T Nation

Business Ethics


I'm curious as to what the T Nation members think of current business ethics. Do you feel that business owes society something and should actively participate in the betterment of society. Or, do you feel that a corporations only obligation is to its stockholders, and that by doing well they help society indirectly?


I do think that the only obligation is to stockholders, but satisfying them while treating employees like shit or ripping off customers might be tricky in the long run.


Of course they do. And yes, they should.


^^^^ Word ^^^^


I do think that we will probably all agree with the confucianist version of business ethics in a not so distant future.
and i'm starting to think this is actually a good thing.

the whole "business does not owes anything to society" idea is based on a fictive modelling of economics (the so-called "market"), which conveniently forget that values exist as social constructs before and outside the mythic rational buyer - rational seller relationship.



On a related note, I notice that whenever the topic of "the corporation" comes up, people are always confusing "the corporation" with the multi-national giants like McDonalds, Exxon, G.E., Wal-Mart, Microsoft, etc....... Technically they are corporations, but they behave much differently.

In reality, I don't think it's fair to give "the corporation" the face of these giants, when in fact the majority of corporations operating in the U.S. are much, MUCH smaller than any of these billion dollar operations.

The majority of corporations are acting ethically and are not "sending jobs overseas" or "not paying their fair share of taxes". These smaller corporations are the ones that create the bulk of American jobs, and are being unfairly branded as "evil, sinister, underhanded, greedy, etc....." by people that don't pay attention to reality.

And while the corporations interest is the shareholder, that in no way implies that a corporation can't act ethically and socially responsible.

And just maybe, if our government wasn't so heavy handed with their almost draconian corporate tax system, the larger corporations wouldn't need to cut costs, ship jobs to China, and take advantage of tax loopholes.

But hey, let's just bash "the corporation" out of ignorance and togetherness.


And if you do not take them into account doing business you will fail.

That does not change though that this is not the primary purpose of doing business.


Hate to say this ... but ... I ... agree with you.

Just going to go swallow the bitter taste.


in our complex world, and as long as as monopolies, influence, power and violence will exist it's nothing more than wishful thinking.

the betterment of society is not the primary purpose of doing business.
but then business is not an end in itself.

the whole argument "if you don't allow business to do what it want, including the worsening of nature and society, then it will fail" is nothing more than blackmail.

if you impose ethical limits to business, unethical business may fail.

et alors ?
even in a social-darwinist perspective, it should be seen as a good thing.

it's not so hard : if you can't have it ethically, you don't deserve it.



For those who believe that businesses at least are there to better society, let me ask, whose vision of a better society they are to implement.

Who gets to decide?

It seems to me that companies "serve society" by virtue of their existence and if you value their contributions, buy their products, if you dont then dont.

That is really all the "serving society" you can expect from a business venture and it is highly selfregulating, because it cannot only serve different needs of different people, even if they have different, contradictory, or even outright irreconcilabe outlooks on what a "better society" might look like, it also weeds out those businesses who no longer provide enough of a service to justify their existence.


in our complex world, and as long as as monopolies, influence, power and violence will exist it's nothing more than wishful thinking.


So we have to regulate businesses because governments regulate businesses?

That is what this paragraph comes down too.

Of course I am for preventing businesses from profiting through fraud and violence, but those are basically things I want not to do, I would not set a moral agenda, because different people have different mores.


yes, at some point, "different, contradictory or even outright irreconciliable outlooks on what a better society might look" like have to be discussed.

yes, at some point, decisions have to be made.

yes, at some point, we have to realize that there is not only economics, but something called politics too.

since two centuries, we are trying a new way to do it.
the "we the people" way.

it's not perfect, but it's a try.

before that, we had someting called "traditions", and elites.
if our current attempts fail, we can always go back to that.


absolutely !
WE have to.

i never said governements had to.
and i never said they were effective regulation tools.

we were speaking about society.

maybe we should try mutualism. the system proponed by the "old" Proudhon.
or the Social Doctrine of the Church.


But now we have the free market, the ultimate "different strokes for different folks", so we do not necessarly have to discuss or reconcile different lifestyles.

If you think businesses have ethical duties, someone needs to define them, limiting everyones options significantly and unnecessarily.


but then we already regulate them

If I feel ripped off by a company I do no longer buy from them and tell all my friends.

For further reference who quickly this can affect your bottom line look no further than e-bay.


saying "now we have the free market" is equivalent to a russian saying "now, we have a classless society" in 1953.

we are acting as if we had a free market, in the hope of getting it one day.

which is the very definition wishful thinking

this sentence only makes sense if you think ethic/morality is not a necessity and if you think limits are actual bad.
i know it's a popular trend right now, but i still think it is a recipe for disaster.


I know enough about ethics to know that there are several coexisting ethical systemms, each with its own merits and you cannot enforce one without violating the others.

Which brings me back to, preventing fraud and violence yes, creating an ethical agenda no.

YOu are completely free however to patronize any orginazition that panders to your specific set of rationalizations, i.e. ethics.


Your argument completely ignores the ability of a business to have a leveraged effect on society far exceeding the people who they do business with.

A business does not have to have a single paying customer to being producing a product in an unsafe fashion, experience a catastrophic process failure, and take lives as a result.

T-3 laboratories comes to mind - they set up a process plant in an industrial park, producing a fuel additive. They had only one or two customers and were nowhere near profitable, when poor designed caused a detonation of one of their catalyst vessels. It took out a number of buildings in their neighborhood and killed a few people.

At some point, if you follow a libertarian ethic of deregulation, you have to accept that a coin of regulation will be human life... it's pretty cynical.


oh, preventing fraud and violence may be enough, depending on what we consider fraud and violence.
is the gangrape of the Earth fraud or violence ? maybe both ?

I know enough about ethics to know that these terms are ethical terms themselves, and that there is several coexisting definitions of them, each with its own merits.

what you are actually saying is that your ethic may be a bit more minimalist than other ethics, and that therefore it should be enforced preferably.

but this would violate exactly as many ethics as enforcing another one.


A free-marketer who says businesses have only an obligation to stockholders is a danger to the maximization of freedom in the marketplace. The more individuals and institutions act as if they have no social and community obligations, the more attractive government intervention becomes. If a society's culture doesn't constantly stress and reinforce these obligations--which requires the language of moral absolutism--the state will be called in to do it for us.