Corporate Social Responsibility: A Fledgling Movement Faces a Crucial Test

Source: Robert A. Senser, Dissent, Winter 2007

In his best-selling book Capitalism and Freedom, first published in 1962, future Nobel Laureate and world-renowned economist Milton Friedman laid down this basic principle for corporate executives: their sole social responsibility is to maximize the income and wealth of stockholders. “Few trends,” he wrote, “could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible. This is a fundamentally subversive doctrine.”

Union leaders, student activists, environmentalists, and advocates of various other types have long accepted that subversive doctrine. Of late, more and more top corporate officials, despite their own large stockholdings, have also done so. Though a tiny minority, they are pioneers in venturing outside the business path dedicated solely to maximizing the financial well-being of shareholders. Even in the business world, “the movement for corporate social responsibility has won the battle of ideas,” according to the Economist, the English-language media’s foremost defender of capitalism.

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