Leadership

Back To The Future: Lessons To Be Learned On Value That's Timeless

4,000 years before any acronym described ties between merchants, society members, the planet, and government, the roots of E.S.G's stakeholder value cycle can be detected in rules of everyday life.

Leadership

Back To The Future: Lessons To Be Learned On Value That's Timeless

4,000 years before any acronym described ties between merchants, society members, the planet, and government, the roots of E.S.G's stakeholder value cycle can be detected in rules of everyday life.

August 25th, 2022
Back To The Future: Lessons To Be Learned On Value That's Timeless
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Image: The Code of Hammurabi is inscribed on a seven-foot basalt stele. The stele is now at the Louvre.



In these times, intent and interpretation divide builders and buyers. Without that common foundation, getting to a satisfactory outcome is risky and maybe just as costly." – Heather McCune, former Editor In Chief, Professional Builder, Oct. 31, 2001

Heather – who for more than 17 years has served as director of marketing for Bassenian|Lagoni, a friend and partner of The Builder's Daily –  wrote these two sentences as a kicker to her editorial, "The Birth of Building Codes."

Heather's lines – a conclusion and a challenge to homebuilding business community readers very nearly 21 years ago – struck as magical discovery for how they zero in on what is timelessly true and perpetually present.

If someone wrote those identical 26 words today, starting as Heather did, "in these times," would they not mean as much, open the same door of insight, and nudge homebuilders and their partners with as consequential a challenge?

And the thing is, that's only a sliver of the story here, whose substance, flesh, and blood, and soul go back almost 4,000 years, to one of the Western world's earliest foundries of justice among people living and working together as a society. From that same foundry – Babylonian king Hammurabi, who reigned from 1792 to 1750 B.C. – came 282 rules, six of which lay down the law in Hammurabi's signature "eye-for- an-eye"-style for people whose livelihood, trade, or practice centered on building homes for other people:

228. If a builder builds a house for some one and completes it, he shall give him a fee of two shekels in money for each sar of surface.

229. If a builder builds a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

230. If it kills the son of the owner, the son of that builder shall be put to death.

231. If it kills a slave of the owner, then he shall pay slave for slave to the owner of the house.

232. If it ruins goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means.

233. If a builder builds a house for some one, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.

Heather writes of the birth of building code – which she discovered because they were hosted on the homepage of the Broward County, FLA, Board of Rules & Appeals website – and ties its  essence to the helical ties between builders and the people who buy and live in their homes:

Like Hammurabi’s six rules, the intent of every code, regulation and standard is to assure builders and buyers that these elements, if followed, form a foundation to create a home satisfactory to both parties. Too often, however, builders see codes as simply one more way government regulates their work and drives up the cost of housing. Buyers view codes as the minimum standards for acceptable construction, and they expect more than the minimum.

Hammurabi's code – inscribed on a seven-foot basalt stele on exhibit at the Louvre in Paris -- a was notoriously harsh. By comparison The International Code Council's a walk in the park, given that violating none of its provisions leads to an order that a builder be put to death.

The eternal-flame relevance and connection, from Hammurabi to ICC, come through in a Shane Parrish Farnam Street essay: The Code of Hammurabi: The Best Rule to Manage Risk. Parrish writes....

The portions of Hammurabi’s Code that deal with construction laws, as brutal as they are (and as uncertain as we are of their short-term effects) illustrate an important concept: margins of safety. When we construct a system, ensuring that it can handle the expected pressures is insufficient.
A Babylonian builder would not have been content to make a house that was strong enough to handle just the anticipated stressors. A single Black Swan event — such as abnormal weather — could cause its collapse and in turn the builder’s own death, so builders had to allow for a generous margin of safety. The larger the better. In 59 mph winds, we do not want to be in a house built to withstand 60 mph winds.

Inadvertently, the beauty of the editorial piece Heather wrote more than two decades ago is that the story all begins with a school assignment her then-Sixth Grade daughter came home with one day.

In this assignment my daughter had to explain the value of Hammurabi’s Code of Laws, written 500 years before the Ten Commandments, and put them in the context of the modern world."

Both in the letter and between the lines of rules 228 through 233 of the code of Hammurabi, two timeless truths resonate in the context of the modern world.

  • The tie between builder and purchaser-resident of the home is a total-lifetime-ownership-value relationship, not a "first-cost-and-done" deal. This is a double-edged sword, for first-costs rarely-if-ever equate to the value a homebuyer derives from a home, but on the other hand, in material ways the accountability and opportunity to continue value creation runs the entire term of ownership.
  • Also, environmental impact – i.e. "he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined" – is understood to be connected with the structure itself.

The question that could easily surface "in the context of the modern world" today is, would Hammurabi be dismissed as "woke" for proposing codification of rules of just goings-on between family members, tradespeople, officials, and the like?

This question crops up as particularly relevant in the debate over principles, values, and rules at the heart of Environment, Social, and Governance stakeholder capitalism. They're early-stage provisions for the identical accountability Hammurabi sought in his rules – which dictate that people and businesses and policymakers are tied eternally to a justice that assures safety, health, and fairness up, down, and across societal members, all with "skin in the game."

Bloomberg staffer Frances Schwartzkopff writes:

Ignoring ESG may even open the door to legal liability.
“Existing US securities laws require registrants to disclose any risks that are reasonably likely to have a material impact on their business, results of operation, or financial condition,” said Ken Rivlin, head of the international environmental law group at Allen & Overy.  “Failure to disclose such material risks—including climate-related risks, if they’re material—could create a basis for liability.”

The sixth grade daughter Heather McCune wrote about is now a 32-year-old successful technology company executive, her mother reports. For her, as is true for her mom, the word still ring true "in the context of the modern world" as they did in the dark ages of 2001.

The largest difference of course was in length. What originally took up a few lines on a stone tablet now numbers hundreds of pages.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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