The facts of a report issued by Dresdner Bank
are the unfortunate details of man's wicked heart:
That is perhaps the most damning aspect of the study: Even Dresdner top managers who had no love for the Nazis exploited the war unscrupulously (and often kept their jobs after the war). While it was true that the Nazis exerted massive pressure on German businesses to cooperate with the regime, they did not need to do so as zealously as Dresdner.
I had a friend in college who railed now and then against a certain German auto builder due to, as he said, their manufacture of some substantial part of the crematoriums used at concentration camps during World War II. Is there such a thing as a duty on the part of capitalist entities to not only come clean about such involvements, but to consider liquidating all assets and ceasing operations?
It's a question I imagine only gets posed (typically in the form of a virulent demand) on the political Left. I think the answer is in that word: capitalist.
Capitalism is neither good nor evil. It, like the Internet, is merely a force-multiplier. It is in the hearts of men that words like good and evil have bearing. Many (most?) men in their actions, under much less than duress, will naturally slide (free-fall?) toward what may empirically be called "evil", if the opportunity for great material gain exists. That's a grand charge, but is eminently supportable. Yet, I leave you to find that support elsewhere; there's plenty.
There's an old joke that goes something like:
Man: "Would you sleep with me for $100 million?"
Man: "Then would you sleep with me for $10 million?"
Woman: "I suppose."
Man: "Would you then sleep with me for $10?"
Woman: "Certainly not! What sort of lady do you think I am?"
Man: "We've already determined what sort of lady you are; we're only negotiating the price."
The truth is, all of us are, on some level, only negotiating price.
Speaking for myself, in my early 20s I once stated that my price was $3 million. I deduced this price by estimating a desire at the time for $150,000 annually, which $3 million invested at a mere 5% interest would provide, without consuming the principal. That would be the price at which I would risk jail or otherwise. If I could not have a reasonable chance of succeeding in achieving a $3 million score in one fell swoop, I would not compromise my values. I hardly realized that in making such a statement, I had already compromised those values.
My values today are very different. I may still have a price, but the rationale behind it is motivated by other factors; I might compromise certain principles in order to maintain others. I would not steal $10, let alone $10 million, for personal material gain, but I very well might in order to save the lives of the innocent, especially my wife or child. I would deal with my punishment.
This is still capitalism, but upon which sits my personal values. This is where capitalism has had its greatest moral successes, operating within the framework of a high degree of shared morality on the part of a society. It has also had its greatest moral failures where it has operated outside such a principled moral framework, such as in the case of Dresdner Bank in the lead-up to and during World War II.
What can Dresdner do to free itself of the stigma of its past? This may not be possible. But as long as free men, guided by their own values, continue to invest their assets with the company, the question will remain.~-~
UPDATE (2006.02.23): Published also at Op-Eds.com: We're Only Negotiating The Price