Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Socially responsible alcohol sales, and other bollocks

NEWS ITEM: The Warehouse is mulling a move into alcohol sales as it gears up to launch hypermarket stores selling groceries.... Such a move would be a big break from The Warehouse's past, when founder and largest shareholder Stephen Tindall ruled out alcohol sales.

Should The Warehouse sell alcohol? What will this do to their 'triple bottom line'? And isn't Stephen Tindall a hypocrite to consider allowing this when he's [gasp] a founding member of the important-sounding NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development and a supporter of Dick (Mother) Hubbard's equally wet NZ Businesses for Social Responsibility?

My answers to those questions are below. But first, consider this: What 'social responsibility' do businesses really have? Hubbard, or just "Dick" as he prefers to be known by his employees and his psychotherapist, says businesses should be "giving back to the community" and the like -- but what the hell do they think their businesses do all day, for goodness sake? Steal from everyone? Kidnap consumers and make them empty their pockets? Find people happily unemployed and chain them to machines, desks and checkouts against their will? Turn all those blighted areas with unhappy, destitute people into happy, wealthy places full of enterprise and enjoyment? How dare they!

How silly. As Roger Kerr once said, "The business of businesses is business"; anything else is surely peripheral. Adam Smith pointed out, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest."
By pursuing his own interest [an individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.
What 'social responsibility' do businessmen really have when all is really said and done? Milton Friedman once famously declared in an article whose title summarises its point, 'The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.'

If you disagree with Uncle Milt's assertion -- or even if you don't -- then you may enjoy a debate on that very question between Friedman and John Mackey, the founder and CEO of Whole Foods, and a self-described "ardent libertarian." Joining them is T.J. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductors and famously dubbed "one of America's toughest bosses" by Fortune magazine.

Linked debate here. [Hat tip SOLO]

So now my answers from above, in order: That's their business, not yours, and it's probably good business; who gives a shit about that nonsense; and, yes he is. If Tindall pontificated less and exercised his greatest talent more -- that is, the ability to make piles of money -- he would be doing us all a much greater service in the long run.

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