That Man and That Quote Again

It’s 1.34am and I’m lying awake in a hotel room in London after 20 hours of travelling, meetings and an enjoyable, if whirlwind, debate entitled ‘CSR: Myth or Reality‘. I was invited to sit on the panel with Tony Needham, Head of Finance and Business from the New Economics Foundation and Clare  Woodcraft, Deputy Director of the Shell Foundation, and offer an opinion on the event title, which provided an educational, occasionally provocative (as oil companies, even their charitable arm,  tend to be) and insightful discussion as we rapidly skirted across numerous major CSR topics in what felt like race at times.

My head still spinning from a long day and far too many cans of debating worms, my mistake lay in attempting to clear emails preparing for a second day crammed full of meetings introducing the wares of 3BL Media.

I should have known better than to read it. I knew it would wind me up. HE always does, or rather that infamous quote does. Any ideas who the man in the picture is or why he is keeping me awake?…

…Milton Friedman, or should I say, Milton Bloody Friedman or Marmite Friedman (as in either love him or hate him) as I fondly like to refer to him.

The wonderful Mr Friedman is well-known in the world I inhabit most notably for his often (selectively) misrepresented quoted article title “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits“.

The full quote from within the article is actually “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.

The full article is available here and I’d definitely recommend the read.

I for one wince every time I hear the man’s name as I await the inevitable lazy use of his 1970’s NY Times article by those of an anti-Corporate Social Responsibility leaning. I don’t know about you but I see a big difference between the title (and variations to suit), the article in its fullest and the related quote above. For me Friedman is voicing his issues about certain types of individual businessmen in particular, pontificating about social responsibility that is not aligned to the commercial objectives of the organisation. On that I wholeheartedly agree. I also believe the ‘rules’ he alludes to have changed considerably. Other stakeholders beyond pure shareholders have a much stronger influence than in 1970 and provide a much wider remit for business to have to manage effectively.

The particular email that riled me contained a link to an interesting new report in The Economist called ‘Milton Friedman goes on tour‘ with pr firm Edleman asking a ‘informed public’ what they thought of the famous quote in countries around the world, creating a surprising infographic.

I couldn’t offer the glimpse into this concise world of Friedman & CSR without directing you to the debate between the man himself and John Mackey, then CEO of Whole Foods. Another worthy read.

Needed to get that out of my head, until the next time he shows up. Now for some sleep. Dreams or nightmares? I’ll post those tomorrow.

6 thoughts on “That Man and That Quote Again

  1. Chris MacDonald


    I agree about the lazy use of Friedman. It may be even more common than lazy use of Adam Smith! Both authors deserve more careful reading than they are usually given.

    I think the most sane way of thinking about Friedman’s slogan is in parallel to the following line about criminal lawyers:

    “A lawyer’s job is to get their their client acquitted.”
    That’s technically true, but it leaves a lot unsaid, stuff about the way a lawyer’s zealous service is justified by his/her role in the overall justice system, the limits on that zeal, etc. The analogy to corporate managers is quite useful.



  2. Steven Howard


    Two quotes for your rebuttal aresenal.

    First Henry Ford: “a business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.”

    And second, a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report with the title of “Reputation Assurance: The Value of a Good Name,” in which the authors wrote: “a single-minded focus that seeks only to satisfy shareholders may ultimately lead to crises and erosion of shareholder
    value.” I cannot recall the year of the PWC report, but believe it was around 1999 or 2000.

    Steven Howard


    1. Yvonne Fizer

      I’ll be borrowing the Henry Ford and PWC quotes – thanks for sharing that Steven.

      Fnding passionate, CSR professionals; a niche that I would like to fill.




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