Friday, November 19, 2004

Also, there was an interesting moment in Business Ethics class today. We'd read a case study of a whistleblower who talked to the media about something probably-immoral-but-maybe-not-illegal that his employer did, and they fired him for blowing the whistle. One member of the group making the presentation on it said that they company was morally justified in firing him because he (and the bad press he created) was now costing the company more money than they paid him, so they had every moral right to fire him.

Something about that argument seemed wrong somehow, but I couldn't articulate it very well. I rambled vaguely about responbilities and obligations to employees and stuff for a bit. But when the guy sitting next to me tied it in to worker's compensation, it all became clear to me. That guy said that compensation for a worker injured on the job was one case when an employer should not fire someone even though he's not paying his own way at the moment. So the presenter said there's an exception for worker's compensation because it is mandated by contracts.

And that's bullshit. There's a legal obligation to provide worker's comp for people injured on the job, but there's also a moral obligation. It's one of the most basic ones there is. You break it, you buy it; you make a mess, you clean it up; you hurt someone, you try to make it better. That doesn't apply to every case when someone is injured on the job, of course, maybe not even the majority, but it still needs to be considered. And this situation is similar. Firing him was unethical because this whistleblower had a choice between violating the law and/or his conscience (injury in a non-physical sense of the term, you might say), and losing the job he relies on, and it is unethical to put someone in that position.

So when I said all that, how did the presenter respond? He said that worker's compensation shouldn't be required by law. To me, that looks like he's saying it's not a moral imperative overall, that "cleaning up your own messes" is optional.

I realize I'm casually summarizing something from memory of when everyone was speaking on the spur of the moment, and it was happening as the class was running out of time, but still - the impression seemed to me like an insight into economic libertarianism. People should be free. People should be free to ignore any moral principles, even the most basic and universal. You don't have a committment to anyone else unless they have it in writing. The government has no business interfering with people getting screwed over. And most of all, first and foremost... "Look out for number one" and "Gimme" are as acceptable as any other belief system in this modern pluralistic society of ours.

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