Ethical Cycles and Trends: Evidence and Implications

Conroy, Stephen; Emerson, Tisha
September 2008
Journal of Business Ethics;Sep2008, Vol. 81 Issue 4, p905
Academic Journal
Recent high-profile corporate scandals are reminiscent of the corporate raider scandals of the 1980s, suggesting that ethical scandals may occur in waves. This article provides a framework for analysis of this question by suggesting that ethical attitudes may be cyclical about long-term secular trends. We provide some empirical evidence from previously published work for the existence of cycles as well as a potential mechanism for their propagation, namely widespread publicity about a particularly salient event, e.g., Enron. Further, we posit that long-run secular trends would be affected through more deliberate, cognitive means, e.g., instruction in business ethics. We also discuss an important research implication, namely that traditional cross-sectional “book-end” studies surveying ethical attitudes at two different points in time may be unable to disentangle short-run cyclical movements from long-term secular trends.


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