Friedman Doctrine: Maximizing Profits is Neither Good for Society Nor Even for the Shareholders

Y. Datta


This paper is an attempt at a critique of Milton Friedman’s article titled: “A Friedman doctrine—The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits” published in the New York Times Magazine fifty years ago. The publication of this doctrine sparked a revolution. Ronald Reagan found it a powerful platform from which to launch his radical free-market agenda. The event marked a turning point when America embarked on a journey towards unfettered capitalism.

Encouraged by the Friedman doctrine American CEOs chose a path toward profit maximization/maximizing shareholder value: a mindset that favored risk aversion and a short-term focus on cost reduction vs. long-term need for innovation, quality and customer satisfaction. And it is this historic psychological shift that has contributed so much to America’s industrial decline.

Economic inequality in America has been going up persistently since 1974, squeezing the middle class. America’s income inequality has now widened so much that it rivals the highest level recorded in 1928 that led to the Great Depression of 1929.

Friedman’s essay has three major flaws. First, it is offered as a doctrine not a theorem. Second, it is grounded in the moral philosophy of self-interest—and greed. Third, it does not distinguish between short-term and long-term shareholders.

Friedman’s theory of profit maximization is too difficult, too unrealistic--and immoral.

Based on an extensive analysis, we have come to the conclusion that profit maximization is neither good for society nor even for the shareholders.

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