Human Behavior, Corporate profit, and Morality

Daedalus is the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. It is published four times a year, with each issue devoted to deep examination of a single topic, invariably an important significant topic of concern to the world. I try to read these issues, even though it means reading and digesting complex textbooks, each close to 300 pages, each on a different topic, four times a year.

The issue of Winter 2023, Creating a New Moral Political Economy is fundamentally essential to the topics of this book (published after the completion of the book). I highly recommend it for everyone.

Although I could have flagged this as relevant to all six parts of this book, I have only tagged it as relevant to Meaning (because that is where corporate policies and economics are discussed), Sustainability (because that is where many corporate policies have their biggest impact), and Human Behavior (because it is human behavior and corporate tendencies to optimize immediate short-term power and profit is a critical causal factor to the state of today’s world).

Note that Daedalus itself provided this list of categories relevant to the articles in this issue (each item is also a hyperlink to all articles in all issues of Daedalus relevant to the topic):

Democracy & JusticeEnergy & EnvironmentHumanities
Economy & BusinessGlobal AffairsSociety & Health

This issue of Daedalus points out the ailments and misguided behavior, but overall is optimistic that not only is a change possible, but that it is already happening. The entire issue is available as a free PDF at Here I summarize key articles.

Mobilizing in the Interest of Others

Margaret Levi and Zachary Ugolnik

A 12-page overview of the entire issue. (Pages 7-18.)


A new moral political economy will revise capitalist democracy to ensure flourishing for all. Its principles derive from the recognition that humans are social animals who benefit from reciprocity and cooperation. We argue for attention to mobilizing strategies and governance arrangements that facilitate prosocial behavior and overcome the divisions—racial, political, and otherwise—that block awareness of common interests. We advocate for an expanded and inclusive community of fate whose members see their interests and destines as intertwined.

Expanded Table of Contents

Editors: Margaret Levi and Henry Farrell

A 22-page combined Table of Contents with the abstract for each article.

This 273 page issue has 33 articles, a lot to ask anyone to read. This listing of all of the articles includes their abstracts, allowing you to select which ones are of most relevance to your interests. The title of each article is also a hyperlink that takes you to the pdf for that article.

The table of contents, without abstracts, is only 3 pages. You can find it as pages 2-5 in the PDF for the entire issue:

Supply Chains & Working Conditions During the Long Pandemic: Lessons for a New Moral Political Economy?

Richard M. Locke, Ben Armstrong, Samantha Schaab-Rozbicki, and Geordie Young

This 12-page article is of critical importance to the discussion of the current economic policies discussed in Section II, Meaning, of DBW. (Pages 131-142.)

I also recommend the short continuation of the arguments put forth in this article by Joshua Cohen’s contribution, Doing Well by Doing Right (which in the Daedalus issue, followed immediately after this one).


In recent decades, the global economy has become increasingly structured around supply chains that connect firms within and across national borders, a reliance that has been the subject of controversy in light of disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to these disruptions, firms have adapted in various ways to maintain their level of production. In this essay, we describe two approaches companies pursued during the pandemic: the “sweating” strategy in which firms shifted costs onto the worker, and the “securing” strategy in which firms chose instead to invest resources into supporting their workforce. In doing so, we argue that the companies’ respective approaches in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic reflected their long-standing management models. Furthermore, we suggest that the insights gained from examining these approaches may provide a novel perspective on how to reimagine the current political economy.

Doing Well by Doing Right

Joshua Cohen

This 6-page article is a response to and continuation of the article Supply chains & Working Conditions. I recommend that you read both. (Pages 143-148.)


Richard Locke, Ben Armstrong, Samantha Schaab-Rozbicki, and Geordie Young speculate that COVID-related challenges might lead firms to shift their assumptions about workers in ways that open up new political-economic possibilities, with benefits for workers in safety, compensation, and voice. I am skeptical about the idea of such COVID-induced learning. Drawing on an analysis of the costs of high turnover in the electronics supply chain, however, I argue that more generous assumptions about workers appear to have operational benefits. Understanding those operational benefits might lead firms to be less resistant to demands from workers for the kinds of jobs that Locke and his coauthors celebrate.

Governance for Human Social Flourishing

Jenna Bednar

A 15-page call for action, for collaboration rather than competition. (Pages 31-45.)


Government has become something that happens to us in service of the economy rather than a vehicle driven by us to realize what we can achieve together. To save the planet and live meaningful lives, we need to start seeing one another not as competitors but as collaborators working toward shared interests. In this essay, I propose a framework for human social flourishing to foster a public policy that rebuilds our connections and care for one another. It is based on four pillars—dignity, community, beauty, and sustainability—and emphasizes not just inclusiveness but participation, and highlights the importance of policy-making at the local level in the ­rebuilding of prosocial norms.

Moral Firms?

Rebecca M. Henderson

A 14-page article arguing for a major change in human behavior.: the economic models of business coupled with “significant shifts in law, policy, and in the social and normative context.” Easy? No. Essential? Yes. (Pages 198-211.)

But also see Colin Mayer’s short reply to this article (summarized in the next block).


Building a new political economy requires transforming our markets, our institutions, and our policy and regulatory regimes. In this essay, I argue that it also requires transforming the purpose of the firm: from a singular focus on maximizing financial returns to the recognition that firms exist to support human flourishing, with profits merely a means to an end. I suggest that this transformation is already under way and indeed that it may help support fundamental change in the wider society, but that significant shifts in law, policy, and in the social and normative context are almost certainly essential if this new model is to become the norm.

Are Moral Firms Committed Firms?

Colin Mayer

A 5-page continuation of the issues raised in Rebecca M. Henderson’s questioning article, Moral Firms? (Pages 212-216.)


Corporate purpose is everywhere, but will it stay? Is it a business revolution or a passing fad, destined to go the way of so many business concepts? Reliance on the good judgment and goodwill of corporate leaders is a justifiable cause for concern, and resort is often sought instead in the apparently safe harbor of public regulation. But reliance should not be placed on governments and regulators alone to constrain the corporate giants in the face of a system that motivates abusive behavior. Instead, attention should be devoted to alignment of the intrinsic interests of corporations with those of society more generally.