Academics and Research / News

Three Questions: George DeMartino on the World Economic Forum

“The economics profession has to face up to the fact that it has an ethical duty to begin to train economists and to begin to have a conversation about what it means to be an ethical economist,” says Professor George DeMartino. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

George DeMartino, professor of international economics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, has been invited to speak at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. Author of The Economist’s Oath: On the Need for and Content of Professional Economic Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2011), DeMartino serves on the WEF’s Global Agenda Council, which helps to set the agenda for the annual meeting. This year’s meeting runs Jan. 25–29.

Q: Who participates in Davos, and what does the World Economic Forum hope to accomplish with these annual meetings?

A: The World Economic Forum is an independent organization that brings together leaders from government, the private sector and nongovernmental organizations, along with academics, artists and others, in order to examine some of the most pressing issues facing the world. The annual meetings, held in Davos each year, are intended to promote this agenda and draw international attention to global challenges and possible solutions. Over five days the forum features panel discussions, “ideas labs,” interactive sessions, workshops and debates. All are designed to sharpen thinking about how best to intervene in order to respond to our most urgent problems. This year’s theme is “The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models.”


Q: What topics will you be discussing at the WEF?

A: I’ll be presenting on a panel on “The Values Context.” This relates to my recent work on professional economic ethics and to my work with the WEF Global Agenda Council on “Values in Decision Making.” I’ll also attend many other sessions that engage values and ethics.

Q: What do you hope your audience will take away from your presentation?

A: Any serious talk of a “great transformation” must engage the matter of the degree to which wrong-headed values contributed to the current international economic crisis. Unfortunately, my profession is largely to blame. Since at least the 1970s, economists have been preaching the unqualified virtues of self-interest. In business schools in particular, economists have taught that the duty of business leaders is just to maximize profits for shareholders and that they are justified in securing extraordinarily high salaries. We’ve taught that they needn’t concern themselves with any broader social obligations. That teaching has proven to be disastrous. Economic self-interest has got to give way to other values that give full weight to human development, equality, community and sustainability. Without a value transformation in the economic arena, we are not apt to resolve our most pressing economic and political problems.

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