- Dr. Timothy X. Merritt
Navigating the Ethical Dilemmas of a Greater Depression: A Three Frameworks Perspective
Abstract: Explores the ethical implications of a Greater Depression from three philosophical frameworks: Utilitarianism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics from the perspective of a fictional character, Dr. Josef Ranell, the Chief Logistics Officer of Global Multimodal Logistics (GML). Utilitarianism focuses on the greatest good for the greatest number of people, Deontology emphasizes moral duty and rules, and Virtue Ethics focuses on developing good character and moral virtues. Ranell seeks to understand how each framework can assist him with the hard decisions he must make.
Background (STEEPLE Analysis) for Directed Fiction
This article is the final installment of a seven-part STEEPLE Analysis designed to examine the future impacts of a fictional Greater Depression. The specific Framing question for this exercise is:
How might Global Multimodal Logistics (GML’s) decision to purchase six hybrid airships be affected by a global-scale Greater Depression occurring in the decade of the 2020s?
From this perspective, it becomes possible to examine trends from the seven categories defined by the STEEPLE analysis. The seventh category is Ethical. This article seeks to offer a plausible answer to the following question:
How should ethical dilemmas emerging from a Greater Depression be addressed?
The economic consequences of a Greater Depression have been catastrophic, raising a host of ethical dilemmas for policymakers, business leaders, and the general public. Navigating these ethical dilemmas will require a clear understanding of different philosophical frameworks' relative strengths and weaknesses. Dr. Ranell has three confidants and mentors who counsel him on the potential ethical implications of a Greater Depression from the perspectives of three different frameworks: Utilitarianism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics.
Dominique Larbonne holds a Doctor of Ministry Degree from European-American University. He has worked with the indigenous ministry leaders of thirty indigenous organizations in sixteen countries. He also recruits and networks with a strong team of pastors, trainers, and professors who equip these leaders to strengthen and fulfill their ministries. He advocates Utilitarianism, an ethical framework that focuses on providing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. He counsels Ranell that this framework would be useful for evaluating the economic consequences of a Greater Depression by considering the overall benefit or harm to society.
In terms of income inequality and social justice, a Greater Depression exacerbates existing income inequality and raises ethical questions about the distribution of wealth and resources in society. The Utilitarianism perspective argues that policies that benefit the majority of society, such as progressive taxation or universal basic income, represent the best ethical choices. On the other hand, policies that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, such as tax cuts for the rich, would not be the ethical choice.
Ranell is not convinced. He is responsible for GML’s operation and answers to the CEO and the shareholders. Larbonne counters that the widespread poverty and joblessness caused by the Greater Depression have made it difficult for many people to access basic necessities such as food, housing, and healthcare. In the face of collapsing public assistance programs, GML policies that place profit above people and ultimately restrict access to these necessities would not be the ethical choice.
Inevitably, their discussion turns to the topic of environmental sustainability. This has long been a central selling point for hybrid airships. Still, the economic chaos of the Greater Depression has led most countries to prioritize short-term financial gains at the expense of the environment. Larbonne is passionate about developing strategies that prioritize the long-term well-being of the majority of society, such as investing in renewable energy or protecting natural resources. To him, it does not matter if Ranell has opportunities to use airships for resource exploitation. Environmental sustainability is a higher good that benefits the most people. He urges Ranell to put the greater good ahead of his own self-interests.
Mitch Anderson is the vice president of Intermodal Technologies, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. As a fellow logistician, Dr. Ranell holds Anderson's perspective in high esteem. His company offers solutions for finance and leasing companies to streamline international shipping operations, and Ranell considers him to be an extraordinarily gifted and high-performing professional.
Anderson is a ‘black-and-white’ thinker. Solutions are either wrong or right, and there is no in-between. Deontology is an ethical framework emphasizing the importance of moral duty and rules. In the context of a Greater Depression, this framework would be useful for evaluating the ethical considerations of labor rights, immigration and refugees, and criminal justice. The primary focus of Deontology is on the moral duty to protect individual rights and the impartial rule of law.
In terms of business ethics, Anderson explains that the Greater Depression has increased pressure on businesses to cut costs and increase profits. It is only natural that this raises ethical questions about how firms should balance these competing interests and whether they have a moral duty to prioritize the well-being of their employees and the community over profits. Anderson reminds Ranell that he has an overarching fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders of GML. All his decisions ought to be framed from the context of maximizing shareholder profits. Anything less is a dereliction of his legal and moral responsibilities.
Additional ethical dilemmas can be addressed in the same manner. Increased competition for a shrinking number of jobs leads to ethical questions about protecting workers' rights and ensuring fair wages and working conditions. The global surge of immigrants and refugees leads to ethical questions about balancing the needs of immigrants and refugees with the needs of the native population. Deontology focuses on the moral duty to provide fair treatment and protection for all individuals based on existing laws and citizenship status. It may seem compassionate to break the rules to alleviate suffering, but in the end, that route only leads to more chaos. Leaders must make hard calls, and Ranell will face severe consequences if he tries to bend or break the law.
Monsignor Raphael Mendoza was nominated by the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maracay, in the Ecclesiastical province of Valencia two years before the strongman Hugo Chávez rose to power and ushered in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Ranell confides in him about his agony stemming from the many ethical dilemmas he is facing. Mendoza listens with grave concern and provides Ranell counsel from the perspective of one who has witnessed and experienced unimaginable levels of suffering, pain, and grief.
Many difficulties lie between the two extremes of doing the most good for the most people on the one hand, and strict adherence to rules and laws on the other. He offers this sage advice; the best time to address a wickedly complex problem is long before one encounters it. Virtue ethics is concerned less with the questions about what actions to take, and more with questions about the development of moral character. The goal of virtue ethics is to develop moral character so that the individual is freed from dogged obedience to a set of (often arbitrary) rules (Merritt, 2021). In virtue ethics, the focus is on the development of good character and moral virtues.
Mendoza and Ranell engage in a wide-ranging discussion involving mental health and well-being, the provision of healthcare, and aspects of the criminal justice system. Mendoza explains that virtue ethics is more than an emphasis on compassion and responsibility. First, one must turn inward and define for oneself what ethics are. The ‘arete’ virtues of ancient Greece are quite different than the ideas of harmony and balance often celebrated in Asian countries.
Any decision Ranell makes will reflect what he has first formed in his heart. Therefore, it is imperative to turn inward before the crisis hits and decide what is truly important. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, addressed the subject of Virtue Ethics when he said that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal, 5:22-23). Mendoza understands that Ranell feels overwhelmed by the terrible problems he is facing. He understands because he has also lived through cataclysmic cycles. The Monsignor’s counsel is to trust in the Christian understanding of virtue. It is transformative beyond calculation and has altered the trajectory of the world. The Holy Spirit is literally consubstantial with Jesus Christ and Almighty God, the creator and king of the universe. This being, this person, dwells within each of us and is accessible even during times of crisis if one can but listen to His voice. Dr. Ranell cannot possibly comprehend the infinite dimensions of the problems he faces, but God does. If he stills his mind and listens to his heart, he can trust that infinite knowledge to inform his decisions.
Dr. Ranell understands that navigating the ethical dilemmas of a Greater Depression requires a clear understanding of the relative strengths and weaknesses of different philosophical frameworks. His friends have provided him with radically different perspectives. Utilitarianism focuses on the overall benefit or harm to society, Deontology emphasizes the importance of moral duty and rules, and Virtue Ethics focuses on developing good character and moral virtues. By considering the implications of a Greater Depression through these different frameworks, Ranell hopes to find a way through the maelstrom. He considers that perhaps these frameworks are not mutually exclusive and that he might have to use a combination of them can be used to make his best decisions.
Anonymous. (2014) Calculating the consequences: The utilitarian approach to ethics. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/calculating-consequences-the-utilitarian-approach/
Groenewald, R. (2021). Deontological ethics by Kant. Fractus Learning. Retrieved from https://www.fractuslearning.com/deontological-ethics-by-kant/
Merritt, T. (2021). Emergentist approach to ethics – Part 2. Blog Post. Retrieved from https://www.timothyxmerritt.com/post/emergentist-approach-to-ethics-part-2