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Why is Business Ethics So Boring?

Why is business ethics so dull? Why is it such a dismal, dreary endeavour?

I ask this in all sincerity, about a field that I take very seriously and that I think is enormously important and interesting.

Admittedly, the subject matter is often pretty serious: wrongdoing at Enron resulting in thousands of people losing their lives’ savings. Mismanagement at AIG putting the entire financial system at risk. Through to more mundane issues such as Soliciting Money from the Bereaved. Funny? More like depressing.

Now, admittedly, I’ve tried my best to bring some humour to the topic: monkey waiters, breast milk ice-cream, sex offender t-shirts, and so on. But one man can only do so much.

But really, does the issue of corporate behaviour have to be so dull and serious? Quick, name one fun-and-interesting book in the field. Or one lively, witty commentator. Just what I thought. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Thanks for proving my point.

OK, here’s my plea: lighten up a bit. Life is fun. Figuring out how companies should act should be interesting. And try to act as if the answers are not obvious. How much fun would it be if the answers were obvious? Foot-stomping just isn’t all that fun. Well, unless you do it to music. Don’t get me wrong. I like my righteous indignation as much as the next guy. But if this field gets too damn serious, it’ll drive away any but the most committed and strident and dull activists. And if the field of business ethics becomes dominated by people who think that fixing things is more important than figuring out the best answers to hard problems, we’re all in a lot of trouble.

And here endeth the rant.

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