Between Market Failures and Justice Failures: Trade-Offs Between Efficiency and Equality in Business Ethics

Journal of Business Ethics 178 (3):647–660 (2022)
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The Market Failures Approach (MFA) is one of the leading theories in contemporary business ethics. It generates a list of ethical obligations for the managers of private firms that states that they should not create or exploit market failures because doing so reduces the efficiency of the economy. Recently the MFA has been criticised by Abraham Singer on the basis that it unjustifiably does not assign private managers obligations based on egalitarian values. Singer proposes an extension to the MFA, the Justice Failures Approach (JFA), in which managers have duties to alleviate political, social, and distributive inequalities in addition to having obligations to not exploit market failures. In this paper I describe the MFA and JFA and situate them relative to each other. I then highlight a threefold distinction between different types of obligations that can be given to private managers in order to argue that a hybrid theory of business ethics, which I call the MFA +, can be generated by arguing that managers have obligations based on efficiency and duties based on equality to the extent that these latter obligations do not lead to efficiency losses. This argument suggests a novel theoretical option in business ethics, elucidates the issues that are at stake between the MFA and the JFA, and clarifies the costs and benefits of each theory.

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Charlie Blunden
Utrecht University


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