A Brief Look on the State of Business Ethics: Part I

As time passes, there seems to be an erosion of business ethics and an increase in materialism. This is especially evident by the recent unequal standards and scandals so vividly portrayed in the news. For companies, the basis and only hint of ethics is a very flawed ethical code system. Moreover, modern ethics heavily rely on external factors, punishments for bad behavior and rewards for good behavior. This is clearly not enough.

The past teachings and laws of business were based on a holistic approach. Justice and its punishment were believed to be approved by God or gods. In addition people believe they were part of a higher natural order in which they must behave or negative consequences will happen. Also there was an ethical culture of business and trade due to years of trading between diverse cultures and genetically mixed people. This belief of conduct is clearly reflected in the laws.

This holistic approach to ethics and life seems to be lost. This is probably due to separating business with religion and, more importantly, the personal life which can be called compartmentalization. In addition people are becoming more independent and more impersonal as supposed to close knit communities which made misconducts and crimes easier to enforce. Where in the past people were concerned as a whole, the modern world has a trend to break things up. Rules of conduct are no different, in which rules of conduct do not apply to all sectors of life. Simply the ethical behavior of the past has been separated from modern business environments. The problems in the modern world due to this thinking are numerous. Good business numbers have become more important than ethical behavior. Worst yet, people are fired or punished for trying to be ethical while the cheaters thrive.

Some propose to go back to the holistic way of life, which between the two is by far the best approach. But, I do not think this is happening anytime soon. People have grown almost accustom to and even tolerant to unethical behavior especially in business. Something devastating must happen even more than the recent scandals of Enron, HP and the like to force such a new change on the way of thinking. Some hope that a minority like that in the past will preserve integrity, ethical behavior, and most importantly a holistic approach to life. This is possible. But I still must be pessimistic in that the modern world often do not listen and suppresses the minorities while the benefits of unethical behavior have been cultured to be great.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “A Brief Look on the State of Business Ethics: Part I

  1. I strongly disagree. Business and religion have been separate almost from the beginning. The love of Mammon is a consistent part of the suffering of mankind. This is not new. That society is in the process of fragmentation, I agree with your point but differ in my doubts about the future of this fragmentation. I do not think religion can pull this society back together, not the denominations available now, but technology has the potential in a very few years of changing what is independent and what is not.

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  3. I have since changed my views slightly. I never thought introducing religion to more aspects of life was a good thing but a lesser of the two evils (a godless society). But I have a new sense of hope in a third option. The latest generation 18- 24 who are now getting into business have seen their families or maybe themselves “screwed” in some way, making the victims of unethical business behavior. (eg mortgage crisis right now). Perhaps they will bring with them a sense of importance towards ethics. (eg Harvard (?) students taking an ethics oath)

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