Monday, July 18, 2005

Markets and Morality

"Commerce without morality: The tale of 2 CEOs" by Craig R. Smith
July 18, 2005 © 2005

In an article about the spate of criminal trials in the US involving CEOs and others, Craig R. Smith makes some acute observations. He also notes Adam Smith’s broader concept of market behaviour than is apparent in many US academic and journalists’ comments on his views and, in practice, in the behaviour of people running corporations (a point that would not have surprised Adam Smith given his views on the perfidy of “merchants and manufacturers” in the much simpler 18th-century markets with which he was familiar).

Craig writes:

“But in Adam Smith's classic "
Wealth of Nations," the 18th century Scottish moral philosopher proclaimed that self-interest leads to the common good only if most people in society have internalized a general moral law as a guide for their behavior.''

Craig Smith’s understanding of Adam Smith’s complete legacy – moral sentiments and markets – is encouraging because for too long the distortion of Smith’s legacy into approving anything that corporations do has dominated popular accounts and quotations.

For interest, here are some others that Craig Smith quotes in his article:

"In 2004 alone, Forbes reports that Wall Street firms paid over $4.5 billion in fines;

A former top hedge-fund trader, Steven Markovitz, copped a plea to making improper "market timing" trades with mutual funds;

Alliance Capital became the fifth fund manager to admit allowing such trades;

Prudential Securities (now Wachovia) and Merrill Lynch canned employees for improper fund trading;

JPMorgan Chase paid $25 million to settle charges that it violated rules covering initial public offerings of stock"

This is set alongside the 25-year jail sentence on Bernard Ebbers, ex-CEO of WorldCom.
© 2005


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