Dr. Aneel Karnani’s commentary in the Wall Street Journal, “The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility” is a good illustration of the challenge facing the business management strategy field in the 21st century -- namely to comprehend the changing role and impact of business in society and integrate this understanding into contemporary management theory.
Like many critics of CSR, Dr. Karnani’s world view remains firmly rooted in the 20th century social contract where governments (supposedly) took care of social responsibility and business took care of business. For Dr. Karnani, corporate social responsibility at its core is nothing more than a misguided distraction for business leaders and managers who should be focused on “profit maximization.”
While he acknowledges that companies sometimes can do well by doing good, his view is more often that they can't, and furthermore postulates that this “makes it more likely that we'll ignore the real solutions to these problems.” He argues that if business had a meaningful role to play then societies’ pervasive and persistent problems would have been solved long ago by companies seeking to maximize their profits.” In his view the “real” solution to societal problems is a return to a world of more government regulation and intervention. As he notes, government regulation’s “greatest appeal is that it is binding. Government has the power to enforce regulation. No need to rely on anyone's best intentions.”
While one can appreciate Dr Karnani’s desire for a simpler time where governments take care of society and business takes care of business, in reality we live in a much more complex world.