Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 94, Supplement 2, pp 239–253 | Cite as

Speaking Platitudes to Power: Observing American Business Ethics in an Age of Declining Hegemony

  • Richard Marens


Over the last generation, American Business Ethics has focused excessively on the process of managerial decision-making while ignoring the collective impact of these decisions and avoiding other approaches that might earn the disapproval of corporate executives. This narrowness helped the field establish itself during the 1980s, when American management, under pressure from finance and heightened competition, was unreceptive to any limitations on its autonomy. Relying, however, on top-down approaches inspired by Aristotle, Locke, and Kant, while ignoring the consequentialism of Mill and Rawls, made the field totally reliant upon the good will of these same corporate executives for generating any impact. Trends in employee compensation, finance, regulation, government procurement, and taxpayer subsidies suggest that Business Ethics has failed to significantly influence corporate behavior, a result that would have not surprised the realists of the post-war generation of Business and Society scholars. If Business Ethics is to prove relevant in the contemporary world, the field needs to acknowledge past failures and develop new approaches. The decline of American economic hegemony coupled to the increased internationalization of the discipline may create the opportunity to do so.

Key words

academic history American hegemony history of ethics consequentialism managerialism Mill Rawls stakeholder theory social contracting utilitarianism voluntarism 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allison, M.: 2009, ‘Starbucks Faces More Union Woes: Third Union Case for Coffee Giant’, Seattle Times, January 6, A6.Google Scholar
  2. Armour, S.: 2004, ‘Workers Asked to Train Foreign Replacements’, USA Today, April 6, 1B.Google Scholar
  3. Arrighi, G.: 1994, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of our Times, (Verso Books, New York).Google Scholar
  4. Ashcraft, R.: 1986, Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s Twin Treatises of Government, (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ).Google Scholar
  5. Barboza, D.: 2006, ‘China Drafts Law to Boost Unions and End Abuse’, New York Times, October 13, A1.Google Scholar
  6. Barry, B.: 2002, ‘Philosopher Who Transformed His Subject’, Financial Times, November 28, 23.Google Scholar
  7. Bowen, H. R.: 1953, Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, (Harper and Row, New York).Google Scholar
  8. Brady, D.: 2000, ‘Why Service Stinks’, Business Week, October 23, 118–128.Google Scholar
  9. Brenner, R.: 2002, The Boom and the Bubble, (Verso Books, New York).Google Scholar
  10. Brofenbrenner, K.: 1994, ‘Employer Behavior in Certification Elections and First Contracts: Implications for Labor Law Reform, in S. Friedman, et al. (eds.), Restoring the Promise of American Labor Law, (ILR Press Ithaca, NY), pp. 75-89.Google Scholar
  11. Burris, V.: 1992, ‘Elite Policy Planning Networks in the United States’, in Gwen Moore and J. Allen Whitt, Eds., Research in Politics and Society, Vol. 4 (JAI Press, Greenwich, CT), pp. 111-134.Google Scholar
  12. Callahan, D.: 1999, One Billion Dollars for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s, (National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Washington, D.C.).Google Scholar
  13. Carroll, A. B.: 1999, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, Business and Society, 38(3), 268-295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chesser, P.: 2004, ‘On Milking a State’s Cash Cow’, Carolina Journal, Accessed June 20, 2009.
  15. Ciulla, J. B. (2000) The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work, New York: Times Books.Google Scholar
  16. Clark, L. H.: 1976, ‘Rehabilitation Project: Once-Mighty CED Panel of Executives Seeks a Revival’, Wall Street Journal, December 17, 38.Google Scholar
  17. Clawson, D., Neustadtl, A., and Weller, M.: 1998, Dollars and Votes: How Business Campaign Contributions Subvert Democracy, (Temple University Press, Philadelphia).Google Scholar
  18. Collins, D. and Wartick, S.L.: 1995, ‘Business and Society/Business Ethics Courses: Twenty Years at the Cross Roads’, Business and Society, 34(1), 51-89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dale, E.: 1960, ‘Management must be Made Accountable’, Harvard Business Review, 38, 49-59.Google Scholar
  20. DeGeorge, R. T. (1991) Will Success Spoil Business Ethics?, In: R. E. Freeman (ed.), Business Ethics: The State of the Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 42-55.Google Scholar
  21. Dodd, E.M.: 1932, ‘For Whom are Corporate Managers Trustees?’, Harvard Law Review, 45, 1145- 1163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dodd, E. M.: 1954, ‘American Business Corporations until 1860’, (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA).Google Scholar
  23. Donaldson, T.: 1982, Corporations and Morality, (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ).Google Scholar
  24. Donner, F.: 1980, Age of Surveillance, (Alfred A. Knopf, New York).Google Scholar
  25. Economic Report of the President: 2009, Transmitted to Congress (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC).Google Scholar
  26. Enrich, D. and C. Mollenkamp: 2007, ‘Citigroup Likely to Propose Cuts of 15,000 Jobs’, Wall Street Journal, March 26, A1.Google Scholar
  27. Epstein, E.: 1998, `Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility', Business and Society 37(1), 7–39Google Scholar
  28. Evan, W. and Freeman, R. E.: 1988, ‘A Stakeholder Theory of the Modern Corporation: Kantian Capitalism’, in T. Beauchamp, and N. Bowie (eds.), Ethical Theory and Business, 3rd Edition (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ), pp. 97-106.Google Scholar
  29. Ferguson, T.: 1990, ‘Motorola Aims High so Motorolans Won’t be Getting High’, Wall Street Journal, June 26, A19.Google Scholar
  30. Frederick, W. C.: 1998, ‘Moving to CSR4: What to Pack for the Trip’, Business and Society: 37(1): 40-59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Freeman, R. E.: 1984, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, (Pitman Publishing, Boston).Google Scholar
  32. Freeman, R. E. and Evan, W.: 1990, ‘Corporate Governance: A Stakeholder Interpretation’, Journal of Behavioral Economics, 19(4): 337–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Friedman, M.: 1970, ‘The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits’, New York Times, September 13, 122–126.Google Scholar
  34. Frost, P.: 1999, ‘Why Compassion Counts’, Journal of Management Inquiry, 8(2): 127-133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Galbraith, J.K.: 1952, American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power, (Houghton-Miflin, Boston).Google Scholar
  36. Gerde, V.W and Wokutch, R.E.: 1998, ‘Twenty-Five Years and Going Strong’, Business and Society, 37(4): 414-446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Getz, K.A.: 1997, ‘Research in Corporate Political Action: Integration and Assessment’, Business and Society, 36(1): 32-72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Goodpaster, K.: 1991, ‘Business Ethics and Stakeholder Analysis’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 1(1): 53–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Goodstein, J. D. and Wicks, A. C.: 2007, ‘Corporations and Stakeholder Responsibility: Making Business Ethics a Two-Way Conversation’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 17(3): 375-398.Google Scholar
  40. Gordon, J.: 1993, ‘How Much Are High Skills Worth?’, Training, July 24–25.Google Scholar
  41. Gordon, R. A. and Howell, J. E.: 1959, Higher Education for Business, (Columbia University Press, New York).Google Scholar
  42. Grow, B. and K. Epstein: 2007, ‘The Poverty Business’, Business Week, May 21, 57–68.Google Scholar
  43. Haley, K. H. D.: 1968, First Earl of Shaftsbury, (Clarendon Press, Oxford).Google Scholar
  44. Heald, M.: 1970, The Social Responsibilities of Business: Company and Community, 1900-1960, (Case Western Reserve University Press, Cleveland).Google Scholar
  45. Heilman, R. E.: 1928, ‘A Reevaluation of the Objectives of the Business Education’, in Proceedings of the Tenth Annual Meeting of American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business, pp. 1–7.Google Scholar
  46. Herivel, T. J. and Wright, P.: 2008, Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration?, (New Press, New York).Google Scholar
  47. Hira, R and Hira, A.: 2005, Outsourcing America: What’s Behind our National Crisis and how we can Reclaim our Jobs, (AMACOM, New York).Google Scholar
  48. Holusha, J.: 1993, ‘Profitable Xerox Plans to Cut Staff by 10,000’, New York Times, December 9, D1.Google Scholar
  49. Hsieh, N.: 2005, ‘Rawlsian Justice and Workplace Republicanism’, Social Theory and Practice, 31(1): 115-142.Google Scholar
  50. Hume, D.: 1951, `Of the Original Contract', in F. Watkins (ed.), Theory of Politics (Nelson Co., Edinburgh), pp. 193–214Google Scholar
  51. Isenberg, D. and I. Eland: 2002, ‘Empty Promises: Why the Bush Administration’s Half-Hearted Attempts at Defense Reform have Failed’, Policy Analysis of the Cato Institute #442, June 11,
  52. Jensen, M. C.: 1989, ‘Eclipse of the Public Corporation’, Harvard Business Review, September–October, 61–74.Google Scholar
  53. Jones, T. M., Phelps, W., and Bigley, G. A.: 2007, ‘Ethical Theory and Stakeholder-Related Decisions: The Role of Stakeholder Culture’, Academy of Management Review, 32(1): 137-154.Google Scholar
  54. Kahn, W.: 1990, ‘Toward an Agenda for Business Ethics Research’, Academy of Management Review, 15(2): 311-328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Kant, I. (1967) ‘The Nature of Enlightenment’, In: R. Wines (eds), Enlightened Despotism, Reform or Reaction, Boston: Heath Co, 14-17.Google Scholar
  56. Kaysen, C.: 1957, ‘Social Significance of the Modern Corporation’, American Economic Review, 47(2): 311-319.Google Scholar
  57. Krehmeyer, D., M. Orsagh and K. N. Schact: 2006, ‘Breaking the Short-Term Cycle’, Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics, Accessed June 18, 2009.
  58. Krugman, P.: 2005, ‘Why Jobs Head North’, New York Times, July 26, 7.Google Scholar
  59. Kuehn, M.: 2001, Immanuel Kant: A Biography, (Cambridge University Press, New York).Google Scholar
  60. Lawrence, A. T.: 2002, ‘Drivers of Stakeholder Engagement: Reflections on the Case of Royal Dutch/Shell’, in Unfolding Stakeholder Thinking’, in J. Andriof et al. (eds.), (Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, U.K.), pp. 185-199.Google Scholar
  61. Leroy, Greg: 2005, The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation, (Berrett-Kohler, New York).Google Scholar
  62. Lewis, S.: 1906, The Jungle, (Double Day and Co, New York).Google Scholar
  63. Lewis, C. S.: 2001, ‘The Inner Ring’, in W. Hooper (ed.), Weight and Glory (HarperOne, New York), pp. 141–157.Google Scholar
  64. Locke, J.: 1967, `On Property', in P. Lassett (ed.), Two Treatises on Government (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge)., pp. 303–320Google Scholar
  65. Locke, J. (1969) Proposed Poor Law Reform, In: H. R. F. Bourne (eds.), Life of John Locke New York: Scientia Verlag Aalen, 379-390.Google Scholar
  66. Logan, J.: 2002, ‘Consultants, Lawyers, and the ‘Union Free’ Movement in the USA since the 1970s’, Industrial Relations Journal, 33(3): 197-214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Logsdon, J. M.: 1998, ‘The Forces of Evil are still with us’, Business and Society, 37(1): 83-84.Google Scholar
  68. Lord, E. W.: 1936, A Reappraisal of University Education for Business’, in Proceedings of the 18th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business (American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business, Evanston, IL), pp. 18–30.Google Scholar
  69. Madoff, J. L. and Harless, A.: 1996, The Indebted Society: Anatomy of an Ongoing Disaster, (Little Brown, New York).Google Scholar
  70. Malott, R. H.: 1978, ‘Corporate Support of Education: Some Strings Attached’, Harvard Business Review, July–August, 133–138.Google Scholar
  71. Marens, R.: 2008, ‘Recovering the Past: Reviving the Legacy of the Early Scholars of Corporate Social Responsibility’, Journal of Management History, 14(1), 55-72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Melman, S.: 1987, Profits without Production, (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia).Google Scholar
  73. Mills, D. Q.: 1979, ‘Flawed Victory in Labor Law Reform’, Harvard Business Review, May–June, 92–99.Google Scholar
  74. Mishel, L., Bernstein, J., and Allegretto, S.: 2007, State of Working America, (ILR Press, Ithaca, NY).Google Scholar
  75. Partnoy, F.: 2003, Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Risk Corrupted the Financial Markets (Henry Holt & Co, New York).Google Scholar
  76. Peterson, K.: 2004, ‘Microsoft Workers Vent over Cuts’, Seattle Times, May 26, C1.Google Scholar
  77. Picketty, T. and E. Saez: 2003, ‘Income Equality in the United States: 1913–2001’, Working Paper #8467 (National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA).Google Scholar
  78. Pollin, R.: 2003. Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity, (Verso Press, New York).Google Scholar
  79. Post, J. E., Preston, L. E., and Sachs, S.: 2002, Redefining the Corporation: Stakeholder Management and Organizational Wealth, (Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA).Google Scholar
  80. Powell, L. F.: 1971, ‘Attack on the American Free Enterprise System’, Memorandum to the National Chamber of Commerce, Accessed June 21, 2009.
  81. Radin, T. J. and Werhane, P. H.: 2003, ‘Employment at Will, Employee Rights, and Future Directions for Employment’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 13(2): 113-130.Google Scholar
  82. Rawls, J.: 1971, A Theory of Justice, (Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA).Google Scholar
  83. Reid, C. J.: 1995, ‘The Seventeenth Century Revolution in the English Land Law’, Cleveland State Law Review, 43, 221-302.Google Scholar
  84. Roberson, J.: 2008, ‘Toyota Sweats Labor Costs’, Detroit Free Press, December 12.Google Scholar
  85. Roy, W. G.: 1997, Socializing Capital: The Rise of the Large Industrial Corporation in America, (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ).Google Scholar
  86. Seavoy, R.: 1982, Origins of the American Business Corporation, 1784-1855, (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT).Google Scholar
  87. Selekman, B. M.: 1959, A Moral Philosophy for Management, (McGraw-Hill, New York).Google Scholar
  88. Smith, A.: 1902, Wealth of Nations, (Methuen and Co., London).Google Scholar
  89. Solberg, W.U. and Tomilson, R.W.: 1997, ‘Academic McCarthyism and Keynesian Economics: The Bowen Controversy at University of Illinois’, History of Political Economy, 2(1): 55-81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Solomon, R. C.: 1992, ‘Corporate Roles, Personal Virtues: An Aristotelian Approach to Business Ethics’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 2(3), 317-340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Taft, P. and Ross, P.: 1969, ‘American Labor Violence: Its Causes, Character, and Outcome’, in H. D. Graham, and T. R. Gurr (eds.), Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives, Vol. 1 (National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, Washington, D.C.), pp. 221-301.Google Scholar
  92. Tead, O. and Metcalf, H. C.: 1933, Personnel Administration, (McGraw-Hill, New York).Google Scholar
  93. Useem, M.: 1996, Investor Capitalism: How Money Managers are Changing the Face of Corporate America, (Basic Books, New York).Google Scholar
  94. Valesquez, M. and R. E. Freeman: 2003, ‘Has Business Ethics Teaching and Research Had Any Discernible Impact on Business Practice in the US and Around the World?’, Panel Discussion, February 21, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University.
  95. Van Buren, H. J.: 2003, ‘An Employee-Centered Model of Corporate Social Performance’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 15, 687-710.Google Scholar
  96. Werhane, P. H.: 1991, Adam Smith and his Legacy for Modern Capitalism, (Oxford University Press, New York).Google Scholar
  97. Wever, K. S.: 2008, ‘Learning from Works Councils: Five Unspectacular Cases from Germany’, Industrial Relations, 33, 467-481.Google Scholar
  98. Wood, E. M.: 2008, Citizens to Lords: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, (Verso Press, New York).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Business AdminstrationCalifornia State UniversitySacramentoU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations