Financial systems embody ethics. They rely on, and reproduce, judgements about value; patterns of responsibility and obligation; practices that are required, recommended, discouraged or proscribed; images of human success or failure. Shifts in financial systems and practices are accompanied by shifts in ethics – both by the emergence of new questions and controversies, and by shifts in the wider ‘ethos’ around finance. Rather than being treated as a marginal or supplementary consideration in finance – for example, when “ethical issues” sit among many factors to be looked at in financial decision-making – ethics can help us to understand finance as a whole. It can raise critical and constructive questions about the ethics of financial systems and how they shape, and are shaped by, a wider context of everyday ethical reasoning and judgement.
What is accorded value in and through a financial system? What debates about value, responsibility and obligation does a financial system bring to the foreground, and which does it conceal? What might a purposeful financial system designed to deliver more ethical outcomes look like, and who decided which outcomes count as ‘ethical’?