Recognizing the Embeddedness of Ethics and Economics
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The relationship between ethics and economics is far more intimate than the West, since the Enlightenment, has typically recognized. Indeed, as I will try to show, the actual relationship is best explained by adopting a Buddhist inter-dependent arising framework, in which the emergence and development of both ethical and economic relations is a matter of mutual determination. Certain ethical values, culturally and otherwise embedded, emerge from within and in turn direct economic relations; exchange values inform moral concepts (e.g., of what is morally owed to members of a community) and moral concepts help frame economic ones. One way to formulate the dominant Western view of the relationship between economics and ethics is that they are externally related, and that for economic relations to be ethical, an ethic must be imposed. In contrast, I argue that the relation between economics and ethics is internal, such that the one has not arisen apart from the other. The relationship between ethics and economics should not then be viewed as one in which ethical norms must be imposed on economic relations. Once we understand that the ethical norms are expressed, protected and perpetuated by economic systems, I will argue that our most coherent and plausible approach to dealing with the ethics/economics relation is to disclose how the relationship can become distorted and, as a result, produce suffering. Suffering becomes the central concern of the economics/ethics relation. Suffering is caused when a particular economic system and accompanying ethic is advanced, but which excludes certain people and populations from the benefits and protections of that system. Economics, therefore, when properly conceived, addresses the need to overcome suffering. When it does not, it fails.