Business & Ethics
Economics is a social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. In this definition, Economics is one of the more fundamental sciences, because it examines the material reproduction of societies. Since its object is very complex, the science of economics must be interdisciplinary, and can be done in a variety of ways. Economists can focus on how economic agents behave or interact, or they can examine economies as a whole. Accordingly, textbooks often distinguish between microeconomics and macroeconomics. Microeconomics examines the behavior of basic elements in the economy, including individual agents (such as households and firms, or buyers and sellers). This connects with the study of their interactions, and leads to research into markets and mechanisms of exchange. Macroeconomics analyzes the entire economy and the issues that affect it, including unemployment, inflation, and growth. It also analyses the relations between the political and the economic system, and questions of monetary and fiscal policy. One can also distinguish between positive economics (describing "what is") and normative economics (what ought to be"), which leads to the very important question of economic justice.
Economics intersects with ethics, political philosophy, history, social sciences like psychology, sociology, or anthropology, mathematics, and ecology.
Economy as a Science
The study of the economy produces knowledge, insights, and truths about our economic circumstances. Its status as a science is somewhat questionable: Economists repeatedly failed to foresee major economic events or trends. Also, there are many ways to "do economics;" various schools exist who occasionally have contradictory approaches and explanations.
Economic systems are the result of political decisions. Contrary to the common belief, there is nothing "natural" about markets: they are political creations. The economy does not have to be based on a market model, other ideas about how goods and services could be produced and distributed in a society exist.
Economy as a science grew out of the 18th century field of "political economy," which applied moral philosophy to the material conditions of society. (François Quesnay, Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo.) Deeper philosophical questions constitute the underpinnings of economic thought: how do we integrate justice and power in the world, and how people should treat each other. The answers to these questions spawn large-scale and long-term social, political and economic programs.
My main academic website can be found at www.trialectics.net, where you will find more in-depth texts and articles relevant to the intersection between philosophy and economics, mostly in the sections about Political Theory and Economics.
Business ethics is a relatively new and emerging discipline. It is a road to more economic, global, and environmental justice in the 21st century.
As an applied discipline, business ethics focuses primarily the agents of economic activity, like managers, business owners, stockholders, employees, customers, etc. The proliferation of the discipline is driven by the hope that more ethical awareness and behavior will also be beneficial for business activities and all its stakeholders.
As a philosophical discipline, the reflection on business and ethics has to be more skeptical. Appeals to "do the right thing" are filling the textbooks, but in reality corruption and various forms of cheating can be found everywhere. Why are we humans so corruptible?
Business Ethics should also consider the political structures that regulate business activity. How can governments combat economic inequality, exploitation, or discrimination? Is the global economic system fair? What are the roots of economic injustice and how should they be addressed? How do we include environmental impacts into business calculations in a meaningful way?
“Business ethics” is a concise, but in many ways misleading, label for an interdisciplinary field covering a vast range of normative issues in the world of commerce. The label lends itself most directly to a core set of questions about how individuals in the business world ought to behave, or what principles they might appeal to in order to negotiate moral dilemmas at work. But if we consider the topics covered in the leading business ethics journals or textbooks, we see that these core issues about individual virtues and ethical decision-making are surrounded by layers of issues involving organizations and institutions. In other words, business ethics in the broadest sense also inquires about the most appropriate or just designs for firms, markets, market regulations, and political oversight in a democratic society and a globalized economy.
This website is organized around a game metaphor: If we think of the economy as if it were a game, we have players and spectators, the rules of the game, which can be changed as the game unfolds, and the game itself, which is mostly defined through the markets where the exchanges take place.
This activity is regulated by political frameworks that determine the business climate, for instance through injecting or extracting money from the system (fiscal and monetary policies.) Indeed, the basis of all economic activity, money, is itself a creation of the state, as well as a mechanism for macro-economic control. America's status as world leader does not primarily rest on it's military power, but on its economic power. The dollar is the default currency for many international trades and exchanges.
The section on the social dimension addresses the connections between economic relations and social links in general. Human beings exist in relation to others, and these inter-personal relations are the basis of their identity. Economic status is often perceived as a form of hierarchy, and economic activity itself requires highly organized social groups and interactions. In this regard, business ethics and political philosophy have much in common: what creates leadership? How do groups decide what to do? How do they form, and how do they relate to each other? What motivates the participants, and what creates allegiances and animosities?
Our lives are shaped by economic realities, whether we approve of them or not. The intersection between economy and psychology is an important area to consider for business ethics, because businesses work for the consumer. Every person in the US sees on average about 1600 ads per day, and makes countless economic decisions throughout his or her life. How do we make money, and how do we spend it? How do we think about money? How smart are our choices, and what influences them?
The final section, entitled Post-Capitalism, looks toward the future. We have lived through market booms and crashes, we experienced the excesses of capitalism-gone-wild, as well as economic devastation that results from poor economic planning (sub-prime mortgage crash, banking crisis in the US, Greek debt crisis, the Euro-zone.) What are the trends that shape world economic outlook? What, and how, do we learn from the past 20 years of change? How will the economic system itself transform under the pressure of new technologies, increasing speeds, better flow of information, more globalization, wide-spread and to some degree irreversible environmental devastation, and increasing demands for global justice? Do we live in times where consumerism comes to an end, and people begin to realize that a better quality of life is not achieved through more goods and consumption?