, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 273-283

“Greed is good” ... or is it? Economic ideology and moral tension in a graduate school of business

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Abstract

This article reports the results of an exploratory investigation of a particular area of moral tension experienced by MBA students in a graduate school of business. During the first phase of the study, MBA students' own perceptions about the moral climate and culture of the business school were examined. The data gathered in this first part of the study indicate that the students recognize that a central part of this culture is constituted by a shared familiarity with a set of institutionally reinforced premises about human behavior and motivation including the ideas that: 1) people are self-interested utility-maximizers, 2) individuals should be unimpeded in their pursuit of their own self-interest through “economic” transactions, and 3) virtually all human interactionsare economic transactions. The data further indicated that the business students experience a degree of tension between this ethic of “self-maximizing” and the “everyday” ethics prevalent in our broader culture, in which altruism and selflessness are central elements. The final section of the study was an effort to see whether and how these institutionally sanctioned premises were integrated into the students' arguments about the relationship between self-interest and social responsibility.

Janet S. Walker is currently a PhD candidate in The University of Chicago's Committee on Human Development. Previously, Ms. Walker worked in both public and private sector organizations, conducting economic research in the United States and abroad. Ms. Walker's current research focusses on understanding economic activity as meaningfully embedded in a psychological and cultural context. Ms. Walker is also pursuing certification in clinical psychology.