Liberals love to blame Milton Friedman for the misbehavior of American corporations.
Friedman, a free-market ideologue, published an essay 50 years ago this week in The Times Magazine in which he argued that corporations should not go beyond the letter of the law to combat discrimination or reduce pollution or maintain community institutions. Corporations, he said, have no social responsibilities except the sacred responsibility to make money.
The essay was a big hit with the executive class. Rich people were only too delighted to see selfishness portrayed as a principled stand. Friedman’s creed became the standard justification for corporate callousness. The Business Roundtable, a leading lobby for large companies, declared in 1997 that maximizing profit was the purpose of a corporation.
Critics have been fighting ever since to get corporations to acknowledge broader responsibilities.
It’s the wrong battle. Instead of redefining the role of the corporation, we need to redefine