corporate responsibility

Reason has a tour of responses to the Friedman/Mackey/Rodgers throwdown on the topic of corporate philanthropy.

There’s some interesting reading, but they all seem to miss something that seems rather obvious to me. Friedman’s dictum is that “the only social responsibility a law-abiding business has is to maximize profits for the shareholders”. Mackey, meanwhile, argues that corporate philanthropy is a good thing. Friedman rebuts by pointing out that the sort of corporate philanthropy that Whole Foods engages in is merely because the corporate tax structure makes it advantageous.

But even if that were not true, couldn’t corporate philanthropy still be justified in line with Friedman’s dictum as an exercise in good PR? Surely a large portion, if not a solid majority, of Whole Foods’ customers are aware of their philanthropy and perhaps shop there specifically because of it. It may be cynical of me, but I have no doubt in my mind that the reason that Whole Foods engages in philanthropy is specifically because it maximizes profits for shareholders, and were it not in vogue, they wouldn’t be so generous. So this whole debate strikes me as a little disingenuous to begin with.