How Big Business Contributed to Crisis in American Morality
The Current Crisis in American Morality:
How Big Business Has Contributed to, and Ought to Address, the Crisis
In this paper, I argue that several features of Big Business in the United States, and its influence on our society, have caused far too many Americans to stop thinking about what is morally right as they choose their actions. An ethical vacuum has been created that Big Business has been only too glad to fill with questionable values that Americans have absorbed without consciously embracing. The time is right, and the stakes have never been higher, for us to reflect on our values and change our thinking and behavior. Big Business and Philosophy each have important roles to play — one because of the power it now has and the other because of the power it ought to have — if we are to improve the moral climate in this country.
A large number of Americans have stopped being concerned about what is morally right as they choose their actions. This is a disturbing trend. It demonstrates that many Americans are attempting to escape taking responsibility for their actions in a fundamental way, and in a way that is not really possible because actions that affect others’ lives cannot be entirely value-free. Whether people realize it or not, their actions do reveal underlying values, even if they have not been explicitly embraced. The task of choosing the values by which one lives cannot be escaped and it is more important than people realize, because our values are closely linked to our identity as individuals and as a society. As I have argued in a recent paper, in a significant sense “We Are Our Values.”1 Our choice of values, which affects our actions, determines who we are. They are what we stand for. To attempt to escape thinking about what is morally right amounts to attempting to escape standing for anything. In this paper, I shall discuss how the philosophy and practices of Big Business have contributed to this crisis in American morality and how business executives, as well as philosophers, ought to address the crisis in order to improve the moral climate in this country.
There are eight features of Big Business that I would cite as being causal factors in creating our current moral crisis. The first has to do with how its philosophical foundations have been distorted. The American business climate rests on...