Alternative Law Journal
by Scott Mann; Thomson Lawbook Co, 2003; 262 pp; $55 softcover.
Scott Mann's book appears to be an introductory overview of issues of ethical concern in contemporary business, economics and the law. On closer inspection however Mann's approach becomes clear: this is very deliberately not just another introductory account of the same theories and case studies common to any number of introductory texts with similar titles. Mann's Economics, Business Ethics and Law is, rather, an uncompromising critique of how such ethics are normally done, and the extent to which institutional and social forces are overlooked by most mainstream approaches to this area.
Mann is critical of views characterised by individualistic and subjective notions of ethics, and argues in favour of a view more appropriately reflective of the economic and social conditions we actually meet today. Accounts that overlook the significance of contemporary economic and social institutions are therefore perpetuating the problems they purport to solve, according to Mann, in that they serve to sustain and justify existing practices and continue to obscure the real issues at stake.
Mann goes so far as to suggest that contemporary accounts of ethics might more fruitfully be understood in terms of 'ideology'. Here, the claim that prevailing accounts of 'business ethics' are misleading, for example, amounts to more than just a disagreement over theoretical emphasis. As Mann puts it, such accounts may be considered guilty '... not just of false representation, but of systematic misrepresentation that significantly shapes and influences social reality, and through so doing functions to further the interests of particular social class groups at the expense of other such groups' (pp.
3-4). Those familiar with elements of Marxist thought will of course recognise such ideas, and find similar themes at work at the heart of Mann's account.
The book is divided into four parts; Business Ethics and Economics, The Economics and Ethics of Globalisation, Class, Crime and Criminal Justice, and Science, Civil Law and Corporate Power. Mann tackles heady issues with ease, and each section offers chapters confidently employed to take the reader to the heart of the matter in each case.
Approaches to ethics as they are most commonly encountered in text books are brought under scrutiny in the first section, along with the theoretical assumptions that underpin them. This section is especially interesting for those familiar with standard introductory texts, as Mann's critical and insightful approach is refreshingly original. His ability to deal with the details of such accounts, however, has not been pursued at the expense of readability, and first-time readers in the area should also find this discussion accessible.
Commonly held assumptions characteristic of neo-classical economics are challenged in subsequent chapters, as are a range of ideas which, for Mann, are more than deserving of a second look with respect to their inevitability (the 'inevitability of globalisation' being just one example).
The third section sets out an account more explicitly informed by a Marxist analysis in Class, Crime and Criminal Justice. Here again commonly held assumptions are tested and found to be wanting (for example, 'equality under the law'), while other distinctions appear to remain more than clear (as described, for example, in Mann's engaging account of 'working class' versus 'white collar' crime).
In the final section Mann directs his critical gaze toward the promise of new technologies, examining their significance in terms of the discussion as it has been developed throughout the book. Mann concludes with some thought-provoking observations regarding logic, morality and the law, leading the reader through specific cases in legal moral reasoning.
Mann may strike some readers as theoretically 'thin' in parts. Other readers, however, may welcome Mann refraining from getting bogged down in theoretical quagmires. Readers adopting a more academic approach may also find the readability of the book has sometimes been pursued at the expense of more comprehensive referencing.
Economics, Business Ethics and Law is an accessible-yet-critical over view of the main issues of concern shared by each field. Those wishing to gain a general overview of the salient and pressing issues in these areas would benefit from this clear and coherent text. The real strength of the work lies in the contrary perspective offered by Mann, from which we are able to critically appraise contemporary economic life, business, politics and the law, and accounts of the ethics of their associated institutions. The book will be of interest to a wide range of students, academics and professionals in the fields of economics, management, law, politics, political philosophy and applied ethics.
Nigel Palmer is a Postgraduate Research Student in the department of Philosophy at Flinders University.