Business Ethics

Business ethics are a lot more complex than most think.  A recent Wall Street Journal interview of Daylian Cain, a prof at the Yale School of Management surfaces some of those complexities.  This is one of the rare and astute statements that I’ve been hoping for.  It’s unusual because far too many approach business ethics from the perspective of personal ethics rather than that of social ethics.  Cain is right on when he comments that one of the issues he faces is that teaching students to become socially responsible managers first requires dispelling previous notions about where personal values fit in the workplace.  And, as he also emphasizes, acting on your values is more complex than it might seem.  Intriguingly, Cains major specialty is in the conflict of interest issues and behavioral economics a relatively new discipline. He makes a point I’ve tried to emphasize in conversations, but often with little success.  These are not evil people in the boardroom, these are the kind of people, who–on the weekends–don’t litter.  But Cain goes beyond the usual claptrap of doing good, not lying, or even the arguments that organizations do good by doing well. Social ethics begins and ends with a significantly different lens than personal ethics.  Social ethics asks what it means to be an organization, while personal ethics asks what it means to be truly human.  They are both quite valid questions and they result in different behavioral practices.  Cain says that the underlying business ethics issue concerns itself with the nature of the corporation:  Can you ever care about anything other than maximizing profits?  You’ll find some very astute thinkers all over that map. Although readers might want answers, that’s not coming in the WSJ article.  Well, what are your concerns about these issues?
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