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ETHICS WATCH : Alibi Suite

In no-fault America, a Christmas package that arrives around New Year’s Day may elicit a sympathetic whine: “Good help is so hard to find.” From space programs, where failure costs big bucks, to toy ducks that won’t quack, explanations are often handled by lawyers, public relations staff or form letter, freeing management to create new reasons to pass the buck.

Small wonder that the five-year-old memory is so vivid of the president of Japan Air Lines resigning because one of his planes crashed, killing 520 passengers. That is not only rare but also unheard of in other societies where accidents also happen.

Now a Japanese businessman and 17 of his top people have pushed the blame barrier to some sort of record high.

President Norimasa Furuta and his colleagues at Mazda Motor Co. will take self-imposed salary cuts of 5% to 10% for the next three months for an offense against truth.

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What they did was quietly call in owners of some 3,500 Luce models of the Mazda line--not sold in the United States--that had problems with their brake lights and cruise-control system and fix them up, sort of on the sly, without issuing a general recall. It’s true that they cut their pay only after the Transportation Ministry chided them, but they still deserve credit for setting a standard of personal responsibility out of reach of executives in most of the rest of the world.

Don’t be surprised if American workers--often chided for not being more like the Japanese in their work habits--regard this story as an example worth emulating in the corporate suite.


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