Putting Integrity into Finance: A Purely Positive Approach

by Werner Erhard & Michael C. Jensen

Overview — Behavior that lacks integrity leads to value destruction. This paper analyzes some common beliefs, actions, and activities in finance that are inconsistent with being a person or a firm of integrity. Each of these beliefs leads to a system that lacks integrity, i.e., one that is not whole and complete and therefore creates unworkability and destroys value. Focusing on these phenomena from the integrity viewpoint, the authors argue, makes it possible for managers to focus on the value that can be created by putting the system back in integrity and correcting the non-value maximizing equilibrium that exists in capital markets. Overall, this paper summarizes a purely positive theory of integrity that has no normative elements whatsoever, and demonstrates how it applies to both individuals and organizations. In effect, integrity is a factor of production just like knowledge, technology, labor, and capital, but it is undistinguished—and its affect (by its presence or absence) is huge. Key concepts include:

  • Integrity matters. Not because it is virtuous, but because it creates workability.
  • Workability increases the opportunity for performance, and maximum workability is necessary for realizing maximum value.
  • Integrity thus becomes a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for value maximization-a proposition that should become an important element in every finance course in every business school.

Author Abstract

We summarize our new positive theory of integrity that has no normative content, and argue that there are large gains from putting integrity into finance - into both the theory and practice of finance. We define integrity as being whole and complete and unbroken. We argue that if finance scholars, teachers and practitioners take this approach to applications in finance there are huge gains to be achieved. We caution the reader that since our intention in this piece is to call attention to aspects of life and aspects of finance that are not commonly discussed, or certainly not discussed in the way we will do so here, you are likely to find it strange and even wrong or irrelevant. It is unlikely to fit your view of what a finance paper should be. And that will be encouraged by the fact that it is impossible to be complete on such a huge topic in one paper. As a young scholar, Michael lived through the days of the revolution in finance in the 1960s and 1970s when the modern approaches to finance were coming into vogue. Consistent with Kuhn's (1996) Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the established profession, and the established journals, systematically rejected such new thinking. But change did occur and we are committed to see such change continue to happen in the finance of today.

Paper Information

  • Full Working Paper Text
  • Working Paper Publication Date: April 2012
  • HBS Working Paper Number: 12-074
  • Faculty Unit(s):