Business and the Greater Good

Business and the Greater Good

Rethinking Business Ethics in an Age of Crisis

Studies in TransAtlantic Business Ethics series

Edited by Knut J. Ims and Lars J.T. Pedersen

With cutting-edge insights from leading European and North American scholars, this authoritative book addresses the fundamental problems of business in an age of crisis whilst presenting radical, but practical, solutions.

Chapter 2: The business of inequality

George G. Brenkert

Subjects: business and management, business ethics and trust, corporate social responsibility, international business


Increased inequality of income and wealth between those at the top and those at the bottom of the economy has been one of the noteworthy features of US society in the last several decades. “From 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent. Economic growth was more sluggish in the aughts, but the decade saw productivity increase by about 20 percent. Yet virtually none of the increase translated into wage growth at middle and lower incomes” (Noah 2010, p._2). Stiglitz claims that “by 2007, the year before the [latest financial] crisis, the top 0.1 percent of America’s households had an income that was 220 times larger than the average of the bottom 90 percent.” Beyond this, “wealth was even more unequally distributed than income, with the wealthiest 1 percent owning more than a third of the nation’s wealth” (Stiglitz 2012, p. xii). Lansley claims that “little more than a thousand individuals commanded a sum equivalent to a third of the output of the American economy” (Lansley 2011, p._9). This economic inequality has also been the object of many best seller books, academic articles, public essays, and popular movements such as Occupy Wall Street. In his State of the Union address (Eichler 2012) President Obama said that a level economic play field is “the defining issue of our time.” According to Bower, Leonard and Paine, corporate executives also see the increase in income inequality as a major issue (Bower, Leonard and Paine 2011, pp._56–62).

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