Norman Bowie, Morality, Money, and Motor Cars (1990)
● Does business have special moral obligations beyond legal ones to protect the environment?
○ Yes, but not those one might expect
● Yes: They shouldn’t lobby against or try to weaken environmental laws
○ This prohibition on political lobbying by business against environmental protection is not true in general
○ Business can generally participate in the legislative process
● First reason: Environmental laws are at a disadvantage in political process
○ Cost concentrated on a few and are immediate
○ Benefits are spread out over many and occur in the future
○ So it is not in politicians’ self-interest to pass environmental laws
● Second reason: If businesses argue it is up to consumers and the government to make the tradeoff between environmental quality/safety and cost, then it is inconsistent for them to interfere in this decision making process (by political lobbying on environmental issues)
● Do businesses have an obligation to pollute less and conserve resources more than the law requires of them?
● No: Because the risk/harm businesses do they when legally pollute and legally harvest resources in an unsustainable manner has been accepted by the public/society
○ It is the consumers’ and government’s responsibility to decrease pollution and conserve resources
● Benefit/cost-risk tradeoff on environmental related goods has been made by consumers (when purchase environmental unfriendly product) and by legislature (by passing laws allowing environmental harmful/risky business behavior)
○ Businesses should respect these decisions, just as they accept consumers’ and government’s decisions to have cars that are less safe than they could be (Bowie’s car analogy), and to purchase chemical cotton clothes rather than ones made from organic cotton
● Consumers choice of environmental unfriendly products (chemical fruits and vegetables, instead of organic fruits and vegetables) shows that consumers accept harm business causes by legal pollution and legal resource degradation
Problems with the claim that consumers accept the environmental harm caused by products they buy
● Public good characteristics of many environmental goods
○ Many environmentally friendly goods are public goods (goods people can benefit from w/o paying for) and so market demand for these public goods will be less than what people want
● Related problem of free riders
○ Best situation for a consumer will be if others buy the (more expensive for them) environmentally friendly product while she does not
○ Thus many consumers will be free riders and benefit from other’s purchase of environmentally friendly products without having to pay the cost themselves.
● Because of such market failures, it is a mistake to assume that consumers who buy environmentally unfriendly products accept environmental harm/risk businesses cause while producing them.
● Further, because they are public goods on which individuals can free ride, it is a mistake to leave the choice of environmentally friendly or environmentally harmful products up to the consumer
● Government and business need to take the lead in moving toward more environmentally friendly products, by banning or not producing the environmentally harmful ones.
● Consumer choices not= citizen choices:
○ Another reason we can’t assume that consumers accept the environmental harm the products they buy produce is that consumers may buy things that as citizens they would oppose.
○ In short, the argument confuses what we will buy as consumers with what we as citizens believe is right.