Freeman

ARTICLE

Beyond the Invisible Hand

Laws Cannot Force Ethical Behavior

OCTOBER 01, 1994 by HAVEN BRADFORD GOW

Filed Under : Invisible Hand

Mr. Gow is a freelance writer and English teacher who lives in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Ken Chang, manager of the 7-Eleven store in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, recently made a courageous decision that is costing him money. Because he has moral objections to gambling, he has removed his store’s lottery machine and no longer is selling lottery tickets. A few years back, Mr. Chang also courageously removed from his store all pornographic publications, even though his move costs him an estimated $10,000 per year in income.

According to Robert Stuart, chairman emeritus of the National Can Corporation and past president of the Chicago Crime Commission, companies and corporations exist not simply to make profits; the owners, managers, and employees of a business also must contribute to the betterment of society. Employers and employees must exercise moral and social responsibility and practice such values as courtesy, kindness, honesty, decency, moral courage, justice, fair play, and the Golden Rule of treating others the way we would like to be treated.

Dennis McCann, professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago, echoes Stuart’s observation. “Religion definitely has a role in business,” he states. “In fact, it is essential. There is no set of economic organizations that are not ultimately dependent on religious values.”

Father Oliver Williams, co-director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics & Religious Values in Business, also insists that a business can be morally and socially responsible and, at the same time, make a profit. He declares: “Companies are still in the position to think of religion and ethics as well as keeping employees paid. It’s still possible.”

In December 1993, Joe Tonos Jewelers in Greenville, Mississippi, placed an advertisement in the Delta Democrat Times which set forth its business and ethical principles. The advertisement affirmed:

We further pledge to you in the years to come the following: To do our share in promoting all activities that are for the good of this community; to conduct ourselves in a professional manner and perform competently at all times; to deserve the patronage of this community by rendering service based upon the highest standards of truth and honor; to earn, establish and maintain a reputation for giving maximum values at a fair price; to render prompt and efficient service to our customers; to adjust promptly any cause of dissatisfaction and endeavor to make every purchaser a satisfied customer; to advise every customer in regard to each purchase as we would wish to be advised were we the customer; to make every transaction a stone in the foundation of confidence, without which no business can be permanently successful.

The cause of business ethics is under a lot of pressure these days. Government regulators assume that businessmen are narrowly selfish, and this assumption, in turn, tends to encourage self-serving behavior, a philosophy of “if the government doesn’t catch me, anything goes.” It is time we realized that laws cannot force ethical behavior; high standards come from an inner commitment to honesty and fair dealing.

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October 1994

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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