8.7 Summary and Further Discussion

The increasing complexity of economic activity through the various stages of civilization generates more sophisticated techniques for trade and commerce at each step. In particular, money is an abstraction for value that has been progressively refined from barter to furs to beads to metal to paper money and cheques. It is fast becoming just an electronic entry.

Meanwhile, shifts in the characteristic technology alter the balance of economic activity and power. Not only do old trades and professions vanish, but so do industries, while even entire countries slide from center stage to the sidelines as trading patterns change. In the information age, both industry and agriculture are being transformed by the new models, and once again there will be corporate and geographical winners and losers, in the relative sense at least.

Winners may include the electronics, communications, biochemical, habitat construction and aerospace industries along with the Pacific Rim nations. Relative losers include industrial activities such as making steel or machines and the countries either most tied to such enterprises or the most closed to rapid change and new ideas.

Both collectivizing and individualizing trends were noted in the shifts in economic power, with larger than ever capital accumulations being made necessary to finance some of the construction projects, and simultaneously better facilities for individual participation in and control over the economy. Certain trade-offs of privacy and freedom to gain such power were noted. A cashless society and more flexible instruments of debt and equity were among the possible innovations discussed, though the actual social responses to enabling technology cannot be reliably predicted.

The consequences of universal access to information on the conduct of business were discussed, and two possible outcomes suggested--one that business would be forced to conduct itself ethically, and the other that little change would take place in the long run regardless of the amount of information available.

Discussion Questions

1. What would be the effect on a gold-based currency system of the discovery in one country of a gold deposit containing more than the entire world supply previously known?

2. When some governments run a deficit, rather than borrow money, they just print more to pay the debts. What effect does this have on the price of goods and on the exchange rate for that currency internationally?

3. Suppose a government were to tax information access (so much per byte of information transferred on the net). What effect would this have on the progress of the information society? Consider both economic and control implications.

4. Suppose that food production were to become an entirely robotized industrial process with chemical and energy raw materials so that plant and animal husbandry were no longer necessary. What economic effect would this have? How would it change society?

5. Which is now more nearly correct--that consumer tastes determine which products get manufactured, or that available technology determines this and then advertising must be used to make consumer tastes match. Which way ought it to be, and why? Who should enforce this?

6. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of electronic shopping. Are there things that will never be bought this way, or is it possible to eliminate most, if not all, retail stores?

7. Discuss the advantages and potential dangers of the cashless society.

8. Attack or defend the suggestion that in the future economic and corporate loyalties will be more important than political and geographical ones.

9. Suggest ways in which high technology can be used to assist the peoples of underdeveloped nations without making their situation even worse.

10. If technology does allow the economy to be micromanaged, should it be? What are the advantages and potential dangers?

11. Discuss the effect of standards in high-tech industries. Do they promote economic activity, or do they smother innovation?

12. What are some specific ways in which high technology is favoring economic development in the Pacific Rim countries?

13. Argue that in the long run the information age means that economic prosperity will be independent of geography.

14. The role of Central Europe in the information age was scarcely mentioned in the Chapter. Do some research of your own and write a paper outlining the most probable role that these nations will play in the future economy.

15. The text suggests that labor will be more professional and less adversarial than in the past. Argue that this cannot and indeed should not be so.

16. Develop further the concept of paying for services in shares of the payer, whether an individual or company. What practical, economic, and social consequences would such a system have? Perhaps you could argue that it cannot work or must not be allowed for ethical reasons.

17. Argue that a Metalibrary facility would make it harder, not easier, for the ordinary citizen to have an economic influence.

18. Consider the proposition, "Business is business and ethics is ethics and never the twain shall meet." Either attack or defend this statement (a) as an observation on what now is the case and (b) as a statement of what ought to be the case. A classroom debate on the subject could be organized.

19. Explore further the relationship between the openness of information and the ethical behavior of the business world. Which is more likely--that business conduct will improve or that there will be little change?

20. Is there a religious view of business ethics? Try to use examples from as many religious and historical periods as possible.

21. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of working from the home. Consider the personal, social, economic, and ethical aspects. For instance, are such workers more or less likely to be exploited?

22. Research the causes of the great depression of the 1930s and make your own assessment of the likelihood of such a thing happening again in the foreseeable future.

23. Which is more important--loyalty to one's company or the right of the public to know about that company's activities. In particular, if you became privy to potentially damaging information about your employer's pricing, advertising, or other business practices, what would you do?

24. You work in a hospital and have a strong commitment to the patients and to their community. You are also in a hospital employees' union and believe in the importance of that community as well. After a protracted and unpleasant set of negotiations breaks off, your union calls a strike, which you believe could have been avoided if both sides had been more open and honest with each other. The union says you cannot in conscience cross the picket line, but you have been taught all your life that you cannot in conscience abandon your responsibilities. What do you do?

25. Suppose instead you do not work at the hospital but are a member of another union, and its leaders tell you that you must honor the hospital picket line. What do you do if: (a) You break your leg and need hospitalization, and no other facilities are available within forty kilometers? (b) You have a dying relative in the hospital who wants you to visit her? Is there an essential difference between this situation and a strike of teachers? Of industrial workers? If so, what is the difference?

26. At the company you work for, software is routinely pirated. Your manager buys one copy of a new word processor and expects you to put a copy on the computer you are using. She as much as tells you that if you don't you can find another job. What do you do, and why?

27. Research and report on several examples of high-tech companies that had great success initially but eventually went bankrupt. What were the chief causes of such failures?

28. Give additional examples of products that are sold today with little regard for the consequences of their use, and detail the changes that need to be made as people become more informed about such matters.

29. A chemical company makes a herbicide that has been shown to be particularly effective on a plant from which a black-market drug is derived. The government orders a large quantity of the herbicide intending to spray it indiscriminately over remote areas of South American nations, with their cooperation, in an attempt to reduce trafficking in the drug. You, as president of the company, are concerned that eventually there may be damaging lawsuits against your firm if this program goes ahead. Should you place the potential interests of your shareholders first and refuse to sell the chemical, or should you place the declared interests of the government first? What do you do, and why?

30. Several times in the chapter it was noted that people who have more information about unethical activities in the political or economic sphere might not choose to act on their knowledge, but might instead change their view of what is ethical or simply tolerate the activity. Research this further and either argue that it is the civic duty of all persons to act on their ethical beliefs, or argue that it is their civic duty to tolerate all ethical systems, regardless of how they differ from theirs. In either case, be sure to say how the legal system is connected with society's sense of ethics.

31. "Monopolies are good because they lead to standardization and efficiency." Argue for or against this position.

32. Research innovation and monopolistic practice in the computer industry and describe the relationship between the two.

33. The last section of the chapter for the most part argued that a consequence of the information paradigm would be better warranties, higher quality goods, and more open and honest business. Argue that this is not the case and that the opposite result will occur.

34. Suggest a "teraproject" of your own and outline how it could be organized and financed.

35. Which is more likely and why--that the general population will demand that business will return to a more absolutist ethic, or that they will simply ignore behaviour once thought unethical?

36. Select a particular type of business or professional activity and write a code of ethics for it. Defend your points, saying what is the basis for each.

37. The author suggests a trend from hierarchicalism to networking to flexing to professional/contracting models for organizing enterprise. Argue that he is wrong, and rigid hierarchicalism is the best business model.

38. What are some other measures than profit to determine the efficiency of the techniques an economic enterprise? Argue that one of them is better.


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Internet Resources:

MacDonald , Chris <mailto:chrismac@ethics.ubc.ca>. Business Ethics Resources on WWW. Vancouver: Centre for Applied Ethics, University of British Columbia. <http://www.ethics.ubc.ca/resources/business/> (1998 04 28)

The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises