The Brave New World of Business Ethics

Gabriel’s horn signaling the millennium is no longer a single trumpet blast, but thousands of networked pundits worrying about business, society, and the deeper meaning of current changes in economic life. One of the most pressing of these soul-searches concentrates on the state of business ethics. The business person who seeks to do right faces a brave new cyberworld where none of the familiar moral reinforcements are stable. So many products with no previous history, newly minted mergers of businesses with no common culture, and no fixed geographic locality to answer to as neighbor.

Columnist James Burke suggests in his bit of punditry for Forbes ASAP that there are only two things we can count on in the future: First, a "great convergence" of information technology generating massive fragmentation of knowledge that will lead to "an innovative surge unlike any that went before." And second, a society totally unprepared for the effects of these changes.

Nowhere can we expect more rapid change than at business institutions. How prepared are business leaders to respond from a sufficiently humane and enlightened standpoint? Will Christianity make a difference in their preparation and ethical expertise?

The future is already here: Supermarkets are taking up banking; corporate mailrooms are turning into retail outlets as employees order goods through their

office computers; whole office complexes are being abandoned in favor of teleconferencing among the "road warriors"; computer-to-computer transactions are conducted entirely without benefit of human "interference"—until Mrs. McGillicuddy discovers herself the proud recipient of 4,000 tons of soybeans on her doorstep due to an erroneous keystroke during her daily e-trades!

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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