Everything I Know About Business I Learned From The Godfather
This is what I’ve been doing instead of writing blog articles. My latest book: Everything I Know About Business I Learned From The Godfather, is now available on Amazon as both a paperback and Kindle ebook. From the book:
Bonds, Not Ties
As rich and powerful as the Godfather becomes, he never loses sight of the reciprocal strands of respect, obligation, honor, and loyalty due family, friends, fellow Sicilians, and the Catholic church. These are not ties that bind. They are bonds, sources of strength, foundational stones of his life and empire. Such bonds have bolstered the human race for most of its history. That they are now under sustained assault would strike Don Corleone as foolishness. Their proposed replacement would strike him as madness.
The family became the basic unit of human society not because men were a patriarchally oppressive conspiracy bent on enslaving their wives and children, but because it made the most sense. Humans reproduce, having filled the planet with almost eight billion of their kind. Women are vulnerable during pregnancy and when they’re caring for infants and children. Men are physically stronger and better able to provide sustenance and protection. A division of labor suggests itself. Women stay home and care for the children while men hunt mammoths, farm, tame fire, invent the wheel, propitiate the gods, battle enemy tribes, and other, equally exciting lines of work.
Although punctuated by the occasional catastrophic setback, the phenomenal increase in human population suggests this division of labor has been, from an evolutionary standpoint, quite successful. From that standpoint everyone gains. Children and grandchildren receive the care and training they need and perpetuate the genetic line. As they grow older and are able to work, they’re an economic asset for their parents and grandparents. The extended family is the safety net, with younger family members caring for the elderly.
“Good, because a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
—The Godfather, Part One
In the Godfather’s formulation, supporting a family— spending time; providing for a wife, children, and elderly members of the extended family; making the hard decisions; disciplining and training the children, and doing all the other unnoticed but necessary things fathers do—makes a man a man. Men with families labor for their daily bread, take risks, work to improve their situation, and otherwise engage in constructive pursuits, usually as much or more for their families as for themselves.
If a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man, do we have a term other than “miserable excuse for a man” for the worthless trash who father children but want no part of their upbringing? What can be more repugnant than spilling your sperm and taking no responsibility for the consequences? It destroys lives and dramatically reduces children’s chances for success or happiness. Some of the groups who most loudly bewail their persecution have illegitimacy rates of 60 or 70 percent. They drape 100-pound millstones around their children’s necks, wonder why the kids never win the race, and blame it on other, less-burdened competitors.
Won’t a man who fails the tests of fatherhood and family also fail the tests of friendship? How can a father who has no loyalty to his children—his own blood—or their mother have any loyalty to his so-called friends? He’ll abandon them at the first inconvenience, just as he did with his children and their mother.
When Bill Clinton was president it became fashionable to say that qualities of character a man demonstrates towards his family are irrelevant to his quality as a man. Restate that as: whether or not a man deliberately harms his own family has no bearing on whether or not that man will deliberately harm anyone else. If you want to buy into that proposition, be my guest, but do it with your own money.
A mother deludes herself if she thinks she can do as well bringing up her children by herself, or with help from relatives, revolving door boyfriends or girlfriends, the government, or the occasional appearance of the father as she could if the father is full-time committed to her and the family. The most masculine thing a man can do is accept responsibility for his family, but today’s politics, divorced from reality as they are, deride and reject both family and masculinity.
In The Godfather novel and movies, individual interests are subordinated to the family, the sacred unit. Young Vito Corleone takes up a life of crime to feed his family. Going all in, Michael takes up a life of crime because it is under attack. Connie must somehow “forget” that Michael has murdered her husband and reconcile with him and the family. There is no forgiveness involved because like God, family cannot be forgiven.
“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.”
Michael plants the kiss of death because Fredo has committed the most unforgivable sin in the Sicilian and Mafia firmament: he betrayed the family. Michael is so shocked he brooks usual Corleone protocol and lets a victim know that his transgression has been discovered and the victim will be a dead man. Michael later observes another Corleone protocol—keeping his enemy close—and puts Fredo under Lake Tahoe house arrest until the time is right for retribution.
Murdering Fredo is not Michael’s crossing-the-River- Styx moment it’s sometimes made out to be. That canoe launched when Michael whispered to his father in the hospital room, “I’m with you now. I’m with you.” At that moment he subordinated his conscience to the moral code of the Mafia. Under that code, there can be only one fate for a member like Fredo who betrays the family. Michael’s father would have approved of the murder had he been alive.
Calling the entire Corleone organization—or any other large-scale Mafia operation—a family is propaganda. It’s meant to evoke the same sentiments towards the Mafia family that members have towards their real families. It’s akin to the nonsense dished out by corporations about their employee “associates” and “partners,” “our team” and “our corporate family.” The executives will lay off employees in a heartbeat to save a buck; employees will leave in a heartbeat if they find a better deal. Anyone who doesn’t see through the nonsense is destined to a disappointing career.
“All our people are businessmen, their loyalty’s based on that. One thing I learned from Pop was to try to think as people around you think. Now on that basis, anything’s possible.”
—The Godfather, Part Two
Any don foolish enough to believe that his underlings would sacrifice their own interests for those of the organization is not long for this world. Michael recognizes that like any business, the Corleone family runs on self-interest. Wisely, he tries to see things as those around him see them.
Friendship is another word that means something different inside the Mafia. There, friendships are mutually beneficial business and political relationships inside and outside the family. In Part Two, Senator Pat Geary, indulging in his favorite perversions at a Corleone whorehouse, is drugged and the prostitute sordidly murdered. Geary awakens, confused and unable to remember the murder he didn’t commit. He unties one of the bloody corpse’s arms and tenderly places it by her side. Tom Hagen assures him the matter can be fixed; the prostitute has no family or friends and she’ll be quickly forgotten. It will be as if nothing happened, and all that will remain is the senator’s friendship with the Corleones.
Most business friendships aren’t based on murder and implicit blackmail, but they are based on mutual benefit. The guy who said that if you want a friend in business get a dog wasn’t too far from the mark. Stop benefitting a business friend, even one of long standing, and your friend will drift away. It’s not what have you done for me lately, it’s what can you do for me now.
When I was trading bonds, I had all sorts of friends. They made money off of me; I made money off of them. You can take all the sincerity on Wall Street, put it in a thimble and still have room for a good-sized thumb. I wasn’t surprised when I received only a couple of calls after I got fired. Through the years I’m sure I didn’t call people who had met with misfortune and who regarded me as a friend. Real friendship and loyalty are rare in business, and that’s the way it has to be. The annals are filled with stories of failure where friendship and family were put before sound business judgment.
At a conference I attended, an executive claimed her poultry processing company befriended its chickens. Lighting, heating and all other living conditions were continuously adjusted to keep the birds happy, she gushed. Happier poultry may be better tasting poultry, but in the end they still kill the chickens. When business tells you it’s your friend, that it cares for you and your happiness, keep those chickens in mind.
The government says it wants to be not just your friend but your family, cradle to grave. It provides anything for which enough people have clamored: maternity benefits, medical care, child care, education, food, housing, money, pensions and death benefits. Cradle-bound children on college campuses howl for still more: free college and guaranteed jobs afterwards. They need their diapers changed, but eventually they’ll probably get what they’re crying for.
Just as Don Corleone wants something for the services he performs for his friends, the government wants something for what it provides. It steals from some, gives to others, keeps much for itself and its friends, but unlike a Mafia don, it wants your soul, regardless of where you fit in this scheme.
If you’re one of the hard-working unfortunates from whom it takes, the government expects docile compliance. You might not like this state of affairs and the government will tolerate a bit of grumbling. However, any serious objection to its right to steal what you’ve earned will be dealt with harshly.
There are highly productive people who don’t protest their own enslavement, they endorse it. Much of this is a con game. It helps make friends in the government, and to paraphrase Don Corleone, friends of the government, with lawyers and their briefcases, can steal more than a million men with guns. It’s crony socialism: you’re raking in the government loot, so you’re all for government.
A few wealthy people who receive nothing from the government except tax bills and regulatory hassles still proclaim their allegiance. Some of these people inherited their wealth or acquired it in enterprises that bestow outsize rewards on work of dubious merit—Hollywood, the recording industry, sports, fashion, art, publishing, the media, and academia. Deep down, many of them don’t believe they deserve their wealth. They’re almost relieved to have it taken from them and in today’s political climate, pandering to government is the popular thing to do.
Many of the panderers claim that the government doesn’t have enough money and should take more. Nothing stops them from sending in more, so we know their real object is to raise the tab for everyone else. They’re angling for popularity, crony socialistic gravy, power, or—most likely—all three.
Every government bent on total control tries to suppress or eliminate competing loyalties, especially loyalties that go back centuries. Stepping in as the provider and letting fathers off the hook has been our government’s main line of attack on the family. This has met with success, so it has turned its attention to other bonds.
The current fixation is eliminating the natural affinity most people have towards people who are like them, and the belief that their particular group is better than any other. The proper-speak pezzonovantis [big shots], commanding water to run uphill, try to prohibit racial and ethnic groups they don’t like from touting their own group or disparaging others. All that does is drive such sentiments underground.
There is nothing underground about the Mafia of Don Corleone. It would drive proper-thought, proper-speak torchbearers apoplectic, and the Corleone family would earn scads of demerits, fines, and public opprobrium. It unapologetically consists of males of Sicilian ancestry, with the occasional non-Sicilian Italian male thrown in. There are no women or members of historically disadvantaged minority groups. Improper-speak is rampant—Jews and blacks are routinely denigrated. The family’s one attempt to reach out to an unrepresented ethnicity—making German-Irish Tom Hagen consigliori [the Don’s counselor]—is derided by the other families and reduces respect for the Godfather.
Don Vito’s consigliori is anomalous, for the don certainly believes in the value of ethnic solidarity. Not only is it the glue cementing ties between families and friends, but Sicilians are steeped in the ways of the Mafia in the home country, particularly omerta, the law of silence. For men facing the prospect of imprisonment from the day they begin their careers, this assurance that their confederates and even their enemies will not rat them out to the authorities, regardless of the pressure brought to bear on them, is essential to their own keeping of the faith. The real life Mafia unraveled in the 1960s and 1970s when omerta [Sicilian code of silence] broke down as successive generations’ connections to Sicily and its traditions became ever more attenuated.
Erasing racial and ethnic loyalties has proved daunting for those governments that have tried. It has been impossible to eliminate religion, despite the best efforts of both intellectuals and governments.
There is a fable about the wind and the sun arguing about who can get a man to take off his coat. The wind goes first, blowing with all its might. The man clings more tightly to his coat. The sun beams brightly. The man gets hot and takes off his coat. The harder governments blow against religion, the tighter devoted adherents cling to it, even at the cost of their own lives. Religion strengthens them against depredation and tyranny, and inevitably outlasts the governments. Any government that wants to put a dent in religion should allow it complete freedom. Look at where Catholicism has gone in Europe and America.
The Corleones’ fealty to the Catholic Church and its rituals may seem hypocritical. The Godfather’s funeral launches the scheme to kill Michael and his counterattack. Michael renounces Satan at a baptism as his men shoot up his enemies. His son’s first Communion is the backdrop for chintzy Lake Tahoe opulence, Connie’s moral and spiritual deterioration, and corrupt political dealings. Michael seemingly reconciles with Fredo as their mother lies in her casket, but he’s only moving his enemy that much closer.
Yet, along with family, friends, and Sicilian ethnicity, Catholicism is the glue holding the Mafia together. Their lives are exercises in hypocrisy, but they are all part of the same hypocrisy and observe the same rituals, hypocritical though that may be.
It was at this time that the Don got the idea he ran his world far better than his enemies ran the greater world which continually obstructed his path.
—The Godfather (novel)
The Godfather inarguably ran his world far better than governments, which have made a complete botch of it. He marshaled affinities and loyalties that have stood the test of countless centuries. That the pezzonovantis think they can suppress or destroy such bonds and replace them with mankind’s falsest god— government—only demonstrates their stupidity and their corruption.
Reprinted from The Burning Platform.
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