Economics and ethics at the forefront

Few are more poised to speak about economics and ethics and how they relate to each other than economist and philosopher Rodrigue Tremblay, an emeritus professor of economics and finance at the University of Montreal and a part time resident of Marco Island with his wife Carole. Dr. Tremblay is the author of thirty nonfiction books, including a basic textbook in Economics, and the 2010’s The Code for Global Ethics (Prometheus Books), and he writes an international blog about geopolitics on the Internet ( that is posted in ten languages.

Now that he is semi-retired, Dr. Tremblay feels that he has more time to devote to big issues. He is particularly worried that our current economic and financial problems are as much moral as technical in nature. “Why do political leaders seem to be lying most of the time? Why is uncontrolled greed so prevalent in corporate boardrooms? … Why does materialism seem to trump everything else? Why do we have the uneasy feeling that our society is going in the wrong direction? The very fact that we have to raise such questions may be a sign of the times,” Dr. Tremblay wrote in a recent blog entitled “The Moral Dimension of Things”. “Historically”, he says, “it can be shown that when the moral environment in a society is deteriorating, problems tend to pile up.”

Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay and his wife. Photo by John Patterson

Tremblay thinks that we are presently living in one of those times, characterized by deep and entrenched political corruption, by routine abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law in high places, and by unchecked greed, fraud and deception in the economic sphere. The results are all there to see: Severe and prolonged economic and financial crises, rising social inequalities and social injustice, increasing intolerance toward individual choices, the disregard for environmental decay, the rise of religious absolutism, a return to whimsical wars of aggression (or of pre-emptive wars), to blind terrorism, and to the repugnant use of torture, and even to genocide and to blatant war crimes. These are all indicators that our civilization has lost its moral compass.

And devising such a moral compass is the central object of his most recent book, The Code for Global Ethics. In it, Dr. Tremblay postulates that many of our problems and threats are not only severe but they have also become global in nature. He also thinks that our scientific and technological progress is advancing faster than our moral progress, with the consequence that problems seem to arise faster than our moral ability to face them and solve them. Dr. Tremblay doesn’t hesitate to place part of the blame on old religion-based rules of morality, essentially because they have not incorporated new scientific knowledge discovered over the last four centuries.

Indeed, Dr. Tremblay stresses three facts that have changed forever our worldview and humans’ vision of themselves in the Universe. They are:

• Galileo’s proof, in 1632, that the Earth and humans were not the center of the Universe.

• Darwin’s discovery, in 1859, (“On the Origin of Species”) that humans are the outcome of a very long natural biological evolution.

• And, the Watson-Crick-Wilkins-Franklin’s discovery, in 1953, of the structure of the double helix DNA molecule in human cells, and the devastating knowledge that humans share more than 98 percent of the same genes with chimpanzees.

These discoveries have tremendous consequences for our moral stance and for the pursuit of a global civilization.

Asked what a more universal civilization would look like, Dr. Tremblay answers the following:

“First and foremost, the scope of human empathy would be more universal and more comprehensive, and would not merely apply to some chosen people, to members of a particular religion or to persons belonging to a particular civilization. In practice, this would require that we establish a higher threshold of human morality, beyond the traditional norm of the Golden Rule (“Treat others as you would have others treat you.”) It would require that we adopt what I call a Super Golden Rule of humanist morality that incorporates the humanist rule of empathy: “Not only do to others as you would have them do to you, but also, do to others what you would wish to be done to you, if you were in their place.” — Of course, the corollary also follows: “Don’t do to others what you would not like to be done to you, if you were in their place.”

Dr. Tremblay does not believe that we currently live in such a global civilization. “My best hope, he says, “is that we will avoid falling back into an age of obscurantism and of decadence, and that we will be able to build a truly humanist civilization for the future.”

To meet the basic criterion for such a future global civilization, Dr. Tremblay establishes ten fundamental principles in The Code for Global Ethics.

Sunshine Booksellers on 677 South Collier Blvd. in Marco Island will host a book signing session for Dr. Tremblay’s The Code for Global Ethics, on Tuesday, December 7, from Noon to 2:00 pm. For more information, call 393-0353 or 389-1688.

For further reference, see “The Code for GLOBAL ETHICS, Ten Humanist Principles”, [ISBN: 978-1616141721], by Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay, prefaced by Dr. Paul Kurtz and published this year by Prometheus Books in the United States.

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