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Does Competition Destroy Ethical Behavior?


  • Andrei Shleifer


Explanations of unethical behavior often neglect the role of competition, as opposed to greed, in assuring its spread. Using the examples of child labor, corruption, excessive' executive pay, corporate earnings manipulation, and commercial activities by universities, this paper clarifies the role of competition in promoting censured conduct. When unethical behavior cuts costs, competition drives down prices and entrepreneurs' incomes, and thereby reduces their willingness to pay for ethical conduct. Nonetheless, I suggest that competition might be good for ethical behavior in the long run, because it promotes growth and raises incomes. Higher incomes raise the willingness to pay for ethical behavior, but may also change what people believe to be ethical for the better.

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  • Andrei Shleifer, 2004. "Does Competition Destroy Ethical Behavior?," NBER Working Papers 10269, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10269
    Note: CF IO LS LE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bergstresser, Daniel & Philippon, Thomas, 2006. "CEO incentives and earnings management," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(3), pages 511-529, June.
    2. Lucian Arye Bebchuk & Jesse M. Fried, 2003. "Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 71-92, Summer.
    3. Bebchuk, Lucian A. & Fried, Jesse M., 2003. "Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt81q3136r, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
    4. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2001. "Are CEOs Rewarded for Luck? The Ones Without Principals Are," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(3), pages 901-932.
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    JEL classification:

    • D41 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Perfect Competition
    • L31 - Industrial Organization - - Nonprofit Organizations and Public Enterprise - - - Nonprofit Institutions; NGOs; Social Entrepreneurship

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