Ethics vs. Capitalism

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Can Business Ethics & Capitalism coexist?

The concept of business ethics has tried to change the way businesses operate over the years. Business ethics is a form of ethics that governs the actions of businesses to circumvent the affects business has on every day society. But some question its effectiveness in the application of capitalism. Several case studies have shown that this is the case; many companies place the pursuit of money in front of the pursuit of virtue. Although, the majority of companies are not in the spotlight of acting unethically, can we conclude that they follow the ethical norms? It is natural for normal human beings to act ethical but businesses are on a completely different playing field. But could business ethics be clearly possible in capitalism?

In order to understand the debate of business ethics, one must understand the concept of capitalism. Capitalism in its purest form is free enterprise, meaning that the market functions with minimal interference from government and other forces. If this is possible then businesses compete with each other on an equal playing field and whoever has the upper hand can gain much of the market. Each business will fight for there own share of the market and it is basically survival of the fittest, whoever has the better product, price, quality will win over customers.

Capitalism is a free-market approach to economics but one other practice makes capitalism different from any other economical system. Within capitalism investors play a large part in business in capitalism. In theory there are several different kinds of investors in capitalism. One can ‘loan' money to a company and the company will promise to return that loan with interest but the most common type of investment is ownership into the company or business. This type of ownership takes place through the concept of stock. Stock is an actual stake within the company bought in the stock market. In capitalism the stock's price can either fluctuate up or down. This notion of the stock market plays the biggest part in a capitalist economy because a companies stock is an indication on how well the company is performing.

Milton Friedman, a University of Chicago professor, suggests that the only responsibility of businesses is to their stockholders. He advocates that a businesses function is to make as much money as possible in any and every way, as long as the rules of society are followed (Friedman 33). If these principles are followed then capitalism will benefit society because of open and free competition. Businesses will compete with each other giving consumers the advantage and therefore help the economy profit. Friedman believes that capitalism the economy will take care of itself and any outside forces would disrupt its process.

In capitalism the worker is a commodity in so as to produce the products needed for the market. Each individual does what they are best at producing and if everyone does this then each person's needs are taken care of. When each person is working they are paid money for their labor. With this money they can buy goods, which can fulfill their own desires, and so the trading of money for goods can take place in a capitalist market driving the economy forward (Smith 158).

Capitalism depends on a free economy but does business ethics shake the very structure of a free economy? Some critics agree that business ethics infringe on the right of a free capitalist economy but others say that businesses are not following their social responsibility and so there should be a place for business ethics in a capitalist economy. But what kinds of ethics would be applicable to a free market economy such as capitalism?

In business ethics there are several different types of ethical behavior that exist. Although there are many different kinds of ethical behavior, three are the most prevalent within society; these are utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics.

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