Ethical Economics?

It might appear to be strange, but “economics” is in a sense part of all developed life. Trees in tropical forests strive to get their own share of the “scarce resource” – which is the sun. To do so they have to grow taller than others. Stags fight each other to win the “scarce resource” of favour of mating with does.

But yet trees rely on others to protect them from wind and many need insects for fertilization. Animals without the presence of others to mate with and support them go the way of the dodo..

Perhaps a quotation from Colin Tudge’s book “The Secret Life of Trees” is apt:-

Multicellular organisms must originally have arisen from single-celled organisms. At its simplest, a multicellular ‘organism’ is little more than a collection of cells that have divided but failed to separate. The real transition comes about when we see real division of labour, and real teamwork. Then you have .. a ‘proper’ organism, with each cell dependent upon the rest, and groups of cells cooperating to form organs such as lungs: different cells in the bunch take on specialist functions…and livers, or leaves and flowers. This degree of collaboration requires enormous self-sacrifice: to be a member of a bona-fide organism, each cell must give up some of its own ability to live by itself. Each cell has to ‘trust’ the others. Any cell that goes berserk and tries simply to do its own thing destroys the whole, and ultimately destroys itself. Such cells in medical circles are said to be cancerous.

Similarly one must state that economic judgements made without the overall consideration of the beneficial effect on others (ethics) should be considered as “cancerous” and as such be deemed to be unacceptable and in need of prolonged attention to remove.

We take ethics to be the applied form: the “discipline of philosophy that attempts to apply ethical theory to real-life situations. ” (Wikipedia article)

The need

Two items were contained in a radio programme a while back. In the first the subject was organ transplants: so the broadcasters called on expert opinion from a cardiac consultant and a professor of medical ethics. It was accepted that in medical matters ethics was – and is – an important consideration. Hence the invitation to the professor.

But the second item was on inflation: the two “witnesses” were an estate agent, suggesting the need for hike of interest rates; and a manufacturer begging for reductions thereon.

But where was the person to argue the morality on the methods of controlling inflation? Could the broadcasters be faulted for not finding such?

The plain fact seems to be that – certainly in the large majority of degree courses in economics – no single lecture is given on the subject: there would appear to be virtually no full-time research on this subject. Small wonder that the media having no major pressures being put on them to consider this do the minimum: ignore it!

A great deal of the crime and unhappiness in the world surely has as a source the lack of any ethical concept in too many peoples’ dealings with money and anything connected with finance. The acquisition of money, almost at whatever cost, is very often considered desirable not only for the good of the acquirer but also for the others – such as the state: since (to the state) the acquirer “will no longer be a burden to the taxpayer”.

The balance is surely as important as the balance in a medical ethics judgement : whilst reasonable reward for “fair, honest toil” is good and theft from the elderly is bad: we all need some help at adjudging the grey areas in between.

[note: most of the points raised on this web site have been covered in considerable detail by a number of distinguished academics. But the length of the writings, the specialist language often used and desire to cover the views of numerous commentators has made the subject hard to grasp for many readers. Hence the perceived need for these “simple” articles. Also to avoid any pedantic duplication we assume that for virtually all purposes on this site “he” is a generic term for mankind. The sex of the member of mankind is immaterial.]