What is the “Social Responsibility” of a Corporation?

There’s a lot of mockery in libertarian circles of “socially responsible” business practices — that is, those that sacrifice the bottom-line for nobler goals. Like evolutionary psychologists, these defenders of the profit motive scrutinize every hint of potential altruism for its real, self-serving purpose, and scoff and deride the possibility of virtuous business motives other than profit.

Of course not all libertarian sorts believe this sort of thing, but such arguments crop up from time to time when someone mentions Ben & Jerry’s or “fair trade” coffee or Wal-Mart.

A recent debate in Reason on the subject pitted Milton Friedman (“The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits”) against John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods (“I believe that the enlightened corporation should try to create value for all of its constituencies”).

Much of the hostility to “socially responsible” business practices has, I think, not really been libertarian principles at work, but an expression of the disdain for the sort of liberal issues that “socially responsible” businesses tend to support, from certain paleoconservatives who call themselves “libertarian” only because they’re embarrassed at the current herd of Republicans.

What will they think of a business that defines “social responsibility” in libertarian terms, I wonder?

BB&T, the nation’s ninth largest financial holdings company with $109.2 billion in assets, announced today that it “will not lend to commercial developers that plan to build condominiums, shopping malls and other private projects on land taken from private citizens by government entities using eminent domain.”

In a press release issued today by the bank, BB&T Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Allison, said, “The idea that a citizen’s property can be taken by the government solely for private use is extremely misguided, in fact it’s just plain wrong. One of the most basic rights of every citizen is to keep what they own. As an institution dedicated to helping our clients achieve economic success and financial security, we won’t help any entity or company that would undermine that mission and threaten the hard-earned American dream of property ownership.”

I leave for Veracruz (no-fly list permitting). It may be some weeks before I return and begin blogging around here regularly again.