Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace.
Now in its third edition, Just Business is Alec Hill's articulation of a "Theocentric approach" to the growing field of business ethics. The book, whose first edition appeared in 1997, superimposes an orthodox theological perspective onto today's complex grid of commercial activity.
Ambitious in its coverage, the book begins by asking whether a Christian ethic within the realm of business is even possible. Yes, Hill concludes, if our ethical activity aims to mirror the character of God (and is not just something derived from biblical "rules").
From here, Hill uses the opening chapters to elaborate on the three-legged composite of God's character: holiness, justice, and love. Holiness is zeal for God, purity, accountability, and humility: justice considers our rights against others as well as our duties toward them; and love--the cornerstone of the Christian faith--consists of empathy, mercy, and self-sacrifice. Held together, holiness, justice, and love serve as a prism by which to adjudicate ethical action across the vast range of moral dilemmas in the marketplace.
While the concepts are independent, Hill invites readers to understand these characteristics in unity--a kind of ethical trinity. Just as God's character would be incomplete without love (yet holy and just) or limited without justice (while loving and holy), we cannot comprehensively appraise workplace practices without considering all three characteristics. "Like an optometrist during an eye exam ... [our] task is to line up the three lenses of holiness, justice and love so that they align as much as possible" (14).
Yet, prior to employing this lens, Hill warns readers against idolatrous forms of ethical authority that minimize or undermine these attributes. He refers to these misleading ethical guideposts as "false exits." Hill identifies three: ethical relativism, the law, and the problem of agency. Consulting these guideposts for ethical direction is an impoverished compass for moral guidance because they do not consider God's character. Indeed, ethical relativism denies the existence and apprehension of universal moral principles. The law, while often reflective of ethical sensibilities, does not consider God's authority and may even stifle other important values such as freedom, creativity, and spontaneity. Finally, agency wrongly invites employees to shed their moral convictions and assume values arbitrary to the organization they work for--even if those values run contrary to Christian conviction.
From here, the latter two-thirds of the book applies Hill's model to contemporary topics within the commercial realm. These include honesty and deception, concealment and disclosure, employer-employee relations, employee dignity, discrimination and affirmative action, the environment, and property. These topics largely follow the same outline of Hill's original 1997 edition, but the illustrations are updated and relevant for today's globalized, digitized marketplace.
A highlight of the book is the vast array of illustrations. Chapters include a wide variety of case studies that outline realistic yet ethically murky business scenarios. These callout boxes assist readers by illustrating a chapter point or conclusion. In a related feature, chapters end with discussion questions that also include case studies for readers to evaluate and discuss. The book is formal in tone and comprehensive in its coverage, making it appropriate for a classroom environment. Yet given its practical case studies and accessible writing style, Just Business would be equally suitable for a small group or Bible study.
Hill contends that his biblically based ethical paradigm differs from the conventional guidance we find in business ethics books. Such "human-based ethical systems" include egoism, deontological reasoning, or the more dominant paradigm within the field, utilitarianism. While Hill seeks to differentiate his approach, this latter mode of reasoning--and the consequential i st cloth it is cut from--seems present throughout the book. For example, on several occasions his argumentation seems to appeal more to the balance sheet than to the Bible. "Discriminatory practices can be very costly"; "bribes are often bad for the companies making them"; "[low trust leads to] little creativity, low productivity, and a gutted concern for quality"; or "failure to imbue employees with dignity is not only morally wrong but can be costly as well"--are common refrains.
To be clear, the statements are true. Unethical behavior has a cost. However, this line of reasoning risks motivating ethical behavior by the desirable business consequences they produce or undesirable consequences they avoid rather than by the character of God.
However, the book does not rest its case on utilitarian sentiments as the means to animate ethical action. Hill's appeal to holiness, justice, and love is uniformly applied throughout the book, substantiating his theocentric approach to business ethics as sufficiently different from those that merely consider duties and consequences.
In his conclusion, Hill (rightly) recognizes that we are flawed human beings, and accordingly, the wind blows in the direction of moral error. Moral excellence is not easy. Thus, he ends by reminding readers that Christian ethics inescapably draws on God's grace. Specifically, the gap between our intentions and performance, optimistically, reminds us of our dependence upon God, drawing us closer to his love.
Such a vision, in addition to the book's broad consideration of today's ethical landscape in an increasingly complex marketplace, speaks to the book's inherently Christian tone as well as its relevance. This elevates Just Business as a worthy read for the faith community and its careful discerning of what it means for Christian values to orient commercial activity.
--Kevin Brown (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Asbury University, Wilmore, Kentucky
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|Publication:||Journal of Markets & Morality|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2019|
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