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Friedman Doctrine

The Friedman Doctrine, also referred to as the shareholder theory or profit maximization principle, is an economic concept developed by the prominent American economist, Milton Friedman, during the latter half of the 20th century. It serves as a guiding principle for understanding the role of corporations within the broader socioeconomic context.


The Friedman Doctrine posits that the primary and overarching responsibility of a corporation is to maximize profits for its shareholders. According to this perspective, the pursuit of profits is the driving force behind a corporation’s decision-making process, while other potential stakeholders, such as employees, communities, and the environment, are considered secondary to shareholders’ interests.

Conceptual Underpinnings:

Friedman’s doctrine is based on the fundamental premise that the purpose of a corporation is to generate profits for its owners, who are the shareholders. In this view, shareholders are seen as the true owners of a corporation and as such, the corporation operates as a profit-maximizing entity on their behalf.


The Friedman Doctrine has profound implications for several areas of business and economics:

  1. Economic Efficiency: By emphasizing profit maximization, the doctrine argues that corporations should focus on producing goods and services efficiently, leading to overall economic growth and improving living standards. This efficiency is believed to be achieved through competitive markets and limited government intervention.
  2. Ethical Responsibility: The doctrine asserts that corporations should refrain from engaging in activities that are not directly related to maximizing profits for shareholders. It proposes that corporations should operate within the legal framework and obey laws and regulations, but they should not take on responsibilities that are deemed to be the role of governments, such as addressing social and environmental concerns.
  3. Shareholder Value: The Friedman Doctrine places significant importance on the value of shareholders’ investments. It suggests that by prioritizing shareholders’ interests, corporations indirectly benefit other stakeholders, such as employees and suppliers, through job creation and economic growth.

Critiques and Counterarguments:

While the Friedman Doctrine has gained prominence and support among many economists and business leaders, it also faces criticism and counterarguments. Some of the main critiques are:

  1. Narrow Focus: Critics argue that the sole focus on maximizing shareholder profits overlooks other important aspects of a corporation’s impact, such as social and environmental consequences. They contend that corporations should be accountable to a broader set of stakeholders, including employees, customers, communities, and the environment.
  2. Long-Term Sustainability: Critics argue that an exclusive focus on short-term profit maximization may lead to unethical practices, neglect of social and environmental factors, and an unsustainable approach to business. They advocate for a more balanced approach that considers long-term sustainability and the well-being of all stakeholders.
  3. Social Contract: Opponents claim that a corporation’s existence relies on the implicit social contract between businesses and society. They argue that corporations should actively engage in corporate social responsibility and contribute positively to society, rather than solely focusing on shareholder profits.

In conclusion, the Friedman Doctrine, or profit maximization principle, is an economic concept advanced by Milton Friedman, positioning the maximization of shareholder profits as the primary responsibility of corporations. While this doctrine has shaped the thinking of many economists and business leaders, it faces criticism for its narrow focus and potential disregard for broader ethical, social, and environmental considerations. The ongoing debate over the role of corporations and their responsibilities to various stakeholders continues to shape the landscape of modern business and finance.