Corporate and Social Responsabilities

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1) You are Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. It is 2012, but you are not dead. You have just read Nicholas Kristof’s New York Timescolumn entitled “A Battle with the Brewers.”You disagree that Anheuser-Busch is doing any wrong in supplying the liquor stores of Whiteclay, Nebraska! Write a letter to the editorof the newspaper countering Kristof’s criticism of Anheuser-Busch. Now be Nicholas Kristof, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Write a letterin response to Friedman’s letter. You can reject his argument—give your reasons!—or you can recant the argument in your column. Feel free to have Friedman reply in turn, and Kristof in turn again, and…. Finally, indicate somehow, toward the end of the exchange, which side appears to have the stronger argument.

Make sure that you/Milton Friedman make Friedman’s argument premise by premise. Also make sure that Kristof takes issue with some number of those premises.

2) You belong to the senior management teamof Valeant Pharmaceuticals International. It is 2015. Valeant, like Turing Pharmaceuticals and Mylan (the maker of the EpiPen), recently has gotten a lot of bad press for its business practices, in particular seeking to “wring the maximum profit out of each drug” it makes (be sure to read Andrew Pollack and Sabrina Tavernise, “Valeant’s Drug Price Strategy Enriches It, but Infuriates Patients and Lawmakers”). One result of this bad press has been a lot of attention from politicians, who threaten government action to counter alleged price gouging. Possibilities include imposing price controls; requiring pharmaceutical companies either to reinvest a minimum percentage of revenues into research, or to contribute the excess to the National Institutes of Health; and withdrawing the patent monopolies granted to drug companies. A result of the threat of government action has been a sell-off in biotechnology stocks. In brief, Valeant’s stock has taken a hit.

Another result has been chaos in the senior management team. The company is in crisis. Whatever else is to be done, it’s clear that a frank conversation is crucial. And so you have organized a team meeting.

For your paper, 1) write a dialogueof that meeting as it unfolds; OR 2) write the minutesof that meeting as it happened in the past; OR 3) if the “meeting” is conducted virtually by email, write a series of emailsamong the meeting’s participants.

Here’s the challenge. The embattled Valeant CEO, J. Michael Pearson, is a disciple of the economist Milton Friedman. Pearson knows Friedman’s work by heart and is a believer in Friedman’s teaching that “The Social Responsibility of Business Is To Increase Its Profits.” More precisely, Pearson holds, following Friedman, that executives of publicly-traded corporations, like Valeant, have a duty to do “what I assume our shareholders would like us to do,” namely, to maximize profit while conforming only to the letter of the law (see again Pollack and Tavernise, “Valeant’s Drug Price Strategy Enriches It”).

It’s becoming increasingly clear to you anyway that, if Valeant is to avoid disaster, Pearson’s argument—which is Friedman’s argument—has to be countered. (NOTE: The “you” in question here is the fictional you. The non-fictional you may agree with Friedman.) Moral concerns can’t always be subordinated to the pursuit of profit; maximizing profit while conforming only to the letter of the law, as Valeant has done to date, stokes public outrage, invites government action, and threatens both the company’s and the industry’s long-term prospects. Further, what about the company’s mission! The upshot is that you and your allies on the senior management team need to take on both Pearson and Friedman. (Have your Pearson make Friedman’s argument premise by premise. Make sure that you take issue with some number of those premises.)

Good luck! Pearson, of course, has allies of his own. Finally, indicate somehow, at the dialogue’s end, or at the end of the minutes, or in the last of the emails, which side, in your non-fictional judgment, has the stronger argument.

NOTE: Valeant was recently renamed Bausch Health. Ignore the name change for purposes of this paper.

3) You belong to the senior management teamof the biopharmaceutial company Merck. It is the late 1970s. “Merck scientists [have] discovered that ivermectin, a drug they produced to control parasites in animals, might help millions of people afflicted by onchocerciasis,” otherwise known as river blindness.[1]These millions of people are poor. There is no way that they, or the countries where they live, will be able to pay for the drug. Moreover, it costs around $500 million in 1977 dollars—around $2 billion in 2017 dollars—to take a drug through research and development and bring it to market. Yet your colleagues on the senior management team seem intent on spending all that money and then giving the drug away for free! This strikes you as madness, not to mention morally wrong, for a publicly-traded corporation like Merck. You will not stand for it, whatever the company’s mission statementhappens to say! (NOTE: The “you” in question here is the fictional you. The non-fictional you may agree with Merck’s decision.)

Fortunately, you read, and recall very well, Milton Friedman’s 1970 article, “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.” You think Friedman got it right! Now you need to persuade your colleagues, who have become, as Friedman put it, “unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.”[2]And so you have organized a team meeting.

For your paper, 1) write a dialogueof that meeting as it unfolds; OR 2) write the minutesof that meeting as it happened in the past; OR 3) if the “meeting” is conducted virtually by email, write a series of emailsamong the meeting’s participants. (Imagine that email, too, is a Merck invention, new to the company and as yet unknown to the rest of the world.)

Make sure that you—or maybe Milton Friedman himself, if you can get him to attend the meeting—make Friedman’s argument premise by premise. Also make sure that your colleagues take issue with some number of those premises.

Finally, indicate somehow, at the dialogue’s end, or at the end of the minutes, or in the last of the emails, which side, in your non-fictional judgment, has the stronger argument.


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