Murphy\’s Bye-Laws

Law #4: Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. –H.D. Thoreau

Ethical Business Questions

Posted by PintofStout on June 27, 2006

The opening line of Murray Rothbard’s pamphlet “Wall Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy” states that “businessmen or manufacturers can either be genuine free enterprisers or statists; they can either make their way on the free market or seek special government favors and privileges.”  Individually, each person’s moral code will tell them which they follow.  But in the muddled-up, mixed-up, shook-up world infused with government, is the choice so easy?

Suppose a CEO of a company has an opportunity to affect legislation (and which one doesn’t?) that will benefit his business and create a profit for his stockholders.  Would it be unethical for him to not maximize the profits and investments of the owners of stock?  That is, afterall, his job.  Would it be more ethical to refuse wielding the immoral power of the state to facilitate his gains?

There are many ins, many outs, many what-have-yous like the bylaws and charter of the company may state objection to such actions or layout pretty clearly the means that are acceptable to employ in turning profit.  Such a case would be similar to Whole Foods, Inc, where a percentage of profits are contributed to charity or environmental causes.  When the shareholders know up front, then they have the option to buy or not.  Likewise, if the job or parts of the job are morally reprehensible to the CEO, they have the option of not accepting the position.

But, regardless of ways around this problem, if a CEO doesn’t choose to seek privilege and advantage unfairly from government based on personal conviction, is he doing a disservice to the shareholders of the company that hired him to make the money?

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