Tag Archives: Ethics

Ethical Compass

My first block in Westminster’s MBA program is drawing to a close, and it’s been an amazing experience so far.  It feels incredible to be back in school, and to learn new and exciting things everyday.  I’ve loved working through case studies with a room full of smart people and leaving each session feeling more enlightened.

One of the most amazing things I’m experiencing is that I am not just building my foundation of academic knowledge, but I am also learning more about who I am.  I remember starting my business ethics class thinking that I am Paul Krugman and John Cassidy’s protege, and that I am a liberal inside and out.  But realizing the ideas I was expressing during class discussions, I started to realize that I’m becoming somewhat conservative.

AAAAAH!  Somebody slap me and bring me to my senses, right?

Before I lose all my friends, I want to clarify that I am still a rational, well-meaning person, haha.  I just don’t think I’m as much of an advocate for a “socialist”-esque community like I was when I was in college.

One of our assignments for my ethics class required negotiating a social contract with the class by way of an online discussion board.  Following was my first post:

“At a high level, I believe the role of government should be to provide the freedom and empowerment necessary for individuals to pursue their goals.  This includes ensuring the protection of persons, property and human rights, promoting hard work and productivity, and providing incentives for the market to alleviate social ills.  It is definitely important to establish a society that is just and fair, ensuring opportunity and equality for all individuals.

I think this role can be fulfilled by a civilization built around John Rawls’ Theory of Justice.  Rawls reaches his conclusion from behind what he calls a “Veil of Ignorance”, meaning that he has no knowledge regarding what his situation will look like, and thus he cannot develop principles that favor his particular circumstances.  Without knowing what his position in life will be, he will be most likely to choose principles fairest to all.  This theory includes two principles:

1. Everyone is entitled to basic freedoms (e.g., freedom of speech, political liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc.)

2. Difference Principle: There can be inequality in any society as long as it makes the person in the worst situation better off.

Building upon his second principle, I think it’s important to control the level of inequality.  I definitely want to promote a “rising tide that lifts all boats,” but I think mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that a large disparity of social/income inequality does not exist.”

It literally took me three hours to determine the theory on which I would base my proposal.  It was no easy task to determine who would become the “winners” and “losers”, and I felt conflicted when putting this theory together.  But it just seemed to be the most justified and fair.

Surprisingly, I got very few comments on my proposal, but those who did comment on it agreed with me.  Even more shocking to me was that the recurring theme among a class full of MBA students was one what emphasized socialism – a heavily progressive tax system, an extended entitlement program for the elderly, disabled and unemployed, free education, free healthcare, free housing, even free grocery… Everyone was rallying behind a classmate named Viktoria, who was advocating for such a system.  It was very interesting to see that dynamic.  I definitely would love to see a world where everyone had open access to these necessities, but such a world cannot exist.  It is simply too expensive, and I don’t think that a system with socialist characteristics as well as the ability to progress technologically and economically would not be sustainable.

So the next post I made was:

“I agree with many of Viktoria’s points.  I especially love that her contract is primarily built upon a concern for the welfare of others, and places an emphasis on giving equal access to many of the resources conducive to a successful life.  I am 100% behind the protection of fundamental human rights.  However, I worry that a society built around her contract, namely the components relating to free education and healthcare, will be too costly and presents a high likelihood for wasted resources.

When resources are provided for “free”, there will always be free-riders who game the system at the expense of actual contributors.  I don’t feel entirely comfortable with a heavily progressive tax system, because I want to enter into a society that promotes hard work and [technological, academic, scientific] progress.  Though the Ayn Rand view appears to be controversial, I feel that it is truly representative of reality – many people are motivated by greed and profit, but many breakthroughs in medicine, science and technology–solutions to many of our country’s existing social problems–have come out of a desire to accumulate wealth and prosperity, as well as the liberty and resources to do so. I fear that the imposition of a larger proportion of taxes on high-income earners (hopefully the greater contributors in a society) would be a crutch to innovation.  The tax rate should be the same among all income levels – the wealthier will still be providing a larger portion of the government’s revenue, but at least it will be fair across all income-earners.

I think that Mike’s view is a much better approach to handling the “free education” portion of her contract.  I would love to advocate equal access to resources such as education and healthcare, but I worry that Viktoria’s approach may be too costly.  By admitting individuals into a specific level of study consistent with their likelihood to succeed in that subject are, we will be making the best use of our educational resources.  I also like that Mike sees excessive taxation as a form of harm – I mentioned in an earlier post that the government’s role should merely be to protect individuals, their property and their rights from harm, and excessive taxation can definitely cripple the economy from growing and negatively impact many people.

The bottom line is that everyone will enter the world with advantages and disadvantages.  Some people will need to work harder than others.  But my nirvana is a merit-based society that is constantly growing and innovating.  One where the government provides its citizens the freedom to do as they please so long as it doesn’t infringe on the freedoms of others, or inflict harm on others, and a society where the more privileged will do their part to alleviate social ills.  If more privileged individuals do not exercise their social responsibility to address social problems, the government should provide incentives for them to do so, but should not be the direct provider of any free public service.  The government should definitely step in when the rights and preservation of citizens are threatened, but overall I think individuals will need to make the best of the cards they are dealt in order to truly allow society to flourish and continue to progress.”

And, of course, I received even fewer comments on my second post than I did on my first.

I felt bad.  I felt like the ideas I was expressing were very different from what I’ve advocated in the past.  I just sat and thought, “Am I becoming one of them? Am I moving into the dark side!?”  But I realized that I’m not.  I am effectively applying ethical principles that seem like conventional Republican ideals to back policy decisions that a more moderate Democrat would advocate.  I’m still blue, but more of a baby blue than a royal blue.  It’s better to sit on the fence anyway – sitting at either end of the spectrum just starts too much trouble.  🙂

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