By definition, human nature is defined as “the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind” (Apple Dictionary). Our society continues to grow and evolve over time, and human nature is maturing with it socially and economically. Adam Smith from the late 1700’s believed in a free market system ultimately governed by humans that are individuals by nature. Moving into the 1970’s, ethical economic analysis was promoted by Milton Friedman that resulted in some debate over his characteristics of company responsibility.
He too expressed his belief of humans being individuals by nature in his argument. In the late 1990’s Peter Singer argued humanity’s moral obligation was to help those in poverty, alluding to this innate instinct that human beings are members of a community. As this brief time-lapse shows, society has remained individually focused, but simultaneously has been steadily awoken to the acknowledgement of their codependence within a more communal aspect of human nature; the modern day economy.
Business corporations are all apart of a larger community and need to make sure they are not only increasing profit to benefit their own company, but are also keeping in line with the demands and morals concerning the communal wellbeing of individuals. The thinkers all present unique interpretations of human nature as an individual and as a member of the community. I will be using Smith, Friedman, and Singer’s views of human nature to argue that the most ethical economic thought for companies to focus on is their individual well-being rather than that of the community.
Adam Smith in his text Wealth of Nations argues that humans are individuals by nature. Smith introduces a partnering concept he calls “the invisible hand. ” This abstraction is a side effect of out innate singularity that guides our self centered motives to ultimately benefit the community (Smith 265). Smith summarizes it nicely in the quotes, “by pursuing [man’s] own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it” (Smith 265).
This gives acknowledgement to our individual sense of human nature which happens to unintentionally advance society by the process of extending benefits to the community. The interpretation of human nature as an individual can also be recognized as stemming from his description of the division of labor. Smith discusses this division as one that may benefit others in the free market system, but it is originally carried out for one’s own equity; “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest” (Smith 169).
An individual’s own skill set is often executed because it is pleasing and or beneficial to the person. No one depends on another entirely, as well as cannot survive without help from others. The division of skill also produces an ends in which something of the multitude may profit from. It is by means of the division of labor, encouraged by self interest, that humanity benefits from their codependency with one another.
Smith would argue we independently mature to find our own economically specialized skill, and then see economic growth as a result of us trading that economic output for another. Smith favored the implementation of free market economies with limited government control. But for Smith’s ideal economy to work, does one have to ethically think of economics for the individual or the community? I believe he would support ethical economic thinking for the individual well being so the company may focus on their output, and the government can support the communal well-being.
This is a topic that will be discussed in further later in the essay. Milton Friedman is an American economist, who agrees with Adam Smith that by nature, humans are individuals. He alludes to this view of human nature from his chapter “The Social Responsibility of Business Is To Increase Profits. ” This title may at first glance provoke skepticism to the possibility that there could be ethics in a business with profits as their purpose. Friedman wants to stress that self interest is not be means a selfish mode (Friedman 53).
If one continues to read this chapter they will learn that the communal good is still strongly upheld in the business model when Friedman says that while the business must focus on making profit, they will also “conform to the basic rules of society, both embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom” (Friedman 51). While each individual is motivated to work for their own personal gain, the company, as an individual, supports their morals as well as society’s, in order to make the most profit.
This is important in the business sphere because the corporation can accept society’s ethics, while not hindering the furthering of their profit motive. The government is meant to enforce social responsibility; businesses should only have to prioritize their concern for their employees and stockholders (Friedman 53). With Friedman’s individual vision of human nature, corporations can focus on improving the economic realm of their own well being through healthy competition with other individual companies.
Indeed, Friedman’s view of the individual human nature can be morally upheld and invested into the community, but there is always the concern that aspects of individual human nature could result in the neglecting of direct moral interaction with community. Peter Singer would improve upon the thought of human beings as individuals in his chapter “Rich and Poor,” to describe an economy that benefits from the communal human nature of a person. Singer indicates that humans are members of community by nature, because they live in a collective that acknowledges each individual’s economic co-dependence on others and right to life (Singer 686).
Humanity is no longer thought of as a group of isolated individuals; humans are deeply social. Singer claims that it is the surrounding people who live in a community that shape the public’s morals and enforces their rights to life (Singer 686). This right to life presents humanity with the obligation to help others in economical need. Not only should we help those with less economic wealth, it is perfectly capable to be done so without harming one’s own economic standing (Singer 687-688). Singer specifically stresses that this is what is needed in order for an efficient stable economy.
This aspect is very important to examine the relationship that humans, by nature, are communal, due to the fact that it is possible for communities to help each other without any harm to their own valuable resources. After one has satisfied his or her own needs, it is their moral obligation to give to other people who are in immense poverty. An important aspect to Singer’s theory is that these acts of giving must be acknowledged that they are not charitable acts, but instead what one ought to do (Singer, 687).
This overview of Singer’s stance on the community, alludes to the backing of a greater argument concerning what makes the most ethical economic thinking. The three thinkers’ have provided us with sufficient reason for understanding two views of the basis of human nature: humans as individuals or members of a community. I will now be using their interpretations to argue that it is most ethical for economic thought to focus on the individual well-being, rather than the broader communal well-being. This is because I believe when thinking ethically in the world of business, it is important that one takes full responsibility for their actions.
The company as a unit must look out for the enforcement of ethics in their own work and employees, and leave the government to figure out how to ethically think of the community’s well being. If they were to think mostly of the communal well-being, there is a high probability that the companies looking out for their individual well-being could get ahead. I agree with Friedman’s proposition that every company should be able to make their own decisions on how to “make as much money as possible” (Friedman 51).
When the corporation is thinking ethically about their individual economic profit, I believe it is the best interest of the workers as well as profit shareholders. Similar to Smith’s “invisible hand theory” their individual economic focus will ultimately lead to benefits of the community as well. To conclude, I have been able to affirm my thesis that humanity’s decisions may be influenced by a communal setting (Singer), but when it comes down to it, we act in ways that most benefit ourselves due to our individual human nature (Smith and Friedman).
It is most important to think ethically about economic thought in the sense of the individual because it is the individual who is carrying out the beliefs, as well as looking for the confirmation of the community. Therefor, it is easier to keep them in responsible on account of the higher answerability they bear from looking out for their individual ethical economic practices. Smith, Friedman, and Singer hold different opinions on their idea of human nature; but can there only be one viewpoint in the interlacing economic society of the world today?