Government and business are organized entities. The very act by which they are created is likely to create power asymmetry between the ‘creation’ and ‘creators’. There are abundant instances to show how consumers have suffered on account business’s misdemeanor (unsafe products, misleading ads, price discrimination). Even in democratic systems, power transforms politicians in to lords and citizens become subjects, denied of their genuine rights.
Both business and government are formed for their role. They assume positions of decision makers. In an ideal situation, their rationality must stem from their instrumentality. Government exists for citizens and business satisfied customers. But this often does not happen. Firms produce dangerous products and make money or government passes an ordinance that favors criminal politicians. These decisions lead to uproar and protests ‘outside’ but insiders justify their acts. Failure to do the ‘right’ thing does not vanish without effects. Disrobing of Draupadi led to war called Mahabharata. It invites reaction.
Consumers have a long history of protests against corporations starting with Ralph Nadar who penned a book titiled ‘Unsafe at any speed’ to expose car makers of Detroit and Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’ exposing damage to environment. The oppressive governments are challenged by peaceful or violent citizen movements including Indian freedom struggle, civil rights in the US, and French revolution.
The sudden ‘U’ turn by Mr Rahul Gandhi is appreciable, after all everybody is entitled to revisit a decision, question his or her ethics. But what has transpired between the passage of the ordinance and the press conference that a decision earlier constructed to be ‘right’ has become ‘wrong’. If it is political calculus, this is not going to go too far. But if it is an act coming of enlightenment, then Rahul Gandhi in new avatar is welcome.
All acts require code or standards or normative framework to judge their ‘rightness’. Some politicians including Anil Shastri and Jay Panda expressed rejection while others supported it either silently or with voice. This demonstrates how different people ‘look at’ things by applying different norms/standards and arrive at moral judgment. There are two broad categories of theories of ethics: deontological and teleological.
Deontological theories focus on principles that guide behaviors. Kant talks of ‘universal imperative’ which means actions do not count rather the principles that govern those. What is right for one should be right for all. Actions must be judged on the basis of their inherent ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ (intrinsic good or bad) regardless of its consequences. The teleological theories are also called ‘consequentialists’, the morality of an action depends on its consequences. Accordingly acts do not have intrinsic value rather they must be judged on the basis of their outcomes. Utilitarianism (Bentham) employs criteria of the greatest good for the greatest number. Ethical egoism proposes maximization of your own interest-how beneficial an action is to an individual. Within ethical egoism is a theory of ‘enlightened self- interest’, that self- interest should be viewed from long term perspective.
Rahul Gandhi’s recommendation that the Ordinance should be torn and thrown away raises interesting questions:
Is he doing it because it is ‘intrinsically’ good?
Is he doing it because it is going to bring ‘the greatest good to the greatest number?’
Is he doing it because it is in his ‘own interest’ (most favorable consequence for himself)?
Is he doing it because he is considering the ‘long term effect on his decision on all others’ (society)?