11 books, films and series on the ethics of wealth and power

They say power corrupts. And for good reason. Ethics is in constant tension with power. The more power or money someone has, the more they can get away with. 

A central concern of money and power is how those who have it should be allowed to use it. And a central concern of the rest of us is how people with money and power in fact do use it. 

Here are 11 books, films, tv shows and podcasts that consider the ethics of wealth and power: 


A Korean comedic thriller film about poverty, the contrast between the rich and poor and the injustice of inequality. 


An American satirical comedy-drama series detailing a powerful global media and entertainment conglomerate. Run by The Roy family, the unexpected retirement of the company’s patriarch ignites a power struggle. 

Animal farm – George Orwell 

A satirical novel of a group of anthropomorphic farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free, and happy. 

Some people are more equal than others – David Simon, FODI

In his Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2014 talk, author and television writer/producer David Simon asks if the American divide between rich and poor is fair – the result of natural winners and losers – or is it built into the system? 

The Colonial Fantasy – Sarah Maddison 

A call for a radical restructuring of the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and governments. 

White Lotus 

An American dark comedy-drama anthology series, which socially satires the various guests and employees of a resort, exploring what money and power will make you do.

The Deficit Myth – Stephanie Kelton 

An exploration of modern monetary theory (MMT) which dramatically changes our understanding of how we can best deal with crucial issues ranging from poverty and inequality to creating jobs, expanding health care coverage, climate change, and building resilient infrastructure. 

Squid game

A Korean survival drama series where hundreds of cash-strapped contestants accept an invitation to compete in children’s games for a tempting prize, but the stakes are deadly. 

Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women – Kate Manne 

A vital exploration of gender politics from sex to admiration, bodily autonomy, knowledge, power and care. In this urgent intervention, philosopher Kate Manne offers a radical new framework for understanding misogyny. 

The Lehman Trilogy – Stefano Massini  

Originally a novel, and since adapted into a three-act play, The Lehman Trilogy tells the story of modern capitalism through the saga of the Lehman brothers’ bank and their descendants. 

Life and Debt podcast 

Produced by The Ethics Centre, Life & Debt is a podcast series that dives into debt, what role it has in our lives and how we can make better decisions about it. 

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Moral injury

Each of us believes that, at our core, we are fundamentally ethical people. We always try to do the right thing. We have deeply held values and principles that we are not willing to compromise.  

But sometimes we are thrust into situations where there appears to be no ‘right answer’ – where the best we can hope for is to take the ‘least bad’ option or, worse still, where we are forced to act against what we believe is right.  

Moral injury is caused when we are compelled to act against what we believe is right in a high stakes situation.  

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Unconscious bias

Our brains are evolved to help us survive.

That means they take a lot of shortcuts to help us get through the day. These shortcuts, or heuristics, are vital. But they come at a cost. Learn what unconscious bias is and how you become aware of your own unconscious bias.

How to have moral courage and moral imagination

Every time we make a decision, we change the world just a little bit.

This is why moral imagination plays a crucial role in good ethical decision making. It helps us appreciate other people’s perspective. And sometimes when we must make those decisions, they can be difficult, this is where moral courage comes into play.

Moral intuition and ethical judgement

By checking in to our intuitions and using them to inform our judgements, we can come up with decisions that make sense, but also feel right.

What is the difference between ethics, morality and the law?

The world around us is a smorgasbord of beliefs, claims, rules and norms about how we should live and behave.

It’s important to tease this jumble of ethical pressures apart so we can put them in their proper place. Otherwise, it can be hard to know what to do when some of these requirements contradict others. Let’s talk about three different categories of demands on how we should live: ethics, morality and law.

Virtue ethics

What makes something right or wrong?

One of the oldest ways of answering this question comes from the Ancient Greeks. They defined good actions as ones that reveal us to be of excellent character.

What matters is whether our choices display virtues like courage, loyalty, or wisdom. Importantly, virtue ethics also holds that our actions shape our character. The more times we choose to be honest, the more likely we are to be honest in future situations – and when the stakes are high.


What makes something right or wrong?

One answer comes from the work of German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who is considered the founder of an ethical theory called deontology. Deontology comes from the Greek word deon, meaning duty. It holds, quite simply, that actions are good or bad based on whether they fulfil universal moral duties.


For lots of people, what makes a decision right or wrong depends on the outcome of that decision.

Does it increase or decrease the amount of happiness in the world? This kind of thinking is typical of consequentialism: an ethical school of thought that says what makes an action good or bad is, you guessed it, the consequences.

Purpose, values, principles: An ethics framework

An ethics framework is a statement of an organisation’s purpose, values and principles.

It makes clear what they believe in and what standards they’ll uphold. It’s a roadmap to good decision making and, if it’s lived throughout the organisation. It’s also a guide to making an organisation the best version of itself.

Trying to make a decision without knowing your purpose, values and principles, is like being at sea without a rudder. They’ll be pushed around by the winds of our desires, mood, unconscious mind, group dynamics and social norms. The choices they make won’t really be their own.