Business Ethics and Sociological Imagination


1.) If we consider Adam Smith’s viewpoints, is it appropriate to label capitalism an ethical system?

            It is common knowledge that Adam Smith was a large supporter of free market capitalism.  Smith is best known for two books that he wrote entitled Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments.  The Theory of Moral Sentiments rests on the belief that people are empathetic and essentially care about each other.  He believed that it would be impossible for a human being to go through life following his own interest and have none of those interests benefit the fortune of others. 

            Smith believed that a good life is achieved from the expression of “beneficence” rather than material wealth.  He also touched on the point that self love can inspire the individual to better his own condition by besting competitors.  However, he did recognize that that this must be done in a just manner and in the spirit of fair play that needed to be judged by an ethical spectator. 

            In essence, this means that we care about what others think of us first and foremost because we are social beings.  At the same time, we all want to be moral because it is embedded in us that it is the right thing to do.  Therefore, Smith was extremely confident that society would progress to a positive ethics standpoint naturally.  All in all, a parallel can be drawn to capitalism in business and how it is ethically sound.   

2.) In the Social Imagination what is meant by the feeling of being trapped and how can one overcome this dilemma?

            The article opens up describing how men feel that their private lives are just a series of traps.  An individual’s level of awareness is completely bounded by the private orbit that they live in.  What I mean by this is they can only retain the close up scenes of things like work, family, and school.  This leaves them with a very vague and ambitious look on society which makes them feel trapped.  It is no surprise that this has become the case over the years as everything has advanced so rapidly. 

            A lot of men feel as if they don’t understand how important of a connection there is between the patterns of their own lives and world history.  In layman’s terms, the shaping of history now outpaces the ability of men to orient themselves with values that they cherish.  Therefore, men often feel that the older ways of thinking and feeling have collapsed and that the newer ones are morally ambiguous. 

            With this being said, in order to overcome this feeling you must delve into social imagination.  Social imagination allows us to understand history and biography and the relations between these two things in society.  In essence, the social imagination enables an individual to understand the larger historical scene in the terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a lot of people.  

3.) How has the behavior of ethics changed over time and how has this behavior affected the economy?

            It seemed not so long that most publicly held corporations embrace their mission statements and code of conducts.  They took on the responsibility to serve their stockholders, employees, customers, suppliers, and the community in which they worked in.  However, it seems that more recently companies have only been serving their stakeholders focusing solely on profitability. 

            This type of behavior in the business world has resulted in corporate downsizing along with the outsourcing of jobs.  Even worse this behavior has contributed to restructuring pension plans along with termination as a whole.  Domestic suppliers are now being replaced by cheaper foreign services and customers seeking service are often confronted with automated answering machines and foreign call centers.  It even seems to be the case that environmental concerns are viewed as obstacles to profitability.

            Unfortunately what most of these major corporations fail to realize is that their obsession with the bottom line is actually shrinking their markets, both domestic and foreign.  There are a large number of people who are unemployed or even just fearing losing their job.  This leaves them to spend less money at the fear that they won’t even be able to pay their bills.  Perhaps, this is what contributed to the current economic crisis.  

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/opinion/sunday/sunday-dialogue-how-corporations-behave.html?ref=ethics

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3 thoughts on “Business Ethics and Sociological Imagination

  1. I believe what you say in your third answer is very true, how companies are only trying to satisfy their stakeholders more and less towards their customers, suppliers, and employers. Money and profits are always the centerfold to these kind of issues. They export our labor to other countries to cut costs and what happens, thousands of Americans lose their jobs. We are hurting ourselves and yet we keep doing it. Greed has literally taken over the minds of corporate leaders.

  2. 1) Was all that Adam Smith in the Treviño and Nelson reading? Or are you bringing in another class? What do you find relevant in Smith’s ideas for our discussion?

    2) I like how you elaborate on the feeling of being trapped. That emotional state is the critical starting point for Mills’ writing (it is a chapter form a book, by the way, not an article).

    3) Is your answer in #3 summarizing the article or more reflective of your own concerns? What would you say if you had a CEO out for coffee, you raised the unethicality (why isn’t that a word?) of outsourcing, and she said, “Look, I have to maximize profit daily, weekly, quarterly. I have no choice in the matter.”?

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