But the employees in question are employed by a capitalist enterprise, right?

I think you are reading too much in the experiment. The paper says they “acted as an employer”, without specifying whether they were a capitalist or a social enterprise.

Well, there you’re assuming what advances the bottomline of a capitalist enterprise as a measure of ‘moral rectitude’, which is problematic to say the least.

I am not assuming anything. But it is at the very least counterintuitive (unless you presuppose that moral licensing happens by proxy) that moral rectitude facilitated by the employer is correlated with less moral private behaviour — “backfire” as the authors say.

Well, capitalism is easy enough to define — an economic system characterised by private ownership of most of the means of production, exchange of goods and services for money in a market economy and wage labour.

Hm, why ‘most’? But by that definition, it could be argued that employees are capitalists: they own the means of their own production (their physical and mental capacity).

As for whether ‘responsible’ or ‘ethical’ capitalism can exist, let me put it a different way. ‘Responsible’ or ‘ethical’ capitalism can only exist if the ‘ethic’ in question is whatever advances the bottomline of the capitalists, the ‘responsibility’ in question being the obligation to deliver maximum profits to the business owner(s). The idea of trying to shoehorn capitalism into an ethical framework that isn’t reducible to this — as the concept of ‘corporate social responsibility’ tries to do — is a chimera.

I think that is a very narrow perspective. It is trivially easy to show that a commercial enterprise could make decisions that sacrifice some value to their employees, customers, suppliers, or stakeholders more widely to increase the bottom line. It is also trivially easy to show that they could make decisions that reduced their bottom line but offered better value to their stakeholders. And it is trivially easy to show that enterprises that do not have shareholders who expect a return could improve the value they deliver to their stakeholders.

My point is that the existence of shareholders or not is not a reliable predictor of the ‘ethics’ or ‘responsibility’ of an enterprise, any more than that it is a predictor of the value it delivers to its customers.

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Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius

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