No such thing as business ethics?

By |Published On: July 25, 2011|

I subscribe to, and occasionally read, a blog published by marketing expert Seth Godin.  I think Seth has some very interesting observations and useful tips on marketing.  If you haven’t read some of his books like, Permission Marketing or All Marketers Are Liars, you should.

I don’t always agree with Seth, but he often causes me to think about something in a way I haven’t before.

Today, I read his blog titled, “No such thing as business ethics”.  I do not agree with Seth.

First, Seth claims the “happy theory” of business ethics is “do the right thing and you will also maximize your long term profit”.  Next he claims the “unhappy theory” is “you have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profit.  Period.”  His point is these two theories cannot coexist.  To make his point he says only people can have ethics, organizations cannot. He manages to get around to a good conclusion –  that we should insist the people who make up organizations do the right thing (act ethically).

Here is what I think:  organizations can’t behave ethically or unethically.  However the people who work at, volunteer with, lead, are customers or shareholders of organizations can act ethically and must “do the right thing”.  In acting ethically and in doing so collectively, these people will cause their organization to “do the right thing”.  This kind of ethical movement is much more powerful and effective than one individual person’s action.  This is one of the reasons organizations create “Values statements”, so it is clear how the people involved in the company are expected to behave and so collectively their behavior causes the organization to “do the right thing”.

Check out our company values statement at

Is it easy today for people to lose sight of what’s right in exchange for short term profitability?  Absolutely it is.  Does that mean their organization cannot act ethically because of this “pressure”.  No way.

Thanks for the thought provoking blog Seth.



One Comment

  1. Steve Rausch July 25, 2011 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    Rick I totally agree with you. I read Seth daily and like you he always gets me to thinking in different views, but sometimes, like this one, I totally disagree with his point of view. I can tell you absolutely that USG would fire anyone who doesn’t value ethics BOTH corporately and personally. At our company we cannot have one without the other.
    Thanks for bringing this out to many people’s attention.

Leave A Comment

Related Posts

  • April 28, 2020

  • April 7, 2020

  • March 22, 2020