The Conflict of Morality and Egoism, in Daily Life and Business
The most basic distinction to make between morality and egoism is that morality demands that, at some times, you are obligated to do what is not in your self interest to do. If morality never made these demands, then it would not be anything additional to the doctrine of ethical egoism (always do what is in your self interest to do).
In daily life, people are generally expected to act within moral constraints. Most people would claim that it would be wrong for me to kill an innocent stranger, even if it was in my self interest to do so.
One variable in these types of cases is the law, which is basically an instrument to make moral constrains more self interested. So, when considering whether or not to kill someone for their money, the threat of lifetime imprisonment or death may make not killing in my self interest. However, the key in these cases: is there any constraint on me not to kill the person if I could get away with it? Morality would say yes, there is a genuine constraint on my actions that obligates me not to kill the person even if I could get away with it.
There are also other ways that morality can stretch beyond legality. There are plenty of things that people would consider immoral, but are not illegal. Cheating on your significant other, for example, is considered immoral even though is not illegal (though it is actually illegal to cheat on your spouse in some states).
Where I’m going with this: it seems that the rules of morality in daily life used to be, but no longer are, applied to businesses. As in daily life, there are certain things that are made illegal in order to get socially harmful actions to be contrary to self interest. If a business violates these laws, then the legal punishments are meant to be severe enough so that the action is not self-interested in the future (though I am skeptical that this ever happens).
Outside of illegal actions, however, businesses have become completely egoistic. The profit margin is an easy to understand marker of self-interest, comparable to utility as a marker of self-interest of an individual. It is the self-interested thing to do for businesses to maximize profit.
Nowadays, businesses are encouraged to maximize profit. Companies like Bain Capital were very, very good at maximizing profit for their shareholders. In egoistic terms, Bain Capital was incredibly successful.
The problem is that we have now come to accept that businesses will act entirely egoistically, regardless of the public interest. When thinking about individuals, we expect people to constrain their actions and to only pursue their own self interest when it does not conflict with the greater good to some extent. In effect, we expect individuals to behave morally. However, we no longer expect businesses to do the same. We no longer expect businesses to pass up a profit for the greater good. It no longer matters what effects businesses have on their employees, if they make a profit, they are praised and successful.
Though I am no expert on it, America used to have a concept called the “National Interest”. When a company made a decision, they were expected to take its effect on the national interest (social, political, economic factors) when deciding what to do. Companies were demonized if they did not do so, as they were expected to behave in a “moral” way.
The fundamental problem: either businesses need to be expected to consider the national interest in their decisions, or we need to stop asking individuals to consider the public interest in their decisions. Philosophers like Nietzsche argued that morality was a lie taught by the Jews/Christians/Powerful/etc. to keep the people in a herd-like mentality. Basically, individuals were simply sheep that were being fooled into giving up self interest for the sake of the herd. They were being tricked into thinking that what is good for the herd is good for them. Critics of Nietzsche, such as myself, reject his, and all other forms, of ethical egoism. People who believe in morality do not think it is foolish for people to care about the public interest, and further believe that individuals justly have obligations to not harm others and help them in certain cases. However, if the argument to apply the public interest onto the individual is successful, then it would similarly be successful on individual businesses.
Where we are left at: either we give up morality entirely (and stop pretending it has any real obligatory force), or we apply it to businesses as well as individuals. We can’t consistently maintain this obvious contradiction, pretending that morality exists for individuals but not for profit driven businesses. So long as we do, people really are just sheep, sacrificing for the public good when the truly powerful do not. But, as I will likely spend my life arguing, there is a way to justify morality, and we need to apply it to businesses.