Volume 7, Issue 3, July 1997
Economics, Business Principles and Moral Sentiments
This essay discusses the place of business principles and of moral sentiments in economic success, and examines the role of cultures in influencing norms of business behavior. Two presumptions held in standard economic analysis are disputed: the rudimentary nature of business principles (essentially restricted, directly or indirectly, to profit maximization), and the allegedly narrow reach of moral sentiments (often treated to be irrelevant to business and economics). In contrast, the author argues for the need to recognize the complex structure of business principles and the extensive reach of moral sentiments by using theoretical considerations, a thorough analysis of Adam Smith’s work, and a careful interpretation of Japan’s remarkable economic success. Referring to the economic corruption in Italy and the “grabbing culture” in Russia, he further shows how deeply the presence or absence of particular features of business ethics can influence the operation of the economy, and even the nature of the society and its
politics. Being an Indian himself, he warns against grand generalizations like the superiority of “Asian values” over traditional Western morals. To conclude, it is diversity—over space, over time, and between groups —that makes the study of business principles and moral sentiments a rich source of understanding and explanation.