This special issue of Business Ethics Quarterly on ethics in finance was planned before the high profile scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Tyco, and Arthur Andersen, among other firms. Although these unfortunate events make this special issue especially timely, the subject matter of finance ethics has long been in need of scholarly attention. It is ironic that business ethics as an academic field owes its existence in part to the insider trading and junk bond scandals of the 1980s, and yet business ethics scholars have devoted comparatively little attention to financial topics. Now that another wave of ethical failures in finance is upon us, it is appropriate to present this collection of the best work on finance ethics.
From a theoretical point of view, finance is a unique field for ethical exploration. The central activity of finance is financial contracting, in which parties make agreements with regard to the assets that they control. An individual who rents a home, leases a car, buys an insurance policy, invests in a mutual fund, or saves for retirement is entering into a contract with someone who promises something in return. In making these contracts, individuals are assumed by finance theorists to be entirely self-interested and opportunistic, which is to say that they will renege on their promises if they can do so safely. The response of rational contractors, therefore, is to build in safeguards to ensure compliance with the agreements made.