How Much Is Too Much
Before we start I believe we should talk about the distinction between business and poverty inside and outside of this country. I believe there should be no distinction. As Peter Singer argues that "we cannot discriminate against someone merely because he is far away from us (or we are far away from him)..." (579). Businesses have the same obligations internationally that they have here. Likewise when it comes to poverty we should be fighting against it both here and abroad.
Wealth in itself is not intrinsically good or bad. John Hospers states that "[a] million dollars made on the free market means that that a great deal of money has filtered down to a very large number of people in the economy" (235). However, oftentimes top managers of a company make exorbitant salaries and share in most of the profit, leaving little for the workers who make the company the money. In a purely capitalist system there is little regard for the individual worker; there is only regard for that which creates the most wealth. I believe it matters how one accumulates wealth and that ethics is an integral part of our lives and should not be left out of the workplace. Robert C. Solomon explains that "[t]he bottom line of the Aristotelean approach to business ethics is that we have to get away from the 'bottom line' thinking and conceive of business as an essential part of the good life . . . " (262).
Karl Marx argued that our very nature is to work and that in a capitalist system we are alienated from the product of our labor ultimately depriving us of our being and connection to our community. Solomon agrees with Karl Marx and believes that working should be a "worthwhile" activity that provides "meaningful substance" and is a "source of our sense of self-worth..." (263). There is room in a capitalistic society for an individual to be successful and become wealthy, for a company to make a profit, and for both the individual and the company to have a sense of community.
When it comes to poverty there are of course two main opposing camps, those who have an altruistic ideal and those who have more of an individualistic responsibility or a utilitarian ideal of advancement of civilization though some may suffer more than others. Ayn Rand argues that we have only a duty to pursue self interest both rationally and long-term. That altruism devalues the individual self and sets us up to being prey to be sacrificed for moral criteria to the beneficiaries of one's actions. An individual knows his own wants and unwanted charity degrades ones self-respect and self-reliance as well as being invasive.
Garrett Hardin described a possible outcome of providing food for countries not willing or able to save due to population growth as a tragedy of the commons where all will suffer. Andrew Carnegie argued for individualism, private property, the law of accumulation of wealth, and the law of competition. Without such things as the law of accumulation of wealth everyone lives in squalor. He argues that "while the law [of competition] may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department" (588). However, Carnegie also argues that vast inequalities promotes discourse and revolution and must be reconciled. His solution is by giving in a slow but increasing amount the estate upon death to the public.
In the opposing camp Peter Singer believes we have an obligation to give until it becomes detrimental for us (578). Only in spreading the wealth evenly to all people can we be ethical. Amartya Sen argues that starvation and hunger are failures of entitlement, that famine is often not a result of lack of food but lack of entitlement of many peoples access to the food in the country. He argues for the rights of the people not to be hungry.
In my opinion the individual is most important when it comes to both topics of business ethics and poverty. It is the individual who needs virtues and the separation of outside life from work life is both needlessly conducive to unhappiness it separates us from virtuous acts. To leave our virtues at home it promotes a business and workplace without virtues. Perhaps like Carnegie I believe in private property and the laws of accumulation of wealth and competition but I also believe in the ethical accumulation of that property, wealth, and practice of competition. I believe in the right of people to pursue life, liberty, and happiness in that order further I believe in the right of people not to be hungry. Perhaps not at the excess of what Hardin suggests but we have an obligation to provide for the entitlement of as many people as possible to get food. This is of course not to say we force feed people, if people beyond reason do not wish to take charity then that is their right of liberty. If we are to promote the idea that capitalism and commerce is good for the common good because it promotes advancement and uplifts civilization then we must also argue that towards that same goal excessive salaries for top managers and CEOs of corporations should be diverted back to the business to provide for more jobs and growth of the business.
posted by dharh 1:27 PM Aug 3rd, 2007