The Environment and Business Ethics

  • Norman Barry


Perhaps the most important ethical assault in recent years on the ethics of market capitalism has come from the environmental movement It is assumed that the particular motivations of capitalism, self-interest and the desire for profit, must necessarily lead to a lack of concern for the environment, since each individual transactor cannot be expected to take care of a matter about which he has no immediate interest Naturally the business community, and especially large-scale corporations, are assumed to be the major (indeed the only) culprits in the phenomenon of environmental depredation. Most of the ethical critics of business seem unaware of the direct role of government in the destruction of wildlife and damage to the atmosphere.1 Equally important is its indirect role in these phenomena through its failure to provide the right incentive structure for the reconciliation of private and public interests.


Business Ethic Environmental Group Capitalist Society Pollution Permit Business Agent 
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  1. 1.
    See J. Shaw, ‘Environmental Dangers’, in PERC Resource Book on Pollution, Trade and Aid (Bozeman, Montana: Political Economy Research Center, 1991) pp. 1–4.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    These tend to derive from the work of the economist A.C. Pigou who developed the idea that there is a difference between marginal social cost and marginal private cost Since the publication of his The Economics of Welfare (London: Macmillan, 1920)Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See D. Pearce and R. Turner, Economics of Natural Resources and the Environment (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990)Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See Befriending the Earth: A Reconciliation Between Humans and the Earth (Connecticut: Twenty Third Publications, 1991); M. Fox, Original Blessing (Santa Fe: Bear and Co., 1993).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Instrumental rationality deliberately eschews discussion of the ends which ought to be pursued. It regards them as inherently contestable and not amenable to any definitive resolution. For a critique of instrumental rationality, see M. Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Palo Alto, Calif.: Cheshire, 1989).Google Scholar
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    See K. Jeffries, ‘Global Warming in Perspective’, in NCPA Progressive Environmentalism, Dade and Aid Resource Book (Dallas: National Center for Policy Analysis, 1991) pp. 53–64.Google Scholar
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    M. Feshbeck and A. Friendly, Ecocide in the USSR (New York: Basic Books, 1992).Google Scholar
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    See M. Ridley, Down to Earth 11 (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1996).Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (London: Fontana, 1972)Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    A standard work is T. Anderson and D. Leal, Free Market Environmentalism (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    M. Ridley, Down to Earth 1 (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1995) p. 50.Google Scholar

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© Norman Barry 1998

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  • Norman Barry

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