Feature article:

The moral limits of markets

It often seems that everything is for sale. Nothing is off limits - unless you are clear about the place of ethics in human life. Glenn talks about why we got into this situation.

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June 2012

For the last few months I have been working quietly on my books - editing, design and production. I've written three books in a little over 12 months: two stories plus one non-fiction. You can read about my books on my website (see link below).

The latest book I've written is coming out soon: To the Bush and Back to Business  (more about that in my next newsletter). This newsletter will now be regular (approx. monthly). It will have an article or two, and news about ethics and my books. 

Special offer (but be quick)!
Several of my books are available through Lulu, and they are having a special offer this week. 20% off! It ends at midnight Friday 15 June. Go to Lulu.com. On the homepage there is a savings coupon that you can add to your cart to save.

To find my books, go to my Author Spotlight page.

What is The Little Book of Ethics?

Little book of ethics

Whether we find it uncomfortable to talk about ethics or not, it is a central part of our lives. It is so basic that it pervades all our thinking and feelings. The Little Book of Ethics introduces us to ethics through the lens of five core human values - honesty, peace, right action, love and insight.

What are these values, and why have they been chosen? You'll find out in the book. And the book explains how these values are applied in the different domains of our lives, and relates them to the aims of human life.

The book also explains why people differ on ethical issues. People operate out of different world views, and their values differ accordingly.

It is a "little book" because it just presents the framework of ideas (like Edward De Bono's books do) concisely and simply, and with diagrams! It's 100 pages long.

Putting my publisher's hat on: "This is a concise look at a fresh framework for thinking about ethics. Discussion of ethics can fall into a variety of traps. The Little Book of Ethics avoids being simplistic, pious, doctrinaire, bombastic or quaintly philosophical. It is simple in conception but sweeping in scope. It is offered as a practical handbook for readers to establish the grounds on which they can live a worthwhile life."

The book includes a section on Frequently Asked Questions, such as "How do I make decisions on ethical issues?" and "How do I do my job in an organisation that has a different understanding of ethics than I do?" The book also has a self-awareness questionnaire section, where you can map and explore your own personal values in the light of the framework.

One reader's comment: "For professionals, managers and adults generally, I think the book is an excellent resource for thinking about ethical issues more clearly. I particularly enjoyed Chapter 8 (Practice - living ethically)." How do you get your hands on a copy of the book? Visit the webpage for the book. You can find out more,and order your copy.

What are the moral limits of markets?


Two recent books look at the question of “the moral limits of markets”. In fact, both books have these same words as their sub-title. Michael Sandel’s book, What money can’t buy, examines how market values have been applied to just about every aspect and activity of human life.

The question he asks is, what are the ethical boundaries around this trend towards commercialisation? Have we thought about this, or have we just accepted it as being inevitable, necessary or convenient? Or is this trend in fact beneficial to society?

The other book is Why some things should not be for sale, by Debra Satz. She argues that markets are widely recognised as the most efficient way in general to organise production and distribution of goods. But, she asks, what is it that is wrong about buying and selling goods such as addictive drugs, weapons, child labour or human organs? Do we know?

These two books both ask us if we understand the basis of our ethics when it comes to dealing with business issues, whether as a consumer, entrepreneur, manager or employee. If we haven’t thought about it, we have no defence against those who would push us down the road to where money is the only measure of value.

Sandel is concerned to prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don’t belong. What’s wrong with a school selling naming rights to a corporation? What’s wrong with a novelist being commissioned by a jewellery maker to write a novel where the company’s products are surreptitiously promoted?

Satz says people need to be more aware of how commercialisation affects them and society. She says markets shape our culture, they can foster or thwart human development, and they create and support certain structures of power.

What do I think? I think that as a society we have made the mistake of bowing down to the loud voices in the business world who want to persuade us that business is the fundamental thing in life, and other things have to take their place around it. I call it the Big Circle/Little Circle error.

The reality is that the Big Circle is society, culture and humans and, of course, the environment.

Markets/economics/business fall into a Little Circle inside the Big Circle – its role is to enable the production and distribution of goods that people need to live. But, as Sandel points out, the central things in human life are not about economics, they are about things like love, beauty and wonder, culture and relationships.

I talk about this issue at length in my new book, To the bush and back to business. Coming back to Sydney after living in a rural setting for 25 years, I saw that society was still going down the road of commercialisation of all aspects of life, without realising what was wrong with this.

My experiences made me realise that society is still dominated by destructive business mythologies which had been first broadcast in the 1960s. One of these was the economist Milton Friedman’s claim that the only responsibility of business was to increase its profits, with no obligations to society except to obey the law (which is ironic when you consider how often corporations try to influence the law-making process).

Read more about the new book, To the bush and back to business, available late August 2012.