We consider the effect of economic pressures on the ethical attitudes of farmers. We present a model to derive the hypothesis that an increase in the economic pressures a farmer faces will result in that farmer being more willing to justify or rationalize unethical conduct or to express attitudes more accommodating of unethical conduct than farmers not experiencing economic pressures. We use data from a survey of 3,000 Missouri farmers with farm sales in excess of $10,000 in 2005. In the survey farmers were asked how acceptable they considered various unethical farming practices. The survey also contained questions designed to measure economic pressures. We find small but statistically significant evidence that economic pressures result in a greater willingness to tolerate unethical conduct, particular in the case of actions that have the potential of causing harm or that are influenced by law or contract. Interestingly, these results are reversed for actions that are ethically questionable but are not harmful or unlawful.


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