By Jonathan B. Wight
In Ethics in Economics Jonathan B. Wight provides an overview of the role that ethical considerations play in economic debates. Whereas much of the field tends to focus on welfare outcomes, Wight calls for a deeper examination of the origin and evolution of our moral norms. He argues that economic life relies on three interrelated ethical systems:
- duty- and rule-based, and
Integrating contemporary theoretical and applied research on ethics within a historical framework, Wight provides a thorough and accessible outline of all three schools, explaining how they fit or contrast with the economic welfare model. The book then uses these conceptual underpinnings to examine a range of contemporary topics, such as:
- the 2008 financial crisis,
- the moral limits to markets,
- the findings of experimental economics, and
- the nature of economic justice.
Wight's analysis is guided by the innovative concept of ethical pluralism — the recognition that each system has appropriate applications, and that no one prevails. He makes the case that considering a wider moral framework, rather than concentrating on utility maximization, can lead to a richer understanding of human behavior and better policy decisions. An incisive overview in a blossoming area of interest within economics, this book is ideal for undergraduates or uninitiated readers who seek an introduction to this topic
David Zalewski on Journal of Economic Issues wrote:
"Ethics in Economics covers familiar ground (before introducing innovative ideas), but in ways that are both wonderfully accessible and directly relevant to economics. For instance, the three chapters in Part I demonstrate why ethics matters in economics, and why even positive economics is value laden [...] . The presentation is analytically sharp but also intuitive. Within the first dozen pages Wight has already introduced a concrete case that is both engaging and instructive [...] a central objective (and certainly the most novel feature) of the book is to argue that any mono-theoretic approach is just as stunted and harmful in normative theory as it is in positive theory [...] Wight seeks to persuade us that ethical pluralism is central to good practice in both positive and normative economics. [...] Part II of the book provides one of the best introductory treatments of normative economics now available. [...] In Part III, Wight explores 'topics in ethics and economics.' These chapters are not to be skipped, as they provide some of the most compelling of the book’s insights."
"This is a highly readable and intellectually stimulating work. However, the book’s premise that infusing neoclassical theory and policy with moral
philosophy will strengthen them is questionable. Moreover, heterodox economic theories that incorporate alternative views of personhood and moral agency are largely ignored."
Wight on His Doctor Being a Kantian...
... and his car mechanic an Aristotelian (and not consequentalists, as economists assume) - a very brief (2 minute) introduction to the three ethical approaches discussed in the book.
About Jonathan B. Wight
Table of Contents of Ethics in Economics
Part I - Moral Frameworks
- Why Ethics Matters
- Duties, Rules, and Virtues
Part II - Evaluating the Economy
- Welfare and Efficiency
- Pareto Efficiency and Cost-Benefit Analysis
- Critiques of Welfare as Preference Satisfaction
Part III - Topics in Ethics and Economics
- Moral Limits to Markets
- The Science Behind Adam Smith's Ethics
- Ethics and the Financial Crisis of 2008
- Economic Justice: Process versus Outcomes
- Economic Justice: Equal Opportunity
- Ethical Pluralism in Economics