Democracy and Private Discretion in Business

Business Ethics Quarterly 15 (1):37-66 (2005)
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Some critics raise moral objections against corporate social responsibility on account of its supposedly undemocratic nature. Theyargue that it is hard to reconcile democracy with the private discretion that always accompanies the discharge of responsibilities that are not judicially enforceable. There are two ways of constructing this argument: the “perfect-market argument” and the “social-power argument.” This paper demonstrates that the perfect-market argument is untenable and that the social-power argument is sometimes valid. It also asserts that the proponents of the perfect-market argument are mistaken in their assumption that perfect markets are conducive to democracy. There are strong reasons to hold that perfect markets are undesirable from a democratic point of view. A proper conceptualization and differentiation of the relation between “the private and the public” can make this clear. The proponents of the social-power argument sometimes maintain that the democratic deficit can be compensated for by consulting the stakeholdersaffected. Against this, I will argue that the social power argument has nothing to offer affected parties. Still, it will be shown that moderntheory on corporate social responsibility is not well accommodated to the democratic deficit as revealed by the social power argument



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