one business, and another thing at another time or innanother business. Bottom line criteria depend on the overallnpolicy and priorities of management at any given time, andnof course, on the nature of the business.nThis conceptual relativity is not readily apparent in thenpopular use of the term. Sometimes it is not even apparentnto people who are close to its application, those holdingnmiddle management positions. The great majority of workersnin business, if they think about the bottom line at all, andnmost of those in middle management, who probably thinknabout it a great deal, rarely comprehend all of its complexities.nThis is so despite the fact that middle managementnpersonnel are subject to bottom line justifications forndecisions made that affect them. Many themselves makendecisions in which they must display bottom line awarenessnand ensure that whatever top management has defined asnthe firm’s objectives are met in their day-to-day decisionmakingnabout allocation and resource investment. In itsnbroader application, top managers link short-term bottomnline decisions to broader social and political investments andngoals. Assessments of risk, opportunity, productivity, andnprofitability are made, each of which require broad-rangingnfinancial assessments.nE.J. Mishan introduced the idea of applying economicnrationality to social decision-making in his seminal work,nCost Benefit Analysis. The difficulty with Mishan’s work isnthat he failed to acknowledge that one person’s benefit isnanother’s loss. Decision-making in the social arena usuallyndoes gore someone else’s ox. Economic rationality encasednin the concept of the bottom line rarely acknowledges this.nAs a result, bottom line thinking ignores the needs ofnbroader stratum within a society or polity.nThe phrase “bottom line” is also used in many situationsninvolving analysis where no direct choice is actually beingnmade. In these circumstances, the term may simply meann”all things considered,” the assumption being that all thingsnare known and have been evaluated, added and subtractednto come up with a final assessment incorporating all knownnelements. The assumption usually is that everything relevantnhas been included in the calculation, and that whatevernis said to be “the bottom line” represents the final word onnthe subject. It may mean “the sum total” (assuming thatnevery pertinent element has been included in the equation)nor just “essentially” (assuming that every irrelevant item hasnbeen excluded from consideration). In short, the phrase, innits wider cultural usage, carries with it a notion of authority,nfinality, and definitiveness. There is nothing below thenbottom line. When one knows the bottom line, one can actnwith certainty. The popular nightclub in New York Citynbearing that name carries that implication: if you’ve made itnto the bottom line, as artist or audience, you’ve made it.nLook no further.nIf we may be permitted a redundancy: what is the bottomnline on the bottom line? The phrase carries with it annumber of ambiguities that derive in part from its origins innthe world of finance. Sometimes the phrase is used whennpeople are being evaluated as commodities, ignoring the factnthat people are the assets in a given situation, and mustnthemselves be weighed and evaluated. For example: innassessing the value of one actor or actress versus others,nproducers consider their “draw value,” factoring this intontheir decisions to hire them and the bottom line impact ofntheir participation in a project. Similar evaluations are madenin the sports arena, as the recent extraordinary increases innsalaries and search for free agents makes clear. In thesensituations, the bottom line conveys the meaning that thencurrent cash value of a human asset has been properlynevaluated. The term thus denotes estimates of future worthnno less than present fiscal value.nAnother widely held application of the term “bottomnline” concerns evaluating risk. In business, projections ofnrisk are made to determine whether or not an investmentnopportunity meets established financial criteria. Metaphorically,nthe term may be employed to assess risk in any actionntaken. Presumably, once the level of risk is fixed, a decisionnto act or not can be taken. The headline on nuclear powernmentioned earlier certainly carries that implication, and thenstory that follows attempts to address the necessity ofnweighing those risks.nThe phrase may also be used to establish boundaries. Thenimplication of the term is that one may go that far (to thenbottom line) and no further in pursuing the facts. Use ofnterms such as “the bottom line is who has the power to hirenand fire” clearly conveys this sense. Presumably, once thenemployer or leader has the answer to that question, henknows how to act.nWhere does this emphasis on the bottom line comenfrom? Is it simply that hordes of young people have emergednfrom business school, with MBA’s they hope will give themna competitive edge in an increasingly competitive babynboom generation? Is it that professional managers who arennot properly credentialed are returning to business schoolsnfor an “Executive MBA”? Is it that businesses themselvesnare placing more emphasis on educating employees tonunderstand that they make investment decisions on a dailynbasis that have financial implications, and that they competenwith other groups (inside and outside of the company) fornthe use of capital?nIn the last six years, emphasis on the financial aspects ofnbusiness management has trickled down to levels that hadnnot previously been particularly concerned with thinkingnabout their contribution to the firm in financial terms. Thenassumption is that those who make immediate day-to-daynbusiness decisions or who are affected by those decisionsnshould be more cognizant of how people who are financiallynoriented make decisions about investing the firm’s money.nAs they do, they will become more rigorous in their ownndecision-making. An example from a newspaper article:n”‘We are stressing the bottom line,’ said a spokesman fornColumbia Records, who believes that the industry has toonlong operated on hunches and guesswork. The industry inn1979, he said, ‘has had to change its way of doing things.'”nThis spokesman assumes that emphasis on financial aspectsnof decision-making will result in better product investmentndecisions and the firm will maximize use of its assets.nThis point of view became prevalent in the 1980’s.nAlmost all major corporations, and many smaller companies,nnow offer in-house seminars on financial management,nusually called something like, “Financial Management fornNonfinancial Managers.” Those selected to participate innsuch courses invariably welcome the invitation; it meansnnnAPRIL 1991/27n