Non-Libertarianism and Shareholder Theory: A Reply to Schaefer [Book Review]

Journal of Business Ethics 98 (2):273 - 279 (2011)
Libertarianism and the shareholder model of corporate responsibility have long been thought of as natural bedfellows. In a recent contribution to the Journal of Business Ethics, Brian Schaefer goes so far as to suggest that a proponent of shareholder theory cannot coherendy and consistently embrace any moral position other than philosophical libertarianism. The view that managers have a fiduciary obligation to advance the interests of shareholders exclusively is depicted as fundamentally incompatible with the acknowledgement of natural positive duties – duties to aid others that have not been acquired by some prior commitment or transaction. I argue that Schaefer is mistaken. Positive duties are incompatible with the shareholder model only if we must contribute to their fulfilment in the corporate context; only if we have some reason to think that it is not possible or not permissible to discharge these obligations entirely in our private lives or through our various other roles and capacities. But we have no good reason to accept this. I argue that individuals are presumptively free to decide how and when to discharge their positive duties, and that buying shares does not cause this presumption to lapse. Hence a non-libertarian moral theory can be held without incoherence by a proponent of the shareholder model
Keywords aid  corporate social responsibility  libertarianism  positive duties  shareholder theory
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Thomas Pogge (2002). World Poverty and Human Rights. Ethics and International Affairs 19 (1):1–7.

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