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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
Article

Abstract

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 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

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

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