Management and Income Inequality: A Review and Conceptual Framework

I’m extremely pleased to see this in print:

Beal, B. D., & Astakhova, M.  [2016].  Management and income inequality: A review and conceptual framework.  Journal of Business Ethics, published online (DOI: 10.1007/s10551-015-2762-6), forthcoming in print. [PDF, journal, project]

Abstract:

Income inequality in the U.S. has now reached levels not seen since the 1920s. Management, as a field of scholarly inquiry, has the potential to contribute in significant ways to our understanding of recent inequality trends. We review and assess recent research, both in the management literature and in other fields. We then delineate a conceptual framework that highlights the mechanisms through which business practice (and, indirectly, business pedagogy and scholarship) may be linked to income inequality. We then outline four general areas in which management scholars are uniquely positioned to contribute to ongoing research: 1) data and description, 2) organizational dynamics, 3) collective action, and 4) value flows and tradeoffs. To stimulate future research, we highlight a number of relevant research questions and link these questions to existing management research streams that could be leveraged to address them.

From the introduction:

There is a need for management, as a field of scholarly inquiry, to examine the relationship between income inequality and business practice. This paper addresses this need in several ways. First, we review and assess recent research, both in the management literature and in other fields, primarily economics and sociology. We then introduce a conceptual framework and highlight a number of mechanisms through which business practice (and, indirectly, business pedagogy and scholarship) can be linked to recent income inequality trends. We then outline four general areas in which management scholars are uniquely positioned to contribute to ongoing inequality research. To stimulate interest, we propose a number of relevant questions along with a brief list of existing management research streams that could be leveraged to address these questions. We believe that increased attention by management scholars to income inequality is warranted for at least three reasons. First, from a value-creation perspective, a number of business practices that contribute to income inequality are inherently inefficient (and are therefore harmful in a strict economic sense). Second, setting aside questions of short-term efficiency, we argue that rising levels of inequality are harmful because they have the potential to fundamentally destabilize our economic system (Bower, et al., 2011; Desai, 2012; Freeman, 1996; Lazonick, 2014). Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, rising inequality is associated with distributive outcomes that are morally and ethically unjust (Kohls & Christensen, 2002; Sen, 1992; Sud & VanSandt, 2011; Szmigin & Rutherford, 2013).

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