For 3 millennium or more there has been a “gospel” preached: economics (in it’s various forms) is an exceptional part of life: there can be no ethical constraints to it. Medical Ethics? fine! Legal Ethics? Business Ethics? ditto. But perhaps the play on words tells all: Economical Ethics??!!Yet humans are not inherently un-ethical: but we need guidance both as individuals, businesses and governments.
The Centre for Ethical Economics has been formed as a non-profit making organisation to start to co-ordinate the various, but largely un-coordinated work for the non-specialist reader which has, is and will be done on the many aspects of this subject.
It is based at looking at a whole series of interrelationships between ethics and economics – micro to macro – and trying to persuade all who live in the world of economics – theoretically and practically – to consider throughout the ethical implications of their actions.
The implications are to make easily understandable the work already done by all-too-few but dedicated academics on the co-ordination between ethics and economics: and also the general concerned “amateur”. Whilst they both have significant contributions to make there is no-one who should be immune: for surely we are all concerned with living with others whilst also using part of the “scarce resources”.
There are many background writings touching this subject. Consider as follows:-
“Economics indeed has an ethical component because economic affairs are human affairs.”1 Possibly more. If the human race considers itself an ethical group should not ethics not be just a component but a core part of economic thought and activity?
“Economists.. sometimes pretend to themselves and other people that economics is an ethics-free zone”2 That is all too true. But then as Gregg Easterbrook writes, “An ethic of service is at war with a craving for gain” . Hence many – particularly the self-interested – deny that their economic decisions should have any link to morality.
Lionel Robbins made the classic definition of economics: “Economics is a science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” And in anthropology we find that ‘All human cultures are .. a collection of “choice making individuals whose every action involves conscious or unconscious selections among alternatives means to alternative ends”‘3
John Broome notes that “Economics .. makes judgements of right or wrong, good or bad, in economic matters. It needs criteria for making these judgements, and the criteria must come from ethics”4
The raison d’etre of The Centre for Ethical Economics and indeed this web site is to argue that the choice we make between ethical and unethical financial decisions should be more clear cut and enable those who believe in moral living to have a base to support them in striving to counter the – sometimes unthinking – greed of many in their efforts to take an excessive share of the “scarce resources” of life.
1 Henry C. Mayer (International Journal of Social Economics)
2 Broome – [Why economics needs ethical theory]
3 Burling, 1962, [quoted from Prattis, 1982:207)
4 Broome: [Ethics out of Economics – CUP]
Many of the academic books have major reference sections. See, for example, “On Ethics & Economics” by Sen, Blackwell Publishing.