In some societies, especially Eastern ones, business is usually looked down upon. In ancient China and Japan, merchants were not respected and were even oppressed. In fact, both China and Japan closed off their doors to foreign trade. In Europe after the fall of Rome, traders were seen as mean and lowly peddlers. One just needs to read the Merchant of Venice, as well as King Edward I's oppression of bankers and traders, to find proof of this.
It was only during the mercantile period (17th century onwards) did merchants gain more and more respect, until they reached the pinnacle of social approbation seen today, wherein CEOs (such as Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers) and even speculators (such as George Soros) have been treated with respect and have even been looked up to at one time. This rise in respectability is a long term effect of the Industrial Revolution. After humans became cognizant of the ease and usefulness of man-made things, they naturally gave respect to the human leaders who made those things possible.
In ancient times and prior to the industrial revolution, merchants or those-who-live-by-profits were subservient to the ruling class or those-who-live-by-rent. After the industrial revolution, the situation was reversed. The reversal in turn is due to the reversal of the impact of matter or material things on the mind. Prior to the industrial revolution, matter did not 'matter' to the mind so much (i.e. materialism was very limited to the ultra rich) since manufactures and STEM* (science, tech, engineering, math) were undeveloped.
* STEM is essential in manufactures
The immorality in business is best explained, not by Adam Smith, but by his 'metaphysician' best friend, David Hume. Business is defined as the activity of making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money. The problem is that money is merely a number and does not have any quality attached to it. The only ability needed for numbers is the connection of ideas: the idea of '1' connected to another '1' with another idea of 'addition' logically leads to the new idea of '2'. The qualities or ideas of goodness and 'badness' have no chance to enter this stream of ideas. A computer can create and output big numbers better than any human, but they are incapable of any morality, as they lack the ability to create and output sentiments which are required for moral sentiments.
"Morals excite passions and produce or prevent actions. Reason is utterly impotent in this. The rules of morality therefore, are not conclusions of our reason."(David Hume, Simple Treatise)
Because there is no morality attached to numbers, there is no morality attached to money and to business. Proof of this is that the concept of ethics must be attached or added on to business as 'business ethics'. If ethics were natural to business, then there would be no need to create a concept of business ethics, just as there is no need to create 'family ethics' or 'family morals'. In reality, a businessman is 'good' merely if he can produce big numbers and is bad if he has negative numbers or loss. So the goal of business is to raise those numbers in whatever way, with or without morality. An example of this is in algorithmic trading where businessmen turn to computers to increase the nominal value of their investments. Fully entrusting your society's economy to computers would simply create new risks, such as Flash Crash.
Morality might not enter money and numbers, but it surely enters agreements, as explained by Hume:
To distinguish the interested commerce* from the disinterested one, the interested commerce is called a promise. A promise is the sanction of the interested commerce of mankind. When a man promises anything, he expresses a resolution to perform it. By using the word ‘promise’, he subjects himself to the penalty of never being trusted again in case of failure.. Interest is the first obligation to the performance of promises. Afterwards, a sentiment of morals concurs with interest, and becomes a new obligation on mankind.. This sentiment of morality in the performance of promises, arises from the same principles as the sentiment in the abstinence from the property of others..The obligation of promises is an invention for the interest of society. (Simple Treatise)
* We refer to modern commerce as 'disinterested' and social resource allocation as 'interested'
Any agreement between two persons eventually requires both parties to keep their promise or agreement, which is a moral or proper behavior. By breaking the agreement, a person risks losing a customer or supplier and the revenue that goes with it. Agreement-based systems therefore naturally encourages morality, which in turn encourages or develops fellow-feeling between humans. In contrast, a money-based system only requires physical money and the object being traded without needing to bother knowing about either party in the trade.
To create a moral or sustainable economic system therefore, the main focus or basis for exchange must be the agreements themselves, and not any extra layer or tool or symbol (such as money) to facilitate the exchange. This agreement-based system is the foundation of the new field called SOcial Resource Allocation or SORA (morality or heart-based system), which we are proposing, as a counterweight to the Commercial System (intellect or brain-based system). In a proper socioeconomic system, both SORA and Commerce exist side-by-side, allowing minds to choose between their intellect (fast but likely unfair) or feeling (slow but likely fair) in trading.