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Is it really a contradiction? Ethicist Nils Ole Oermann on econmoics and health during the pandemic

2020-05-19 Closed shops, short-time work on the one hand, bed capacity and risk of infection on the other: Can a socially responsible compromise be achieved? Interview with business ethicist Prof. Dr. Dr. Nils Ole Oermann.

Further Information

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Dr. Nils Ole Oermann has been teaching ethics with a focus on business ethics as Director of the Institute for Ethics and Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research at Leuphana since 2009 and at the University of Oxford. Prior to this, he was Personal Advisor to the President of Germany and a long-standing advisor at the Federal Ministry of Finance. The most recent publication by him and Hans-Jürgen Wolff was „Wirtschaftskriege“ (Herder: 2019).

Imagine that you have a small shop, for example an alternative café. You opened it a while ago and it's doing well, you can barely make a living. Then quarantine comes and your shop goes bankrupt. Now you are unemployed and in debt. Is that fair?
Counterquestion: You are a resident of a coastal area, and during the hurricane season you become homeless and the government places you in a gym. Is that fair?
Touché. Let me try it the other way around: People die in the pandemic. No matter what else is going on (from boredom to bankruptcy) - nothing is as bad as death. How is it possible that there is even a serious discussion about putting business above health?
I consider this question to be problematic.
Because it does not describe any facts and makes an evaluation ("How can you... ?"), which I do not share.
But during the current pandemic the media are presenting economy and health as opposites?
Do you think so? By whom exactly when and to whom? I don't think we can make any progress with the initial thesis of economy versus health. Because nobody can have an economic interest in what is currently unfolding, but must have an interest in healthy people.
But perhaps the discussion about opening the stores shows that economic existence and health integrity simply cannot be reconciled - and one can only hope that they can be balanced somehow?
Well, "hope" ... as a scientist, I am not really an expert in the field of hope. I would rather be cautious in opening up such polar opposites as "health versus economy" or "economy versus society". And most virologists would probably agree with me that a Covid19 virus is as indifferent to such constructions and supposed opposites as our discussions about federalism or the correctness of 800 square meters opening rules.
What has gone wrong in managing the pandemic in Germany so far?
In view of the death and infection figures, an international comparison tends to give the impression that some things went right. But maybe after the pictures from Italy, we in Germany were just lucky that the majority of the population behaved very reasonably at first and voluntarily withdrew. How long such measures can be maintained by state decree in a federal constitutional state is another question.
And what has gone well?
Same answer: I think we have been very lucky so far. Moreover, the people were disciplined. In my estimation, no one knows exactly how this will develop at present. And this is precisely where science can make an important contribution: to become aware of such uncertainties and at the same time deal with them constructively
To what extent do you, as a business ethicist, deal with the current pandemic?
The subject ethics deals with Kant's question "What should I do?" and economics with questions of distribution and scarcity. The subject of business ethics could not be more relevant at present. And I try to portray this by actively advising decision-makers and officials on the question "What should I do?“
Thank you very much for the interview!