Discuss how regular employees of certain large corporations (such as Enron or Goldman Sachs, etc.) could ignore or support highly unethical and/or illegal financial activities, devised by their company’s leadership, resulting in a massive negative economic impact on a large portion of the population, with reference to the Milgram experiment as a resource.
There are many reasons why employees of Enron or other such companies might have supported or tolerated the unethical practices. Milgram’s experiment does shed light on one of these reasons, but it cannot explain all of them.
Milgram’s experiment tells us that people are willing to do things that do not seem moral if they are told to do those things by legitimate authority. If Milgram’s subjects were willing to inflict pain on innocent people, we should not be surprised that Enron employees were willing to engage in unethical behavior that did not have any immediate impact on anyone.
However, we should not assume that these companies’ employees saw the actions as unethical. They might have felt that the laws that prohibited the actions were bad laws that should not have been obeyed. They might have felt that they and their bosses had a better grip on what was good business than members of Congress had.
Finally, we should note that the employees might not have believed that their actions had any victims. They did not know that their actions would have devastating consequences for their companies, for investors, and even for the nation’s economy.
Thus, the employees might have been partially motivated by the desire to please authority (as in Milgram’s experiment), but there may well have been other factors involved.