Did Milton Friedman’s Seminal Essay Miss Social Inequality?

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Milton Friedman’s influential essay, “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits,” DealBook teamed up with The New York Times Magazine to collect thoughts from executives, political leaders and Nobel Prize winners on its legacy.

Among those we heard from were Delaware’s former chief justice Leo Strine Jr. and the Allbirds co-founder Joey Zwillinger, who joined us for a DealBook Debrief call on what Mr. Friedman missed about social inequality.

Listen to the conversation in the player above.

Highlights of the conversation

We might need a “truth and reconciliation commission” for capitalism, Mr. Strine suggested.

The commission, composed of institutional investors and business leaders, would reflect on the issues that companies now say they champion: social injustice, climate change and the minimum wage, among others. “Could we now reflect on what we did not care about before?” Mr. Strine asked.

Mr. Zwillinger of Allbirds said he wasn’t sure about the idea.

He put the onus on the institutional investors who run pension funds on behalf of millions of Americans: “They should get together and advocate for companies to do things on behalf of those workers, not just to create the maximal profit but to create a just society that helps everybody.”

The most effective solution may be the law (said the former judge).

“No doctrine of corporate law in the United States of America has made companies reduce the share of productivity and profit gains that go into the pockets of their workers,” Mr. Strine said. Instead, he noted, “the strong pressures that have grown from the market system” have resulted in “a natural shift toward the more powerful interests from the correspondingly less powerful ones — that is really the framework we have to change.”