POLSC401: Ethics and Public Policy


In this unit, you will begin your study of ethics in politics and governance. Ethics are rules that guide the decision-making process. They are rooted in religion, morality, law, education, experience, and human strengths and weaknesses. You will examine several definitions of "ethics” and learn how the "ethics” of our leaders have evolved over time. For instance, the Founding Fathers of the United States are often portrayed as highly moral men—yet, most of them were slave owners. What may have been considered ethical in previous decades is no longer considered ethical due to evolving cultural norms and societal mores. In the United States, federal and state government employees are subjected to formal ethical codes that seek to avoid or mitigate damage to the public caused by political activities, lobbying, conflicts of interest, bribery, graft, spoils, and nepotism. Both the executive and legislative branches of government have agencies or officials charged with investigating allegations of breaches of ethical codes by employees or other officials. Punishment for such violations is often tinged with political overtones. Officials may be censured or impeached. Employees may receive disciplinary action ranging from counseling to termination. Ethics in international affairs are quite complicated. The stated desire by a leader to "do the right thing” may be trumped by national security concerns or lack of resources. As with many things in today’s world, economic and social injustice abroad can impact our national security—one needs only to look to Afghanistan and the role its disintegration into a failed state played in the events of 9/11 to see this.