Center for Ethical Business Cultures
Date of this version
corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, ethics, American economic thought, 19th century and philosophy
Nineteenth-century American economic thought offered reflective criticisms and insightful suggestions pertaining to the obligations of corporate enterprise. Although the notion of corporate social responsibility was not featured in the discourse, for-profit entities were held accountable to implicit, and sometimes explicit, codes of social behavior. Attitudes toward corporations/businesses are woven throughout the period’s treatises on political economy. Americans couched their discussion in an intellectual milieu particular to the era. They borrowed from an Anglo-American tradition imbued with republican values, a patriotic fervor that swept the nation following the wars with Britain, and the cosmopolitanism of free-trade liberalism. Protectionists, liberals, republicans, pro-slavery Southerners, and an embryonic breed of anti-market thinkers deliberated over the social obligations of corporations, the dialectic between financial institutions and republican values, the tensions between markets and government, the propriety of slave and free labor, and the consequences of business activities on the moral, political and social fabric of the new nation.
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