Ethics Unwrapped Blog

Ethics Unwrapped uses the tools of psychology and related fields, behavioral ethics explores the organizational pressures and psychological biases that often cause well-intentioned people to act unethically.

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 1.00.32 PM

Temple University: The New Enron?

As a university professor, I like to think that higher education can serve as a beacon of good behavior in a troubled world, but that’s optimistic.  I’ve recently blogged about a university staff employee who went on trips while pretending to be working (“Doing the Crime, Not the Time”), about unethical research practices (“Systematically Analyzing […]

Continue Reading
Houston Astros' Jose Altuve (27) connects for a single off a pitch from Texas Rangers' Nick Martinez in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. The hit was Altuve's 200th of the season. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The MLB Scandal from Left Field

The World Series is just around the corner, so it seems an apt time to revisit, as Sports Illustrated just did, one of baseball’s most intriguing recent scandals. Here are the facts.  Chris Correa was a computer whiz who loved sports and worked in the scouting department of the St. Louis Cardinals.  Two of his […]

Continue Reading

State Farm’s Judge

State Farm just spent a quarter of a billion dollars to settle allegations that seem like a plot straight out of a John Grisham novel.  You may remember that in The Pelican Brief, a wealthy and very shady character with a case heading to the Supreme Court paid for the murder of two Supreme Court […]

Continue Reading

The Linebacker and the Congressman

It is not often that football players and Congressmen are indicted for the same wrongdoing, but last month NFL linebacker Mychal Kendricks and Representative Chris Collins from New York were both indicted for insider trading.  Kendricks has pled guilty; Collins denies the charges.  Both also face civil charges. The federal government alleges that Representative Collins […]

Continue Reading
Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 11.38.02 AM

The Cost of the Libor Lies

I just finished reading The Spider Network by David Enrich.  It’s the story of the Libor-rigging scandal, by some people’s lights the biggest financial fraud in history.  Just to remind you, Libor is the London Interbank Offered Rate. Libor was supposedly being set by many participant banks sending to a central authority their cost of […]

Continue Reading
Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 10.13.09 AM

Business Ethics Makes the Business

I recently finished reading Professor Francis J. Schweigert’s Business Ethics Education and the Pragmatic Pursuit of the Good (2016).  I commend this book to your attention. The book is an argument “that business schools should incorporate education for justice into their business and management curriculum as the pragmatic pursuit of the good.  This argument is […]

Continue Reading

Political Party Foul: Trump & Mueller Affiliates

The New York Times reported on Friday (1/26/18) that last June President Trump wanted to fire special counsel Robert Mueller but was thwarted when his attorney Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out such an order.  Although the newspaper’s reporting on the so-called Russia investigation has generally been proved accurate, I do not […]

Continue Reading

Why They Do It

I shared a list of books for budding behavioral ethicists a few weeks ago. Now I want to recommend to everyone that they read Harvard Law School professor Eugene Soltes’s new book: Why They Do It: Inside the Mind of the White-Collar Criminal (Public Affairs, 2016). Several years ago, Professor Soltes began studying many of […]

Continue Reading
Teaching with Ethics Unwrapped

For the Budding Behavioral Ethicist…

I am occasionally asked for additional resources (beyond our free videos, cases, and other materials) for those trying to learn about behavioral ethics.  Toward that end, I include below a list of 25 books that I think would be very helpful to anyone wishing to learn more about the topic of behavioral ethics.  The most […]

Continue Reading
Image courtesy of Filosofias filosoficas

Book Recommendation: “The Undoing Project”

Michael Lewis is the talented nonfiction author whose books “Moneyball,” “The Blind Side,” and “The Big Short” have been made into excellent and popular movies. His latest work, “The Undoing Project,” has an odd title, but is very much worth a read. It would take a creative genius to turn it into a movie, but […]

Continue Reading

Wells Fargo Goes Far to Cheat Customers

At the McCombs School of Business I teach an MBA course entitled “The Legal and Ethical Environment of Finance.” I fear that I may have to retitle it “The Illegal and Unethical Environment of Finance.” The finance sector seems to be a cesspool in so many ways, unfortunately.Yesterday I had no sooner finished reading a […]

Continue Reading

Quid Pro Quo, Oh No! Abramoff on McDonnell

When corrupt people who want something from the government come together in common cause with corrupt government officials, the results are not pretty. Thus Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams, who wanted Virginia’s public universities to study a nutritional supplement that his company made, came together with Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife. Soon $170,000 in […]

Continue Reading

Baylor Football: A Brief Behavioral Autopsy

The darkest days in college athletics since the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal brought down the sainted Joe Paterno and permanently sullied Penn State University’s reputation are playing out in Waco at the nation’s largest Baptist university. The Baylor sexual assault scandal raises the question: How can values become so skewed when leadership is […]

Continue Reading

Our Cheating Culture

There has been a lot of news about cheating lately. It turns out that as long ago as 2006, a top technology executive (not a rogue underling) at Volkswagen made a Power point presentation detailing how to cheat on diesel emissions tests. Perhaps the company felt it needed to cheat to keep up with the […]

Continue Reading
Biases Supreme Court Justice_Blog

Biases of a Supreme Court Justice

Justice Antonin Scalia will likely go down as one of the brightest minds, most forceful writers, and most colorful characters ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. In many ways, he was a “giant” of the Court, as many of his obituary writers are stressing. But Justice Scalia was also a poster child for […]

Continue Reading
the good the bad the future_blog

The Good, the Bad, and the Future

In a recent op-ed piece, I decried the state of ethics in today’s business community. The Volkswagen emissions fraud, the Peanut Corporation of American contamination cover-up, and Turing Pharmaceuticals’ 5,000% price increase for a particular drug all happened virtually simultaneously and threw me into a bit of a funk. Every day on Wall Street, it […]

Continue Reading
no more teachable moments_blog

No More Teachable Moments, Please!

As a business professor, I’m always looking for teachable moments, in which a very relevant, very vivid event can make an impression upon my students and point them in the right direction. But today I say: Enough already. No more teachable moments, please. Volkswagen, my students already know that it’s wrong to put software in […]

Continue Reading

Do Bad, Feel Good: The Peril of Rationalization

Dinesh D’Souza is a public intellectual with a strong conservative Christian bent. He is also a convicted criminal, an admitted adulterer, and a raging hypocrite. A recent interview printed in the New York Times Magazine on July 5, 2015 illustrates very clearly how, as behavioral ethics teaches, people can do very bad things yet continue […]

Continue Reading

A Better Game Plan for Student Athletes

The University of Texas at Austin announced the creation of a Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation this year. Part of the Center’s mission, as currently envisioned, is to teach high school athletics coaches how to deal with various behavioral and other off-field matters involving their student athletes. Helping coaches “develop their students as people,” […]

Continue Reading

Moral Lessons from an OU Frat House

The headlines from the SAE house at the University of Oklahoma and from the Department of Justice’s report on policing in Ferguson, MO., remind us that open racism continues to plague America and we must never stop fighting it. Just watching the movie “Selma” is not enough. It is heartening, of course, to see whites […]

Continue Reading

Deciding to Dope

Recently three things came across my desk nearly simultaneously. One was a report that Lance Armstrong had told a BBC interviewer: “If you take me back to 1995, when [doping] was completely and totally pervasive, I’d probably do it again. People don’t like to hear that.” (Rapp, 2015) Second, was a report that two MMA […]

Continue Reading

DeflateGate and the FAE

At this writing I do not know whether the New England Patriots are guilty or innocent of the charge that they cheated in the AFC Championship game by playing with improperly deflated footballs. Soon, I hope, the truth will come out. The Pats may be completely innocent. What I do know is that there is […]

Continue Reading

America is Awesome… Right?!

As Senator Ted Cruz recognized this week, “Every civilized nation agrees that torture is wrong.” I take it as a given that many of the actions spelled out in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s majority report constitute torture by any reasonable definition. Americans certainly would have defined them as such had they been done to Americans […]

Continue Reading

Ethics in the Field

Many of our Ethics Unwrapped videos present ideas produced by the new research field of behavioral ethics, which studies why people make the ethical (and unethical) decisions that they do. Much of the research comes from behavioral psychology and the “heuristics and biases” research stream created by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his late […]

Continue Reading

Rethinking Ethics Education

In a recent Business Week column, Deborrah Himsel of the Thunderbird School noted, accurately, that business schools are trying harder than ever to teach their students lessons in ethics. She was equally on target in pointing out that there is a lot of room left for improvement. She cited several recent FCPA violations by Wal-Mart, […]

Continue Reading

Abuse for All to See

The firestorm over domestic abuse ignited by the staggered public release of two videos of Ray Rice and his then-girlfriend and now wife Janay Palmer illustrates one important finding of the behavioral ethics research that underlies many of our Ethics Unwrapped educational videos:  many moral judgments are emotion-driven. It seems to most people that their […]

Continue Reading
Making the Grade_Thumbnail

Why Good Teachers Do Bad Things

Rachel Aviv’s article “Wrong Answer” in a recent New Yorker issue presents a textbook case of why good people do bad things.  The article tells the story of the recent cheating scandal in the Atlanta School District, which was one of the worst of a string of school cheating scandals across the U.S.  Forty-four of […]

Continue Reading

Say What?! Arational Persuasion

There is considerable evidence that how a question is framed can greatly affect how people answer it.  Framing effects can cause well-intentioned people to make unethical decisions, as you can see by watching our Concepts Unwrapped video Framing, or our Cases Unwrapped video Jack & Framing. A commonly cited example of how framing can affect […]

Continue Reading

Incentivizing the VA

Our Concepts Unwrapped video on Incentive Gaming, with content and narration provided by Professor Lamar Pierce of Washington University-St. Louis’s Olin School of Business, explains how many people will game incentive systems if given the opportunity.  School teachers will teach to the test if they are rewarded based on how many of their students pass […]

Continue Reading

A Brief Guide to Behavioral Legal Ethics

Guest blogger Tigran Eldred is an Associate Professor of Law at the New England School of Law in Boston.  He has a distinguished background as a public defender and civil rights lawyer before he joined academia.  However, our particular interest in his contribution relates to his interest in behavioral ethics as it applies to the […]

Continue Reading

Helping Your Employees Be Their Best Selves

There is no single correct way to teach business ethics.  A common approach combines philosophy and character development.  Teachers impart philosophical concepts for resolving difficult ethical issues and encourage students to develop and hone strength of character to give them the means to actually implement the solutions that develop. Any regular reader of this blog […]

Continue Reading

5 Tips for A Peaceful Holiday Season

Happy Ethical Holidays! In his recent book “Drunk Tank Pink,” marketing professor Adam Alter demonstrates how color affects many peoples’ decisions and actions in ways they do not realize or understand.  A famous study shows, for example, that men arrested for public intoxication tend to be much less combative if confined in rooms painted pink […]

Continue Reading

Tools for Teaching Ethics

On a day (October 15, 2013) when the New York Times is carrying articles on former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s guilty pleas to attacks on women, on an indictment of a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old girl on felony charges in connection with the bullying-caused suicide of another 12-year-old girl, and on possible accounting irregularities […]

Continue Reading

The Power of Empathy

Many of our Ethics Unwrapped videos carry messages arising from the field of Behavioral Ethics.  That same area of research has demonstrated the important role emotions play in constructing our moral beliefs and shaping our moral actions.  We tend to feel guilt when we violate moral rules and shame when others find out we have […]

Continue Reading

You’ve Been Rated

Zach Boven, author of this post, is a recent graduate of the Business Honors Program at the McCombs School of Business.  He wrote this blog post as part of an assignment for a business law and business ethics class.  It was the best of a good lot.   A female friend of mine at Washington […]

Continue Reading

My Group Versus Your Group

It seems obvious that people should judge the ethicality of others’ actions in an objective and fair way.  What is not so obvious is how difficult it often is to do that.  One reason why it is difficult to make such objective judgments is our tendency to sort ourselves and others into groups and to […]

Continue Reading

The Atlanta School District Scandal

I was recently asked to give an ethics talk to a group of high school principals in training.  For a time my mother was a public school teacher and a principal, and in my mind these people are to be greatly admired.  Although a recent survey found teachers to be a pretty happy and satisfied […]

Continue Reading

Jailing Unethical Executives

Financial journalist Bethany McLean has co-written two of the best books on recent financial scandals—The Smartest Guys in the Room about the Enron debacle and All the Devils Are Here about the subprime mess.  In her blog, McLean recently addressed the question: “Does Jailing Executives Make Much Difference?” Judging from public reaction, jailing white collar […]

Continue Reading

Ethics Education: Part II

In my last blog entry, I discussed Melissa Korn’s recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Does an ‘A’ in Ethics Have Any Value?”  I argued that business schools should teach ethics because, first, schools should teach what they think is important.  Second, I argued that B-schools should train those students who do wish to act […]

Continue Reading

Ethics Education: Part I

The title of a recent Wall Street Journal article asked:  “Does an ‘A” in Ethics Have Any Value?”  The article discussed in modest detail several issues relevant to modern business ethics education:  Should ethics be taught?  Can ethics be taught?  If the answer to those questions is ‘yes,’ should it be taught through a stand-alone […]

Continue Reading

Is S&P the next Enron?

In a recent New York Times column, Floyd Norris noted in detail the obvious similarities between the downfall of Arthur Andersen during the Enron debacle and the recent troubles of Standard & Poor’s and other credit rating agencies (CRAs). Arthur Andersen was in an inherent conflict-of-interest situation.  Like all auditors, it was paid by its […]

Continue Reading

Revenge Porn Sites

In teaching ethics in a business school, I typically focus upon decision making errors that well-intentioned people make.  I do so because I believe that most of my students do have good intentions, as do most people in business.  They want to have careers that they can be proud of. But even people of good […]

Continue Reading

Ethics in Politics

The inability of Congress and the President to work together to avoid the “fiscal cliff” until well after their failure to do so had caused real damage to the American economy highlights a deeply troubling problem in the U.S. democratic system.  It is tempting to put all the blame on politicians for America’s bitter ideological […]

Continue Reading

Conscious Capitalism

Most of my blogs have addressed individual ethical decision making with particular attention paid to behavioral ethics.  This is natural, because Ethics Unwrapped’s initial videos have largely concerned these new concepts. However, the ethical decision making and actions of business entities are also very important.  In most business ethics courses, the topic of corporate social […]

Continue Reading

Back to the Movies—Les Miz

In my previous Ethics Unwrapped blog post, I noted that in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln,” President Lincoln is portrayed as have taken a utilitarian ends-justify-the-means approach to securing passage of the Thirteen Amendment in order to end slavery.  Rather than follow a deontological, rule-based “thou shalt not lie” approach, Lincoln is willing to tolerate lying […]

Continue Reading

Lincoln the Movie

There are two primary means of resolving ethical dilemmas.  The deontological approach is rules-based–don’t lie, don’t steal, keep your promises, etc.  Then there’s the teleological or utilitarian approach, which judges the morality of competing approaches by their consequences (“greatest good for the greatest number”). Both approaches are respectable.  They often lead to the same conclusion […]

Continue Reading

How Will You Choose?

When Lance Armstrong realized that nearly every winning cyclist in major cycling was doping and that he would have to start doping to beat them, he started doping. When Mark McGuire realized that scores of top home run hitters in the major leagues were doping and that he would have to dope to stay among […]

Continue Reading

David Petraeus’s Leadership Lessons

At this writing, several military figures are very much in the news in ways that they regret, including former CIA Director David Petraeus, General John Allen, Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, and General William Ward.  The first three are caught up in sex scandals; General Ward’s problem was being more than a little loose with taxpayer […]

Continue Reading

Welcome to our blog…

Welcome to the first blog post on the Ethics Unwrapped website. We at the McCombs School of Business hope the videos that we have posted and will post in the future on this website will be a valuable (and FREE!!!!!!!!) resource for all people wishing to teach ethics or to learn about ethics on their […]

Continue Reading