In our October ish, we had Whole Foods CEO John Mackey duking it out with Milton Friedman and Cypress Semiconductor CEO (and Blessed Nun Basher) TJ Rodgers about the social responsibility of business. In today's Wash Post, columnist Steve Perlstein namechecks that "spirited debate" and then weighing into the fray thus:
While some employees tell pollsters that they prefer working for socially responsible firms, there is no hard evidence that socially irresponsible ones suffer from a lack of talent or must pay more for it….
And consumers say they prefer tuna caught in dolphin-proof nets, coffee grown by fairly paid farmers and products made from recycled materials—but retailers find that most are unwilling to pay extra for it….
Some [environmental] gains were achieved through new products or processes that also are cheaper or better. Think of computer chips that use less energy, or new clean-coal electric generating plants. In theory, however, the free marketplace should eventually have produced those advances without the [corporate social responsibility movement]. In other cases, the gains have come at relatively modest expense, such as improving the working conditions at Nike plants in Asia or the environmental practices of Latin American banana growers….
But when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions or raising wages in developing nations—tougher problems that result in lower returns for investors or higher costs for consumers—the market for corporate virtue remains limited. In competitive markets, even well-meaning companies don't provide such "public goods." If we want them enough to pay the price—and that's always a question—the only fair and reliable way to get them is still through old-fashioned government regulation.
Whole thing here.