Seeking Adam Smith: How a Lack of Ethics Made this Mess

    Is the business world an ethics-free zone?

    Seeking Adam Smith
    Cover detail from Seeking Adam Smith. ("The Ancient of Days", by William Blake)

    Seeking Adam Smith by Eli P Cox III provides a fascinating insider’s explanation for why business school faculty members, including the author, bear some responsibility for the highly destructive corporate practices evident throughout the first sixteen years of the 21st century.

    Since the Great Recession substantial resources and effort have been expended to incorporate ethics and corporate social responsibility into business curricula. The effectiveness of these efforts has been limited because they have little impact on the technical and core business courses serving as the gateway to the highest paying jobs. Students and practitioners may be led to conclude falsely that the business world is an ethics-free zone.

    Seeking Adam Smith demonstrates that greed is highly destructive motive for conducting business and the notion that greed is good is nowhere to be found in the Wealth of Nations despite claims by some of the world’s leading economists. Cox offers alternative economic perspectives that are more realistic and less prone to misuse than those permeating the current business curricula.

    The notion that greed is good is nowhere to be found in the Wealth of Nations, despite claims by some of the world’s leading economists

    Seeking Adam Smith also contains a forward written by Thomas J. Ward who served as Senior Managing Partner of Bear Stearns during its demise and an afterward by Sherron Watkins, Enron whistle-blower and Time Person of the Year 2002.

    About the Author

    Eli P Cox III retired in August 2016 as the La Quinta Motor Inns Centennial Professor in Business, Department of Marketing, McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin. Professor Cox received his BA (1965) and MBA (1966) from Michigan State University and his DBA (1973) from Indiana University. He taught at Central Michigan University from 1966 to 1968 and had been with the University of Texas since 1971. He served as Director of the Executive MBA Program from 1982 to 1985 and Marketing Department Chairman from 1985 to 1989. He also served as the Director of the Business Honors Program from 1995 to 2010 and a second term as Marketing Department Chairman from 2006 to 2010.

    Cox’s primary research interests were in marketing strategy, the design of product warnings, and quality management. He authored Marketing Research: Information for Decision Making (Harper & Row, 1979) and Evaluating Complex Business Reports: A Guide for Executives (Dow Jones/Irwin, 1984), and he edited a collection of readings on research methodology. His research appears in journals such as the Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Public Opinion Quarterly, Journal of Business, Journal of Product Liability, and Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.


    “Cox’s Seeking Adam Smith provides a penetrating picture of how traditional economists were ill-informed and limited in their portrayal of the ideas of Adam Smith. He goes on to argue that their confusion resulted in substantial harm to our ethics and our economy. No one should reference Adam Smith without first actually reading the work of Adam Smith and also reading Cox’s fascinating historical perspective.”

    Max H Bazerman
    Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
    and Co-Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School


    “This is an important book. I hope it will be not only widely read but also seriously used to guide business schools toward a deeper thoughtfulness about the economic models that drive so much of what they do. The book’s scholarship and careful reasoning make it believable, its grounding in the wisdom of practice makes it usable, and its charm and honesty make it enjoyable.”

    Anne Colby
    Consulting Professor, Stanford University
    Author of
    Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education


    Seeking Adam Smith, by Professor Eli Peace Cox III, is both a gripping and a surprising book. It addresses a crucial issue. Free markets are so beneficial and yet can be so harmful to society, as we experience their gyrations time and again. How should freedom be practiced and yet, to some extent, constrained? Professor Cox leads us through the path of understanding these conflicting aims and views. He presents them by stories — real events — yet leads to theory and contemplation. A reader may agree or disagree with Professor Cox, but cannot put this book down.”

    Tamar Frankel
    Professor of Law, Boston University
    Author of
    Fiduciary Law and Trust and Honesty: America’s Business Culture at a Crossroad


    “It is time for business schools and companies to get more serious about teaching the importance of character and ethics, not just profits. Adam Smith would have expected nothing less. We will all benefit immeasurably in the long run. Professor Cox’s book is a thoughtful, manageable read on this important subject and well worth the reader’s time. Let’s start educating and graduating professional men and women from our business schools and executive programs who get what Adam Smith was really all about. It is imperative that we listen and learn from this book. The book should be required reading for every first year MBA or undergraduate student.”

    Thomas J Ward
    Former Senior Managing Partner, Bear Stearns
    Excerpt from the Foreword of
    Seeking Adam Smith


    Seeking Adam Smith is not an anticapitalism book. Eli Cox is clearly a champion of business who not only explains how our business schools and fast-paced new economies ending up producing too many pirates and swindlers and not enough sailors and business promoters, but also offers lessons learned and a pathway back toward valuing those goals in life which truly produce contentment for the individual and betterment for society.”

    Sherron Watkins, Enron whistle-blower
    Time Person of the Year 2002
    Excerpt from Afterword of
    Seeking Adam Smith


    “A needed and overdue corrective, this book should be essential reading for business and economics scholars and for anyone interested in these subjects.”

    Kirkus Reviews


    • Introduction
    • Preparing for the Journey
    • Why were Business Schools Established?
    • How has Economics Influenced Business?
    • What is the Shadow Curriculum of Business?
    • Is Homo Economicus Contagious?
    • What if the Twin Pillars Prevailed?
    • Why has Radical Individualism been Promoted?
    • Would Smith Agree with the Twin Pillars?
    • What are Alternative Views in Economics?
    • What Lessons Can be Learned?

    Readership: This book is for anyone interested in business ethics, corporate social responsibility and in making corporate America better by educating a new generation of “responsible” executives. Saving Adam Smith should also serve as an excellent textbook for business, economics, sociology, or public policy courses.

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