Archives for Ethics



Air Force General Gone Wild

Our podcast “Government Employees Gone Wild” was about The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure, a guide published by the U.S. Department of Defense that details the true stories of big screw-ups by government employees. We are guessing that this story of Air Force general Michael Carey‘s trip to Moscow will make it into next year’s edition. From The Washington Post:

The Air Force has just released its official report on its investigation into Maj. Gen. Michael Carey’s July trip to Moscow, which got him fired in October. Carey oversaw three wings of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, with 450 ICBMs in all. At the time, the dismissal was reportedly over personal misconduct during the official trip. But “misconduct,” it turns out, does not even come close.

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The Cheater’s High

A new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (abstractPDF) explores “the cheater’s high.” The authors are  Nicole Ruedy, Celia Moore, Francesca Gino, and Maurice E. Schweitzer. Here’s the abstract:

Many theories of moral behavior assume that unethical behavior triggers negative affect. In this article, we challenge this assumption and demonstrate that unethical behavior can trigger positive affect, which we term a “cheater’s high.” Across 6 studies, we find that even though individuals predict they will feel guilty and have increased levels of negative affect after engaging in unethical behavior (Studies 1a and 1b), individuals who cheat on different problem-solving tasks consistently experience more positive affect than those who do not (Studies 2-5). We find that this heightened positive affect does not depend on self-selection (Studies 3 and 4), and it is not due to the accrual of undeserved financial rewards (Study 4). Cheating is associated with feelings of self-satisfaction, and the boost in positive affect from cheating persists even when prospects for self-deception about unethical behavior are reduced (Study 5). Our results have important implications for models of ethical decision making, moral behavior, and self-regulatory theory.

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Government Employees Gone Wild: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Government Employees Gone Wild.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

It’s about a book that I’ve come to love — a most unusual book. What makes it unusual?

1. It is made available online, as a Word document, but is not actually published.

2. It is free (or, more accurately, it’s already been paid for — by U.S. taxpayers).

3. It is published by the U.S. Department of Defense.

This unusual book is called The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure, and you can get it here (2013 additions here). What is it? It’s an ethics guide for  government employees, full of true stories about epic screw-ups. In the podcast, you’ll hear from the Encyclopedia‘s founding editor (Steve Epstein) and its current editor (Jeff Green). Read More »



Are Socially Responsible Businesses Bad for Society?

Writing for Foreign Policy, Daniel Altman argues against socially responsible business initiatives such as the recently launched “B Team.”  For-profit companies, explains Altman, often think long-term:

As Jonathan Berman and I have written in the past, for-profit companies that take a long time horizon in their decision-making are likely to make more social and environmental investments. Things like training workers, bolstering communities, and protecting ecosystems can take a long time to pay off for private companies. When they do, the return — including a stronger labor pool, a wealthier consumer base, fewer working days lost to strikes and protests, and greater employee loyalty — can be comparable to other for-profit investments.

In fact, strictly for-profit companies can be among the best social investors because they apply the same discipline to these investments that they would to other parts of their core business. Energy and mining companies, for example, have some of the longest time horizons in the private sector, and they tend to be big social investors as well. Some European companies have actually stopped issuing quarterly reports to shift the attention of analysts to the long-term. And because they are still targeting a single bottom line, profit, there’s no loss of clarity about their mission or erosion of transparency for shareholders.

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Obedience on the Job

On America’s first subway, Boston’s Green line, the middle doors stopped opening. When I asked the driver to open the doors, he said that he couldn’t: now all boarding and deboarding at the above-ground stops is through the narrow front door by the fare box. Ah, the MBTA: making up for the 23 percent fare hikes on July 1 with improved service!

Me: “The new policy slows the ride for everyone. Now passengers cannot board and pay their fares until all the deboarding passengers have left.”

Driver, shrugging: “It’s the new policy. I just do what my boss tells me to do. I don’t question.”

Me: “We could use some questioning.”

Driver: “Questioning isn’t part of my job. I just wait for my pay day.” Read More »



Why Do We Fail to Do What’s Right? Authors of Blind Spots Answer Your Questions

Earlier this month, we published a guest post on the ethics of the decision-making that led to the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster. That post was adapted from a new book called Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It. The authors are Max Bazerman, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Ann Tenbrunsel, a professor of business ethics at Notre Dame.

We then solicited your questions for Brazerman and Tenbrunsel, who now return with their answers. Read More »



Why Do We Fail to Do What’s Right? Bring Your Questions for Authors of Blind Spots

We recently published a guest post on the ethics of the decision-making that led to the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster. That post was adapted from a new book called Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It. The authors are Max Bazerman, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Ann Tenbrunsel, a professor of business ethics at Notre Dame.

Blind Spots looks into the gap between our intended and actual behavior; why we often overestimate our ability to do what’s right; and how we convince ourselves to do what we want rather than what we should. The authors tie their theory to a string of recent blowups, including: baseball’s steroid scandal, Enron’s collapse, Bernie Madoff‘s fraud, and corruption in the tobacco industry.

Brazerman and Tenbrunsel have agreed to answer your questions, so fire away in the comments section. As with all our Q&A’s, we’ll post their answers in short course. Read More »



Launching Into Unethical Behavior: Lessons from the Challenger Disaster

Ann E. Tenbrunsel is a professor of business ethics at the University of Notre Dame. Max Bazerman is a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. The guest post below is adapted from their new book Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do About It.
 

Launching into Unethical Behavior
By Ann E. Tenbrunsel
and Max H. Bazerman

The 25th and last flight of the shuttle Endeavour has come and gone. Which means there’s just one shuttle flight left: July 8′s Atlantis launch will be the 135th and final mission for the program, 30 years after the first shuttle test flights occurred.

For anyone who was around on Tuesday, January 28, 1986, it’s difficult to watch a shuttle launch without remembering the Challenger disaster, when the space shuttle disintegrated 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven crew members. While the most commonly referenced explanation for what went wrong focuses on the technological failures associated with the O-rings, an examination of the decision process that led to the launch through a modern day “behavioral ethics” lens illuminates a much more complicated, and troubling, picture. One that can help us avoid future ethical disasters. Read More »