Business Ethics

Banks: Liberty or Regulation

Gordon Brown has just said that he made a big mistake about financial regulation. His remarks are in line with many politicians on the financial crisis: regulation failed therefore we need more regulation. But do we?

Frideswide Square is a notorious traffic junction in Oxford, and it’s a nightmare. It has about 20 sets of traffic lights and small problems here lead to long tailbacks in many directions, tripling journey times for many otherwise short trips. So you can imagine how awful it was when the traffic lights all broke down recently.

Except it wasn’t. Continue reading

Nothing is like mother’s ice cream

The Icecreamists, an ice cream parlour in Covent Garden began selling a human breast-milk based ice cream last month, only to have it confiscated recently by Westminster Council in order to check that it was “fit for human consumption”. New York chef Daniel Angerer was reported as served human cheese (he didn’t, but see his blog for the recipe). He was advised by the New York Health Department to stop, since although there were no departmental codes forbidding it they claimed “cheese made from breast milk is not for public consumption, whether sold or given away”. What is it exactly that is disturbing with a human milk ice cream or cheese? And are there any good reasons to hinder selling it?

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Pulp Friction in Tasmania: when is a little dioxin to much dioxin?

When is a little dioxin too much dioxin?

Dioxin is a persistent organic pollutant (POP) that accumulates in the food chain and is highly toxic to living systems. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants commits signatories to ‘reduce or where feasible, eliminate the production and environmental release’ of dioxin.

So we know that dioxin is not a good thing to be releasing into the environment. And we also know that particular human activities, such as the smelting process that produces certain metals and chlorine bleaching of wood pulp in the paper industry produce dioxin. The question is when is it ‘feasible’ to eliminate the production and environmental release of dioxin? Continue reading

How to feed people dioxin and get away with it

Earlier this month German authorities closed around 4,700 farms following the discovery that pigs and poultry had been given feed contaminated with dioxins, which are thought to be among the most carcinogenic environmental pollutants. Yesterday Russia banned the import of untested pork products produced in Germany after 1 November 2010. This follows earlier import bans on some German food products in Slovakia, China, Belarus and South Korea.

Evidently the North German firm Harles und Jentzsch added a contaminated oil, possibly intended for industrial paper production, to an ingredient for animal feed that was then sold to 25 different feed manufacturers. Tests showed that the oil contained dioxin at 77 times the permitted level. Around 150,000 tons of feed incorporating this oil was reportedly fed to poultry and pigs across Germany, and affected eggs were sold in Germany, The Netherlands and the UK.

Internal tests at the Harles und Jentzsch plant revealed elevated dioxin levels in feed ingredients as early as March last year, suggesting the possibility that the human food supply may have been contaminated for months. And of course, this is nothing new. There were similar dioxin scandals in Ireland and Italy in 2008, Belgium in 1999 and 2006, and Germany in 2003.

How can such practices go unnoticed so often and for so long?

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Is mathematics the Christmas present of the year?

by Anders Sandberg

Is mathematics the Christmas present of the year? TheoryMine is a company that uses automatic theorem discovery and proof to generate new theorems via computer, which customers can then buy the naming rights for (for a paper describing the method, see The Theory behind TheoryMine). Is this a scam? Or does it devalue pure mathematics? Or is this a great new way of acknowledging its beauty?

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Spying on people for fun and profit

A new company, Internet Eyes, promises to crowdsource monitoring of surveillance cameras by using online users to watch footage and report suspicious activity. They would get rewarded 'up to £1,000' if they press the alarm button to report something useful. Not unexpectedly the anti-CCTV groups really dislike the idea. The Information Commissioner is somewhat sceptical but allowed a beta test to go ahead, as long as users had to pay for using it – this would allow their details to be checked and would reduce risks for misuse. However, at least one subscribe "thought it was his civic duty to sign up". Civic duty or profit-making voyerism?

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Ethics and Economics

The failing of economics have been widely discussed in the last few years, and now Professors Kim and Yoon have suggested in the Financial Times that ‘an eminent philosopher…should be appointed to take charge of economics’ Don’t all rush at once. I doubt they really mean it. And even if they do, we mustn’t fall for our own propaganda: philosophers don’t exactly have a good track record on practical matters.


The grounds for their suggestion is that economics is ‘not a science that only describes, measures, explains and predicts human interests, values and policies – it also evaluates, promotes, endorses or rejects them’ and for these kinds of reasons ‘economics is a dimension of ethics’ and ethics should be ‘organically incorporated into economic discourse’. This all sounds very exciting but I fear it is misleading.


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Cosmetic Surgery – What is the Matter with Dr Salesman?

Written by Roman Gaehwiler

Reconstructive plastic surgery to correct ravages of disease and injuries as well as gross physical abnormalities constitutes a core medical practice. Reconstructive procedures, however, lie along a continuum, without any clear boundary between therapeutic reconstructive surgery for diagnosable problem and purely cosmetic surgery.[1]

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Ethical questions surrounding the BP Oil Spill

Largest oil spill in U.S. history continues to devastate
Gulf wildlife while the press and independent scientists are continually denied access to
spill site and surrounding beaches.

by Stephanie Malik

On April 20 a wellhead on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling
platform blew out in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 40 miles southeast of the
Louisiana coastline. What BP had initially claimed would be a spill with
“minimal impact”, 69 days later now constitutes the largest offshore oil spill
in U.S. history. Today the well is conservatively estimated to be leaking at a
rate of 1,900,000–3,000,000 litres per day—though several expert estimates
based on footage of the spill suggest the actual rate is more likely to be 3 to
5 times higher than this. The unusually wide disparity in expert estimates is
due to the fact that BP has continually denied the requests of a number of independent
scientists to set up instruments on the ocean floor
that could measure the rate
of the leak more accurately. “The answer is ‘no’ to that,” a BP spokesman, Tom
Mueller, said earlier this month. “We’re not going to take any extra efforts
now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response
effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.

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Reshaping the financial system after the storm

The question of the social utility of the financial services and of the appropriate modes of remuneration of its actors has occupied a central place at the G20 meeting held in Pittsburgh. Indeed, the G20 leaders expressed a shared willingness to back new global regulatory standards for the banking industry. Yet, their reasons for doing so need some unpacking.

The recent interview by Prospect magazine of the FSA Chairman Adair offers a case in point, as does his recent speech at Mansion House. Turner suggests that the financial services sector should slim down to a more ‘socially useful’ size and reduce bankers’ pay accordingly. He also estimates that market deregulation has led to an oversized financial sector. Finally, he proposes that regulators should step in to reconnect the size, profit and pay level of the sector to what is ‘socially optimal’.

Though it may sound intuitive, the idea of a ‘social optimum’ that could be used as a guideline for regulating finance is ambiguous and deserves a close look.

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