Milton Friedman famously argued that corporations have no social responsibility, only a responsibility towards their customers and shareholders to maximise profit. In fact, he even supported legislation to makes them to do this. Funny how legislation is OK when…no, forget it (again).
Friedman’s position is obviously an odd one. If corporations have no social responsibility, then presumably they are, in abstract, permitted to steal, defraud and coerce for their customers and shareholders? My guess is Friedman wouldn’t support this position. This leaves two possibilities:
(1) They shouldn’t do these things because they are constrained by the law. In other words: they should obey the law, just because it’s the law. I can’t imagine Friedman supporting a position like this, either.
(2) They shouldn’t do these things because they have a moral obligation apart from the law. In other words, they have some social responsibility.
Presuming Friedman doesn’t think corporations are allowed to coerce, defraud and steal, and presuming he doesn’t think laws should be obeyed simply because they are laws, the only conclusion can be that corporations have some moral and social obligations. The question then becomes where these lie.
As with much of libertarianism, on close inspection, the dichotomies become blurred, and the debate collapses back to where it’s always been.