Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 149, Issue 1, pp 97–115 | Cite as

Justice Failure: Efficiency and Equality in Business Ethics

  • Abraham SingerEmail author


This paper offers the concept of “justice failure,” as a counterpart to the familiar idea of market failure, in order to better understand managers’ ethical obligations. This paper takes the “market failures approach” (MFA) to business ethics as its point of departure. The success of the MFA, I argue, lies in its close proximity with economic theory, particularly in the idea that, within a larger scheme of social cooperation, markets ought to pursue efficiency and leave the pursuit of equality to the welfare state. As a result, the core ethical responsibility of business actors is to avoid profiting off of market failure. After reviewing this approach I challenge its emphasis on efficiency. I argue that just as we note the suboptimal efficiency of actual markets (market failure), we should also take seriously the suboptimal equality of actual welfare states (what I call “justice failure”). Taking this idea seriously results in a whole other set of ethical responsibilities for businesses to take into account; in addition to market imperfections and regulatory lacunae, managers should also avoid profiting from, and exacerbating, structural inequalities and injustices. I offer an outline of the kinds of injustices and inequalities that would have bearing on business ethics, and the kinds of ethical responsibilities that this approach suggests that business actors should take into account.


Market failures Social justice Efficiency and Equality  Corporate social responsibility Affirmative action Corporate political activities 



This paper grew out of a conversation with Sareh Pouryousefi; without her insight and encouragement this paper would likely not have been written. This paper benefited from the input and feedback of Kiran Banerjee, Joseph Carens, Julian Culp, Lisa Herzog, Waheed Hussain, Michael Kates, Beth Kahn, Peggy Kohn, Chris MacDonald, Dominic Martin, and Lincoln Rathnam.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McDonough School of BusinessGeorgetown UniversityWashington, DCUSA

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