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12 J.L. & Com. 1 (1992-1993)
The Ethics of Rent-Seeking: A New Perspective on Corporate Social Responsibility

handle is hein.journals/jlac12 and id is 7 raw text is: ARTICLES
Michael E. DeBow*
Much ink has been spilled on the subjects of business ethics and
corporate social responsibility.1 Remarkably, however, the question that
will concern us here has received almost no attention. It is this: Is it
ethical for a business-or an industry, or a union, or other private
group--to seek the aid of government, with its formidable coercive
powers, in order to benefit itself at the expense of the public at large?
This question is rooted in the increasingly accepted dictum that
interest groups with political clout use the political process effectively
to increase their incomes.' Clearly, much interest group political ac-
tivity is devoted to the pursuit of governmentally-supplied advantages.
* Associate Professor of Law, Cumberland School of Law, Samford University. B.A. 1976,
M.A. 1978, University of Alabama; J.D. 1980, Yale University.
Thanks to Scott Arnold, Don Boudreaux, Sherry Ingram, Dwight Lee, William Niskanen, Lee
Preston, and Tom Stone for helpful comments. Lee Winston, of the Cumberland Law School class of
1991, contributed valuable research assistance and feedback on earlier drafts. The usual caveat
1. Useful introductions to these areas include David Vogel, Business Ethics Past and Present,
PUB. INTEREST, Winter 1991, at 49; Christopher D. Stone, Corporate Social Responsibility: What it
Might Mean. If it Were Really to Matter, 71 IowA L. REV. 557 (1986); Jerry L. Mashaw, Corpo-
rate Social Responsibility: Comments on the Legal and Economic Context of a Continuing Debate,
3 YALE L. & POL'Y REV. 114 (1984); Peter F. Drucker, What Is Business Ethics?, PUB. INTER-
EST, Spring 1981, at 18; David Engel, An Approach to Corporate Social Responsibility, 32. STAN. L.
REV. 1 (1979). For surveys of the broader field of which business ethics and corporate social respon-
sibility are constituent parts, see Earl F. Cheit, Coming of Middle Age in Business and Society,
CALIF. MGMT. REV., Winter 1991, at 71, and Lee E. Preston, Business and Public Policy, 12 J.
MGMT. 261 (1986).
contributions to the literature supporting this proposition include MANCUR OLSON. JR.. THE LOGIC
OF COLLECTIVE ACTION (1965); Gordon Tullock, The Welfare Costs of Tariffs, Monopolies, and
Theft, 5 W. ECON. J. 224 (1967); and George J. Stigler, The Theory of Economic Regulation, 2
BELL J. ECON. & MGMT, SCI. 3 (1971).

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