reading # 20

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Databases selected: Wall Street Journal Full Text (1766 words) WSJ Executive Adviser (A Special Report): The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility: The idea that companies have a duty to address social ills is not just flawed, argues Aneel Karnani; It also makes it more likely that we'll ignore the real solutions to these problems Aneel Karnani . Wall Street Journal . (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Aug 23, 2010. pg. R.1 Abstract (Summary) [...] the fact is that while companies sometimes can do well by doing good, more often they can't. Because in most cases, doing what's best for society means sacrificing profits. (c) 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Reproduced with permission of copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission. Can companies do well by doing good? Yes -- sometimes. But the idea that companies have a responsibility to act in the public interest and will profit from doing so is fundamentally flawed. Large companies now routinely claim that they aren't in business just for the profits, that they're also intent on serving some larger social purpose. They trumpet their efforts to produce healthier foods or more fuel-efficient vehicles, conserve energy and other resources in their operations, or otherwise make the world a better place. Influential institutions like the Academy of Management and the United Nations, among many others, encourage companies to pursue such strategies. It's not surprising that this idea has won over so many people -- it's a very appealing proposition. You can have your cake and eat it too! But it's an illusion, and a potentially dangerous one. Very simply, in cases where private profits and public interests are aligned, the idea of corporate social responsibility is irrelevant: Companies that simply do everything they can to boost profits will end up increasing social welfare. In circumstances in which profits and social welfare are in direct opposition, an appeal to corporate social responsibility will almost always be ineffective, because executives are unlikely to act voluntarily in the public interest and against shareholder interests. Irrelevant or ineffective, take your pick. But it's worse than that. The danger is that a focus on social responsibility will delay or discourage more-effective measures to enhance social welfare in those cases where profits and the public good are at odds. As society looks to companies to address these problems, the real solutions may be ignored. To get a better fix on the irrelevance or ineffectiveness of corporate social responsibility efforts, let's first look at situations where profits and social welfare are in synch. Consider the market for healthier food. Fast-food outlets have profited by expanding their offerings to include salads and other options designed to appeal to health-conscious consumers. Other companies have found new sources of revenue in low-fat, whole-grain and other types of foods that have grown in popularity. Social welfare is improved. Everybody wins.
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