Greed Is Good. Except When It’s Bad.

Greed Is Good. Except When It’s Bad.

It was the essay heard round the world. Milton Friedman’s “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits” laid out arguably the most consequential economic idea of the latter half of the 20th century. The essay, published in The New York Times Magazine on Sept. 13, 1970, was a call to arms for free market capitalism that influenced a generation of executives and political leaders, most notably Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Mr. Friedman, who was on the faculty of the University of Chicago and who died in 2006 at 94, was no mere economist; he was a kind of celebrity. He became a regular on the talk-show circuit. PBS even gave him a 10-part series. Fifty years later, his theories on the primacy of shareholders and the priority of profits still hold sway over large parts of the corporate world.

We wanted to mark the occasion by stirring a series of discussions and debates, so we assembled more than 20 experts — including C.E.O.s, Nobel laureates and other top thinkers — and asked them to respond to the essay. Some addressed specific passages, and others took on the entire argument. A selection of their responses is below; you can read extended versions online and see all of the annotations in the context of the full original essay in print.