– Read the articles and watch the video then discussion each question individually:1- Reading: Friedman, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Profits.Is the Friedman thesis still relevant today?2- Reading: Stout: The Myth of Shareholder ValueIf you put yourself in the shoes of a shareholder would you embrace or reject Stout’s claims?3- Do you think that the values which a firm incorporates into it’s daily operating practices are impacted by whether a firm explicitly focuses on profits as the sole goal or more broadly adopts a stakeholder approach?- After you post the discussions, I will give you 3 opinions about the questions ( opinion for each question) discuss them.
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The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits
by Milton Friedman
The New York Times Magazine, September 13, 1970. Copyright @ 1970 by The New
York Times Company.
When I hear businessmen speak eloquently about the “social responsibilities of
business in a freeenterprise system,” I am reminded of the wonderful line about the
Frenchman who discovered at the age of 70 that he had been speaking prose all his
life. The businessmen believe that they are defending free en負erprise when they
declaim that business is not concerned “merely” with profit but also with promoting
desirable “social” ends; that business has a “social conscience” and takes seriously its
responsibilities for providing em計loyment, eliminating discrimination, avoid虹ng
pollution and whatever else may be the catchwords of the contemporary crop of re苯
ormers. In fact they are–or would be if they or anyone else took them seriously–
preach虹ng pure and unadulterated socialism. Busi要essmen who talk this way are
unwitting pup計ets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a
free society these past decades.
The discussions of the “social responsibili負ies of business” are notable for their
analytical looseness and lack of rigor. What does it mean to say that “business” has
responsibilities? Only people can have responsibilities. A corporation is an artificial
person and in this sense may have artificial responsibilities, but “business” as a whole
cannot be said to have responsibilities, even in this vague sense. The first step toward
clarity in examining the doctrine of the social responsibility of business is to ask
precisely what it implies for whom.
Presumably, the individuals who are to be responsible are businessmen, which means
in苓ividual proprietors or corporate executives. Most of the discussion of social
responsibility is directed at corporations, so in what follows I shall mostly neglect the
individual proprietors and speak of corporate executives.
In a freeenterprise, privateproperty sys負em, a corporate executive is an employee
of the owners of the business. He has direct re貞ponsibility to his employers. That
responsi苑ility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which
generally will be to make as much money as possible while con苯orming to the basic
rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.
Of course, in some cases his employers may have a different objective. A group of
persons might establish a corporation for an eleemosynary purpose–for exam計le, a
hospital or a school. The manager of such a corporation will not have money profit as
his objective but the rendering of certain services.
In either case, the key point is that, in his capacity as a corporate executive, the
manager is the agent of the individuals who own the corporation or establish the
eleemosynary institution, and his primary responsibility is to them.
Needless to say, this does not mean that it is easy to judge how well he is performing
his task. But at least the criterion of performance is straightforward, and the persons
among whom a voluntary contractual arrangement exists are clearly defined.
Of course, the corporate executive is also a person in his own right. As a person, he
may have many other responsibilities that he rec觔gnizes or assumes voluntarily–to
his family, his conscience, his feelings of charity, his church, his clubs, his city, his
country. He ma}. feel impelled by these responsibilities to de赳ote part of his income
to causes he regards as worthy, to refuse to work for particular corpo訃ations, even to
leave his job, for example, to join his country’s armed forces. Ifwe wish, we may refer
to some of these responsibilities as “social responsibilities.” But in these respects he is
acting as a principal, not an agent; he is spending his own money or time or energy,
not the money of his employers or the time or energy he has contracted to devote to
their purposes. If these are “social responsibili負ies,” they are the social
responsibilities of in苓ividuals, not of business.
What does it mean to say that the corpo訃ate executive has a “social responsibility” in
his capacity as businessman? If this statement is not pure rhetoric, it must mean that
he is to act in some way that is not in the interest of his employers. For example, that
he is to refrain from increasing the price of the product in order to contribute to the
social objective of preventing inflation, even though a price in crease would be in the
best interests of the corporation. Or that he is to make expendi負ures on reducing
pollution beyond the amount that is in the best interests of the cor計oration or that is
required by law in order to contribute to the social objective of improving the
environment. Or that, at the expense of corporate profits, he is to hire “hardcore” un苟
mployed instead of better qualified available workmen to contribute to the social
objective of reducing poverty.
In each of these cases, the corporate exec赴tive would be spending someone else’s
money for a general social interest. Insofar as his actions in accord with his “social
responsi苑ility” reduce returns to stockholders, he is spending their money. Insofar as
his actions raise the price to customers, he is spending the customers’ money. Insofar
as his actions lower the wages of some employees, he is spending their money.
The stockholders or the customers or the employees could separately spend their own
money on the particular action if they wished to do so. The executive is exercising a
distinct “social responsibility,” rather than serving as an agent of the stockholders or
the customers or the employees, only if he spends the money in a different way than
they would have spent it.
But if he does this, he is in effect imposing taxes, on the one hand, and deciding how
the tax proceeds shall be spent, on the other.
This process raises political questions on two levels: principle and consequences. On
the level of political principle, the imposition of taxes and the expenditure of tax
proceeds are gov苟rnmental functions. We have established elab觔rate constitutional,
parliamentary and judicial provisions to control these functions, to assure that taxes
are imposed so far as possible in ac苞ordance with the preferences and desires of the
public–after all, “taxation without repre貞entation” was one of the battle cries of the
American Revolution. We have a system of checks and balances to separate the legisla
負ive function of imposing taxes and enacting expenditures from the executive
function of collecting taxes and administering expendi負ure programs and from the
judicial function of mediating disputes and interpreting the law.
Here the businessman–selfselected or appointed directly or indirectly by stockhold苟
rs–is to be simultaneously legislator, execu負ive and, jurist. He is to decide whom to
tax by how much and for what purpose, and he is to spend the proceeds–all this
guided only by general exhortations from on high to restrain inflation, improve the
environment, fight poverty and so on and on.
The whole justification for permitting the corporate executive to be selected by the
stockholders is that the executive is an agent serving the interests of his principal. This
jus負ification disappears when the corporate ex苟cutive imposes taxes and spends the
pro苞eeds for “social” purposes. He becomes in effect a public employee, a civil
servant, even though he remains in name an employee of a private enterprise. On
grounds of political principle, it is intolerable that such civil ser赳ants–insofar as their
actions in the name of social responsibility are real and not just win苓owdressing–
should be selected as they are now. If they are to be civil servants, then they must be
elected through a political process. If they are to impose taxes and make expendi負
ures to foster “social” objectives, then politi苞al machinery must be set up to make the
as貞essment of taxes and to determine through a political process the objectives to be
This is the basic reason why the doctrine of “social responsibility” involves the
acceptance of the socialist view that political mechanisms, not market mechanisms,
are the appropriate way to determine the allocation of scarce re貞ources to alternative
On the grounds of consequences, can the corporate executive in fact discharge his al衍
eged “social responsibilities?” On the other hand, suppose he could get away with
spending the stockholders’ or customers’ or employees’ money. How is he to know
how to spend it? He is told that he must contribute to fighting inflation. How is he to
know what ac負ion of his will contribute to that end? He is presumably an expert in
running his company–in producing a product or selling it or financing it. But nothing
about his selection makes him an expert on inflation. Will his hold� ing down the
price of his product reduce infla負ionary pressure? Or, by leaving more spending
power in the hands of his customers, simply divert it elsewhere? Or, by forcing him to
produce less because of the lower price, will it simply contribute to shortages? Even if
he could an貞wer these questions, how much cost is he justi苯ied in imposing on his
stockholders, customers and employees for this social purpose? What is his
appropriate share and what is the appropri苔te share of others?
And, whether he wants to or not, can he get away with spending his stockholders’, cus
負omers’ or employees’ money? Will not the stockholders fire him? (Either the present
ones or those who take over when his actions in the name of social responsibility have
re苓uced the corporation’s profits and the price of its stock.) His customers and his
employees can desert him for other producers and em計loyers less scrupulous in
exercising their so苞ial responsibilities.
This facet of “social responsibility” doc� trine is brought into sharp relief when the
doctrine is used to justify wage restraint by trade unions. The conflict of interest is
naked and clear when union officials are asked to subordinate the interest of their
members to some more general purpose. If the union offi苞ials try to enforce wage
restraint, the consequence is likely to be wildcat strikes, rank�andfile revolts and
the emergence of strong competitors for their jobs. We thus have the ironic
phenomenon that union leaders–at least in the U.S.–have objected to Govern衫ent
interference with the market far more consistently and courageously than have
The difficulty of exercising “social responsibility” illustrates, of course, the great
virtue of private competitive enterprise–it forces people to be responsible for their
own actions and makes it difficult for them to “exploit” other people for either selfish
or unselfish purposes. They can do good–but only at their own expense.
Many a reader who has followed the argu衫ent this far may be tempted to remonstrate
that it is all well and good to speak of Government’s having the responsibility to im計
ose taxes and determine expenditures for such “social” purposes as controlling pollu負
ion or training the hardcore unemployed, but that the problems are too urgent to wait
on the slow course of political processes, that the exercise of social responsibility by
busi要essmen is a quicker and surer way to solve pressing current problems.
Aside from the question of fact–I share Adam Smith’s skepticism about the benefits
that can be expected from “those who affected to trade for the public good”–this
argument must be rejected on grounds of principle. What it amounts to is an assertion
that those who favor the taxes and expenditures in question have failed to persuade a
majority of their fellow citizens to be of like mind and that they are seeking to attain
by undemocratic procedures what they cannot attain by democratic proce苓ures. In a
free society, it is hard for “evil” people to do “evil,” especially since one man’s good is
I have, for simplicity, concentrated on the special case of the corporate executive, ex
苞ept only for the brief digression on trade unions. But precisely the same argument
ap計lies to the newer phenomenon of calling upon stockholders to require
corporations to exercise social responsibility (the recent G.M crusade for example). In
most of these cases, what is in effect involved is some stockholders trying to get other
stockholders (or customers or employees) to contribute against their will to “social”
causes favored by the activists. In貞ofar as they succeed, they are again imposing
taxes and spending the proceeds.
The situation of the individual proprietor is somewhat different. If he acts to reduce
the returns of his enterprise in order to exercise his “social responsibility,” he is
spending his own money, not someone else’s. If he wishes to spend his money on such
purposes, that is his right, and I cannot see that there is any ob虻ection to his doing so.
In the process, he, too, may impose costs on employees and cus負omers. However,
because he is far less likely than a large corporation or union to have mo要opolistic
power, any such side effects will tend to be minor.
Of course, in practice the doctrine of social responsibility is frequently a cloak for
actions that are justified on other grounds rather than a reason for those actions.
To illustrate, it may well be in the long run interest of a corporation that is a major
employer in a small community to devote resources to providing amenities to that
community or to improving its government. That may make it easier to attract
desirable employees, it may reduce the wage bill or lessen losses from pilferage and
sabotage or have other worthwhile effects. Or it may be that, given the laws about the
deductibility of corporate charitable contributions, the stockholders can contribute
more to chari負ies they favor by having the corporation make the gift than by doing it
themselves, since they can in that way contribute an amount that would otherwise
have been paid as corporate taxes.
In each of these–and many similar–cases, there is a strong temptation to rationalize
these actions as an exercise of “social responsibility.” In the present climate of
opinion, with its wide spread aversion to “capitalism,” “profits,” the “soulless
corporation” and so on, this is one way for a corporation to generate goodwill as a by
product of expenditures that are entirely justified in its own selfinterest.
It would be inconsistent of me to call on corporate executives to refrain from this hyp
觔critical windowdressing because it harms the foundations of a free society. That
would be to call on them to exercise a “social re貞ponsibility”! If our institutions, and
the atti負udes of the public make it in their selfinter苟st to cloak their actions in this
way, I cannot summon much indignation to denounce them. At the same time, I can
express admiration for those individual proprietors or owners of closely held
corporations or stockholders of more broadly held corporations who disdain such
tactics as approaching fraud.
Whether blameworthy or not, the use of the cloak of social responsibility, and the
nonsense spoken in its name by influential and presti茆ious businessmen, does clearly
harm the foun苓ations of a free society. I have been impressed time and again by the
schizophrenic character of many businessmen. They are capable of being extremely
farsighted and clearheaded in matters that are internal to their businesses. They are
incredibly shortsighted and muddle虐eaded in matters that are outside their businesses
but affect the possible survival of busi要ess in general. This shortsightedness is
strikingly exemplified in the calls from many businessmen for wage and price
guidelines or controls or income policies. There is nothing that could do more in a
brief period to destroy a market system and replace it by a centrally con負rolled
system than effective governmental con負rol of prices and wages.
The shortsightedness is also exemplified in speeches by businessmen on social respon
貞ibility. This may gain them kudos in the short run. But it helps to strengthen the
already too prevalent view that the pursuit of profits is wicked and immoral and must
be curbed and controlled by external forces. Once this view is adopted, the external
forces that curb the market will not be the social consciences, however highly
developed, of the pontificating executives; it will be the iron fist of Government
bureaucrats. Here, as with price and wage controls, businessmen seem to me to reveal
a suicidal impulse.
The political principle that underlies the market mechanism is unanimity. In an ideal
free market resting on private property, no individual can coerce any other, all coopera
負ion is voluntary, all parties to such coopera負ion benefit or they need not
participate. There are no values, no “social” responsibilities in any sense other than the
shared values and responsibilities of individuals. Society is a collection of individuals
and of the various groups they voluntarily form.
The political principle that underlies the political mechanism is conformity. The indi
赳idual must serve a more general social inter苟st–whether that be determined by a
church or a dictator or a majority. The individual may have a vote and say in what is
to be done, but if he is overruled, he must conform. It is appropriate for some to
require others to contribute to a general social purpose whether they wish to or not.
Unfortunately, unanimity is not always feasi苑le. There are some respects in which
conformity appears unavoidable, so I do not see how one can avoid the use of the
political mecha要ism altogether.
But the doctrine of “social responsibility” taken seriously would extend the scope of
the political mechanism to every human activity. It does not differ in philosophy from
the most explicitly collectivist doctrine. It differs only by professing to believe that
collectivist ends can be attained without collectivist means. That is why, in my book
Capitalism and Freedom, I have called it a “fundamentally subversive doctrine” in a
free society, and have said that in such a society, “there is one and only one social
responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to
increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say,
engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”
Published: September 13, 1970
Copyright © The New York Times
Published: September 13, 1970
Copyright © The New York Times
Published: September 13, 1970
Copyright © The New York Times
Published: September 13, 1970
Copyright © The New York Times
YEAR IN REVIEW 2012 — OCTOBER
Governance book of the year:
Lynn Stout’s The Shareholder Value Myth
Lynn Stout (pictured below) is the Distinguished
Professor of Corporate and Business Law,
Clarke Business Law Institute, at Cornell Law
School. She is not the first to push back against
the notion of shareholder value as the primary
if not sole driver of management and board
action. But her 2012 book, The Shareholder
Value Myth, inspired renewed examination of
this governing theory and sparked important,
and some would say much-needed, debate
about its true primacy. One prominent chal-
lenger was New York Times’ columnist Joe
Nocera, who cited the book in a column titled
“Down with Shareholder Value.” He wrote:
“Over time, ‘maximizing shareholder value’
became viewed as the primary task of the corporation. And, well, you can see the results all
around you. They’re not pretty.”
Because of the book’s role in provoking
renewed analysis of the shareholder value mandate and its legacy effects, DIRECTORS & BOARDS
has selected The Shareholder …
Purchase answer to see full