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Financial Ethics research group
Financial Ethics research group
Photo: Monica Havström
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Financial Ethics Research Group

Research group
Pågående forskning
Project size
21,000,000
Project period
2016 - 2022
Project owner
Department of Philosohy, Linguistics and Theory of Science

Financier
University of Gothenburg; the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation; the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation; the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra)

Short description

The Financial Ethics Research Group is a group of philosophers and economists dedicated to ethical and political issues raised by the financial system.

There is now a growing consensus that financial agents and markets are failing to live up to their social responsibilities. The global financial crisis demonstrated how misaligned incentives and poor regulations impose extreme risks on both the financial system itself and society at large. But a more general problem is the seeming inability of financial markets to address the great sustainability challenges of our times, such as global poverty and the threat of climate change.

The group does research on ethical alternatives which can bolster more responsible and sustainable financial behaviour. We also engage with key stakeholders to have a direct impact on financial practices.

Members of our group

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Financial Ethics research group
Photo: Monica Havström

Joakim Sandberg

Joakim Sandberg is Director of the Financial Ethics group and Professor of Practical Philosophy at University of Gothenburg. He is also Professor of Economics and Finance from a Humanist Perspective at University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Joakim was selected as Wallenberg Academy Fellow by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 2014.

Joakim holds an MBA in business and economics (2003) and a Ph.D. in philosophy (2008). He does research in the intersections between moral and political philosophy and studies in business and economics. Much of his recent work has focused on how to get financial institutions such as banks and pension funds to take a stronger responsibility for the societal and environmental effects of their activities. Joakim has led, or participated in, research projects on sustainable investment, institutional investment and fiduciary duty, consumers’ attitudes towards responsible finance, micro-finance and the philosophy of responsible finance.

Adrian Walsh

Adrian Walsh is Guest Professor in the Financial Ethics group and Professor of Philosophy at the University of New England. He is a political philosopher who has written extensively on a wide variety of normative issues concerning markets and economic theory. He also works on questions of philosophical methodology and, in particular, on the use of thought experiments in ethical and political theory. He has published four books including The Morality of Money (2008) and Ethics, Money and Sport (2007). Most recently he was a co-editor of the collection entitled The Ethical Underpinnings of Climate Economics (2016). He is currently working on a project on the ethics and politics of austerity. He also works on historical and normative issues regarding the practice of lending money at interest. Personal web page

Louis Larue

Louis Larue is a post-doctoral researcher in financial ethics at the University of Gothenburg, and an invited lecturer at UCLouvain and Université St-Louis (Belgium). He holds a Double Master Degree in economics from Università Bocconi (Italy) and UCLouvain (Belgium), as well as a PhD in economics and philosophy at UCLouvain. His research centres on issues of justice in finance and money, and on several topics in the philosophy of economics. His most recent publcations focus on Bitcoin and digital currencies. 

Richard Endörfer

Richard Endörfer is a Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Philosophy at University of Gothenburg under supervision of Joakim Sandberg. His research focuses on theories of just distribution of Systemic Financial Risk. Richard holds a BA degree in Cultural Sciences (University of Saarbruecken) and a MA degree in Philosophy and Economics (University of Bayreuth). 

Alexander Andersson

Alexander Andersson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Philosophy at the University of Gothenburg under supervision of Joakim Sandberg. The central topic of his dissertation regards the possibilities of having a just pay theory based upon the concept of desert. Ultimately, his research will focus on the justification of the current bonus culture within the financial sector and examine what kind of regulations that are reasonable to pursue. Alexander holds an M.A. in Practical Philosophy and an M.A. in Theoretical Philosophy.

Nina van Heeswijk

Nina van Heeswijk is a Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Philosophy at University of Gothenburg. Her research focuses on theories of global distributive justice and consumer ethics. Nina currently works on a dissertation called “Global Justice, Special Relations and the Global Economy: The Moral Duties of Individual Consumers”. Nina holds an MA in Philosophy (Utrecht University).

Previous members

David Rönnegard was a research fellow in financial ethics at University of Gothenburg 2017-2018. His current research is focused on the responsibilities of shareholders as part of a sustainable financial system. David is an economist (M.Sc. Stockholm School of Economics) and philosopher (Ph.D. London School of Economics) specialized on corporate social responsibility (CSR), with a particular emphasis on political, moral, and strategic justifications for CSR.

Clément Fontan was a post-doctoral researcher in financial ethics at University of Gothenburg 2017-2018. His research focuses on central banking and the crisis of financialized capitalism. Clément holds a PhD in Political Science from Sciences Po Grenoble and his dissertation dealt with how the European Central Bank extended its political influence during the Eurozone crisis. During his post-docs at Montreal University and the CNRS, he also studied how central banks contributed to inequality. He has published in preeminent academic journals in French and English and he is working on a monograph for Polity Press entitled "Do Central Banks serve the people?".

Gunnar Sigvaldasson was a PhD Candidate at University of Iceland and participant in the research project “The Reality of Money”, led by Dr. Eyja Margrét Brynjarsdóttir and funded by Rannís - The Icelandic Centre for Research. The main focus of his research are markets, commodification and the way in which our concepts of human nature influence how we view markets. His background is mainly in normative ethics and political theory although he is interested in various aspects of both philosophy and politics.

Consulting in Financial Ethics

The Financial Ethics group works closely with key stakeholders to have a direct impact on financial practices. Our research expertise has bearings on the ambitions and work of financial practitioners, policy makers and regulators, non-governmental organizations, as well as consumer groups.

Please contact us to talk more about how we can work together!

Research in Financial Ethics

The Financial Ethics group addresses a range of ethical and political issues raised by the financial system. Many of these issues are interesting and important in their own right. But they are also fruitfully researched together in a collaborative environment.

The social role of finance

There is currently a growing consensus that the financial system falls short of fulfilling its social purpose. This not only poses a practical challenge for the world’s leaders, but also a theoretical challenge for researchers: to rethink the role of finance in society. According to the dominant theory, rooted in neoclassical economics, financial agents should always adopt the practices which maximize the value of the firm. The Financial Ethics group is developing an alternative theory of the social role of finance, which can bolster more responsible and sustainable financial behaviour.

Systemic financial risk

The global financial crisis wreaked havoc on many societies, causing a lot of people to lose their savings and/or their jobs. As the financial markets now are regaining strength, we need to make sure that we minimize the risk that such a thing happens again. This is partly a technical issue which involves understanding how systemic risks are created, transmitted and mitigated. But it is also an ethical issue about who should bear the responsibility for both mitigation and compensation in the event of future crises.

Executive compensation

The financial crisis is sometimes blamed on the greed and “bonus culture” of financial executives. While corporate directors and CEOs received tremendous pay packages, the average blue-collar workers got their pays cut or lost their jobs. But what would a more equitable principle of pay look like? We draw from philosophical theories of justice and desert to explore new ways of thinking about pay packages and wage allocation. These are then applied to evaluate contemporary suggestions about, for example, pay ceilings in executive compensation. This project is a collaboration with Mistra Financial Systems.

Usury and just price

Medieval philosophers were very critical of the moral standing of commercial activity, especially of moneylending and usury. The lending of money was thought to be unproductive in society and to essentially prey on the weak. There is currently a revival of some of these ideas, for example in the “social banking” movement and Islamic finance. We explore modern interpretations of the medieval arguments to evaluate some of these movements and put them in a greater perspective.

Microfinance and global justice

Microfinance is the extension of loans to poor or low-income clients, often in developing countries such as India or Bangladesh. This is often held up as ethically progressive and a good way to help people escape from poverty. However, in recent years the microfinance industry has also been the target of much moral criticism. Is it really morally acceptable to charge high interest rates on loans to the poor? And what do we really know about the impact of microfinance? The Financial Ethics group is joining forces with CERMi in Brussels to address these moral criticisms.

Central banking and money creation

Central banks have been under heavy pressure and scrutiny since the financial crisis. Some of their recent policies raise concerns about the democratic mandate and political direction of central banks. Have they been too focused on saving financial markets to the detriment of less wealthy citizens? Have they facilitated a “mountain of debt” that puts us all at risk for a future crash? We investigate these issues as well as the possible alternatives. Can the solution lie in a better controlled virtual currency or so-called positive money?

Commodification

They say that “money rules the world”. But can, and should, everything have a price in money? It is often thought that there are certain goods – human organs, slave labor – that cannot morally be traded on a market. We explore the moral reasoning of such arguments against commodification. It is no easy matter to break up old ideological debates, but we suggest that it is important that sound and curious judgement is brought to bear on these issues. In the end it is a delicate matter to determine the suitability of markets and market thinking for various goods. This project is a collaboration with The Reality of Money.

Responsibilities of shareholders

In a capitalist economy, much power rests with the owners of capital – the investors and large shareholders. But in contemporary society we are all shareholders through our stake in the large financial institutions: pension funds, insurance companies and other financial trusts. Do we then have a responsibility to become active owners and engage with the companies we own? For example, should there be an obligation for all shareholders to attend and vote at the annual general meeting of large public corporations? This project is a collaboration with Mistra Financial Systems.

Responsibilities of consumers

If we are not shareholders, then we are at least consumers of corporate goods. The modern market and financial flows create a direct connection between the individual consumer and the great sustainability challenges of our times, such as global poverty and the threat of climate change. Is it morally wrong of us to buy goods produced in sweatshops or through environmentally hazardous production processes? If so, what must we do to compensate for our global guilt?

Financial Ethics in the Media

Here are links to recent media appearances by our researchers:

Påverka med dina pengar, interview in Vasakronan

Därför funkar det inte att välja bort, video interview in #Sparpodden

Placeras guide till hållbart sparande, interview on Placera.nu

Statliga pensionspengar investeras i olja och gas – i strid med klimatmålen, interview in Göteborgs-Posten

Ny veganfond introduceras på New York-börsen, interview in Studio Ett

Kan man förändra en osund bankkultur?, interview in Godmorgon världen

Därför är din hjärna den hetaste ekonomitrenden, interview in Finansliv

Inkompetent formand skal finde kompetent Danske Bank-CEO, interview in Økonomisk Ugebrev

Är det oetiskt att investera i cannabis?, video interview by Dagens industri

Nytt tänk kan göra finansmarknaden mer hållbar, interview on forskning.se

Talks to public or private audiences

 

• Joakim Sandberg talked about sustainable financial theory at the conference “Hållbara Finanser” organized by Aktuell Hållbarhet, Fond & Bank and Veckans Affärer, January 2017.

• Joakim Sandberg talked about ecolabelling of financial products at the conference “Sustainable consumption – how do we do it?” organized by Stockholm School of Economics, January 2017.