Politics and Ethics
By: Larry R. Valorozo
Ethics in the public sector is a broad topic. Public sector ethics is usually considered a branch of political ethics. In the public sector, ethics addresses the fundamental premise of a public administrators duty as a "steward" to the public. In other words, it is the moral justification and consideration for decisions and actions made during the completion of daily duties when working to provide the general services of government and nonprofit organizations. Ethics are an accountability standard by which the public will scrutinize the work being conducted by the members of these organizations. Decisions are based upon ethical principles, which are the perception of what the general public would view as correct. Having such a distinction ensures that public administrators are not acting on an internal set of ethical principles without first questioning whether those principles would hold to public scrutiny. It also has placed an additional burden upon public administrators regarding the conduct of their personal lives. Public sector ethics is an attempt to create a more open atmosphere within governmental operations. Government's ethical origins
Government officials serve the people, managing the resources of others. Along with this stewardship, there is an expectation from the public that in conducting daily activities, the officials will practice fairness and equality. They are also expected to maintain openness in their workings to ensure that they are operating within the public's perception of what is "right." This concept ofethics, a branch of philosophy which seeks to address morality, is not a relatively new idea within government. Niccolò Machiavelli wrote The Prince, which serves as a manual to illustrate what a monarchy should do to maintain power. This treatise is often viewed as a tool of how a public official should not act in modern society, as it is an enumeration of the specific steps one should take to maintain control and power. This idea of control and power conflicts with the underlying principle of being a steward to the general public. As such, this treatise is a springboard for ethical issues in modern day times. Paul Douglas, a former United States Senator from Illinois, argues that while many may secretly follow Machiavelli in their heart, most do not. “Instead, most men want a life of integrity and goodwill in which public officials are stewards rather than masters and treat their jobs as a means of helping people rather than dominating them” (1952, p. 12). Douglas further argues why ethical practices are needed. “Our government is now so huge and affects our lives so directly that we cannot be content with merely a moderately decent level of behavior on the part of our public officials. For even a small percentage of misbehavior on the part of these officials can do a vast amount of harm” (1952, p. 19). While Machiavelli and Douglas are distant in time, the two opposing viewpoints of the types of public administrators, and the ethical stance of the decisions they make, are very relevant today. Further illustrating the bifurcation of thought on ethics in government, Cody and Lynn discuss the two opposing factors: utilitarians and deontologists (1992, p. 6). Utilitarians: Believe that the end sought justifies the means to that end. In other words, if an ethical solution is more costly, a utilitarian will argue from a standpoint of efficiency or effectiveness to justify a less ethical solution. Deontologists: Believe that certain absolute principles should be obeyed, regardless of the consequences. An example of an absolute principle would be honesty. The definition of these two behavioral models is not necessarily exclusive. It is possible for a person to make a decision based upon a utilitarian stance and then follow a deontological stance for a...