"All battles are perpetual," the legendary economist Milton Friedman told Reason in a 1995 interview. A decade later, he returns to these pages with a spirited debate over his famous pronouncement that a company's one social responsibility is to its shareholders ("Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business," page 28). Never one to shrink from controversy, Friedman has watched his ideas on everything from Social Security to school vouchers move from the fringe to the center of political debate in his lifetime. "I don't think I've ever been an outsider," he says. "I've just taken stands in which I was a very small minority." Both of Friedman's sparring partners cite the Nobel Prize?winning economist as a formative influence. Now 93 and still up for a good fight, Friedman welcomes the argument, adding, "It's always a big help to know you're right."
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is used to being the odd man out: When he moved into a vegetarian co-op in the 1970s, he was an unapologetic meat eater. "I think the prospect of meeting attractive young women had something to do with it," he explains. Distractions aside, he says his "food awareness was awakened." A committed vegan, Hayekian, and organic food visionary, Mackey wants to humanize and soften capitalism's beleaguered image. In this issue's debate, he argues that the concept of corporate social responsibility is "antithetical to neither our human nature nor our financial success."
Silicon Valley virtuoso T.J. Rodgers isn't exactly known for his soft approach to conflict. In response to criticism from one Sister Doris Gormley in 1996, he published a defense of merit-based hiring practices in which he famously asked the Catholic nun to dismount her "moral high horse." His characteristic straight-shooting style is on display in this month's debate, in which Rodgers launches an all-out defense of capitalism as traditionally defined. He says he does not shop at Whole Foods and considers the concept of natural foods "the biggest scam on the planet."