This short video from the INET Conference earlier this year features a number of well-known economists discussing the question of how deeply rooted questionable behavior is in the discipline and whether the adoption of a code of ethics would help. Personally, I think a code of ethics would be a marginal plus, in that the process of articulating standards would keep the issue of conduct in focus and force the discipline to make explicit where the boundaries of acceptable behavior lie.
However, I don’t harbor any illusion that a code of ethics would have much impact. Harvard Business School looked into the question of how to encourage its students to engage in more upstanding behavior. This was in the the early 1990s, after a number of graduates were involved in high profile shady conduct in the LBO era, in particular Paul Bilzerian, who was convicted of securities and tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison. The school concluded that it could not change students’ behavior, since individual ethical standards were well entrenched by adulthood. The best it could do was to make more of an effort to screen for students who adhered to high standards of conduct. It goes without saying that this effort has not been a ringing success.