course come alive and relevant to students. Frontline’s documentary “League of Denial,” which concerns the NFL’s deceptions involving CTE, is one of these. I have used it for several years now. In recent years, I have also used the movie Spotlight, which concerns journalistic and legal ethics. I am now considering others for assignment (Trumbo and Denial among others). I am always receptive to suggestions for new material. Note that I wish to focus on imperfect duty in business.

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What’s next?

After my Montana experience last summer, I’m pondering where to explore this upcoming summer. Where will the COVID threat allow us to explore? I still want to head Northwest, perhaps reach the Wallowas of Oregon. If anybody has experience there in recent years, please drop me an email.

As indicated above, I’m working on three articles, one on the economics of the imperfect duties that build a community, and two others on the grey areas between perfect and imperfect duties of management. But of considerable importance for me is the completion of book chapters on the reasoned discourse contributions of The Nature Conservancy, Greenpeace, and The World Wildlife Fund.

I am also developing a new course on the environmental ethic and movement. There is certainly much history in this subject, and amazing new efforts by our environmental organizations and coalitions. The course is offered this Spring Semester, which starts the first week of February. We already have fifteen students enrolled, but that should more than double by the first class.

I love hearing from friends and past students!

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