Ethical accountability

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Ethical accountability is the practice of improving overall personal and organizational performance by developing and promoting responsible tools and professional expertise, and by advocating an effective enabling environment for people and organizations to embrace a culture of sustainable development. Ethical accountability may include you, the individual, as well as small and large businesses, not-for-profit organisations, research institutions and academics, and government.

One scholarly paper has posited that "it is unethical to plan an action for social change without excavating the knowledge and wisdom of the people who are responsible for implementing the plans of action and the people whose lives will be affected."[1]

Economically speaking, those who have money have historically had power. With this power they can employ workers, build infrastructure, and so on. In practice, however, we have noticed that intelligent analysts must also factor greed into economic equations.[2] Greed is not an ethically accountable function. In fact, ethical care for the needs of all stakeholders is not only the "right thing to do," but it adds to the financial bottom line.[3]

Historical examples

Post Office

In the period around 1830, the Post Office Department (as it was then known) had fallen into corrupt practices of "straw bids" and "unbalanced bids".[4] To undo the damage done by Postmaster William T. Barry and his chief clerk Reverend Obadiah B. Brown, President Andrew Jackson imposed on his friend and Navy auditor, William Kendall, to replace the postmaster. Kendall was quickly able to see what had to be done to restrain this culture of thievery. An administrative talent, Kendall reorganized the Post Office into a comprehensive system of administrative checks and balances, minting new offices of accounts, appointment, contracts, and inspection. Each was to be watchful of the others. Lower-level jobs were redefined to reduce the opportunity for graft's temptation. For example, no longer would those who issued mail contracts be the ones to oversee fulfillment.[5]

Wikimedia Foundation

A more recent example of a failure in ethical accountability is the relationship between the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and the privately-held for-profit corporation Wikia, Inc. Wikia, co-founded by Jimmy Wales and capitalized by Amazon (reportedly $10 million), the Bessemer Partners, Omidyar Network, and other corporate sponsors, makes money off the back of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and its projects. How? Wikipedia is a commercial traffic engine. As of December 2008, there are over 14,300 external links from Wikipedia to Wales' sites, which are funded by Google AdSense revenues. It is also interesting that there are over 43,000 links to Amazon's retail site from the supposedly non-profit Wikipedia site. The popular movie site is owned by Amazon, and one can buy Amazon products directly from IMDB pages. There are nearly 174,000 links to Amazon's IMDB site from Wikipedia. It is no surprise that Amazon particularly wished to invest in Wikia, Inc. Its co-founder makes sure that the external linking environment on Wikipedia is hospitable for the Amazon link spamming machine.

Further, if you go to Jimmy Wales' "talk page" on Wikipedia, and you ask him whether he feels that this obscene number of links to his for-profit site and those of his investors might be a conflict of interest or self-dealing, Jimbo won't even have time to respond. One or two of his sycophants will fairly promptly dismiss or erase your message; and if you try one more time to ask this question, you're likely to get blocked from editing Wikipedia altogether. This is an example of a breakdown in ethical accountability. In fact, the unethical practice of self-dealing is institutionalized at the Wikimedia Foundation.

If these facts are not enough to convince that money finds its way through the back door to Wikia, Inc., then perhaps a look at the front door is in order. The Wikimedia Foundation announced in January 2009 that it would begin paying rent to Wikia, Inc. on a monthly basis, using tax-advantaged funds from the Ruth and Frank Stanton Fund. Then, in August 2009, Matt Halprin, Partner of the Omidyar Network, was asked to join the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees. Halprin is charged with an Omidyar team that "pursues investments in Social Media", and Omidyar invested part of $4 million into Wikia, Inc. in 2006. So, he's almost undoubtedly on top of the Wikia return on investment. Again, it is an utter failure of ethical accountability to invite a new non-profit board member who is a partner at a firm that invested some portion of $4 million into a privately-held firm of the "Emeritus Chair" of the Wikimedia Foundation.


  1. ^ Communication praxis for ethical accountability, Y. Laouris, R. Laouri, and Aleco Christakis; Cyprus Neuroscience & Technology Institute, Cyprus; July 2008.
  2. ^ A Paradigm of Ethical Accountability, Jason J. Campbell on Blogcritics: Politics; Jan 21, 2009.
  3. ^ Ethical accountability extends to social, environmental issues, Curtis C. Verschoor, Strategic Finance; June 1, 2001.
  4. ^ Andrew Jackson, William Graham Sumner, published by Houghton Mifflin; 1899.
  5. ^ A short, ironic history of American national bureaucracy, Michael Nelson in The Journal of Politics; 1982.