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Stakeholder capitalism results in a loss of accountability, as executives who are responsible to everyone are responsible to no one. Stakeholder capitalism would be extremely difficult to implement. Proposed means of doing so – such as constituency boards, codetermination, and team production – are all unworkable. Stakeholder capitalism is inconsistent with democratic capitalism. Shareholder value maximization is the result that would emerge if shareholder and stakeholders could bargain (the so-called hypothetical bargain). Shareholder capitalism is pro-social. The profit motive results in socially efficient resource allocation. The profit motive is an essential motivational spark for innovation. The profit motive promotes freedom.
This chapter is concerned with understanding the limited liability corporation, the dominant form of conducting business today. First, I consider the relationship between the corporation and the individuals underlying it and argue that this is best captured by a ‘supervenience relation’: the corporation is not reducible to but dependent upon the individuals underlying it. Secondly, I consider the very purpose of forming a corporate entity and argue for a ‘socio-liberal conception of the corporation’. This view understands the corporation as a structure designed to harness the expression of individual economic interests for social benefits. Both the wider social purpose and individual profit-seeking motives are necessary to understand the complex duality that is the modern corporation. These reflections on the nature and purpose of the corporate form – as will be seen later in this book - are of vital importance to explicating the obligations such entities have that flow from fundamental rights.
This chapter provides an introduction to the basic structure and themes of the book. We begin with a description of the basic features of a corporation. We then discuss the intellectual foundations of corporate governance, including an overview of the doctrine of shareholder primacy and the view that a corporation is merely a nexus of contracts. We begin to catalog some of the cracks in these foundations, focusing on the shortcomings of the long-standing arguments for the exclusive shareholder franchise. Next, we make clear that our the criticisms of shareholder primacy and the exclusive shareholder franchise do not question, but indeed make extensive use of, the basic principles of standard economics and social choice theory. In other words, both our critique and our positive theory come from within the very tradition that gave rise to the original arguments for shareholder control. We conclude the chapter with a detailed plan for the rest of the book.
This chapter critically examines the contractarian argument for the exclusive shareholder franchise. That argument comes out of the view that the corporation is merely a nexus of contracts among all the corporate constituents, and thus all have essentially agreed that shareholders alone should have voting and control rights. The nexus of contracts argument, though, is descriptively wrong, as corporations cannot be reduced to a set of contracts. Proponents fall back on using the concept as a metaphor, one that posits that “hypothetical” constituents would, if given the chance, all bargain for such an arrangement, but this, too, misdescribes actual constituent preferences and admits of too many degrees of freedom. The final part of the chapter examines the new corporate contract, where the contract metaphor has been redeployed to describe the role between shareholders and the board. This, like the nexus of contracts conception that it springs from, is also descriptively wrong and normatively hollow.
Modern corporations contribute to a wide range of contemporary problems, including income inequality, global warming, and the influence of money in politics. Their relentless pursuit of profits, though, is the natural outcome of the doctrine of shareholder primacy. As the consensus around this doctrine crumbles, it has become increasingly clear that the prerogatives of corporate governance have been improperly limited to shareholders. It is time to examine shareholder primacy and its attendant governance features anew, and reorient the literature around the basic purpose of corporations. This book critically examines the current state of corporate governance law and provides decisive rebuttals to longstanding arguments for the exclusive shareholder franchise. Reconstructing the Corporation presents a new model of corporate governance - one that builds on the theory of the firm as well as a novel theory of democratic participation - to support the extension of the corporate franchise to employees.
Corporations cannot exist, scholars rightly note, without being constituted by government. However, many take a further step, claiming that corporations are normatively distinct from other market actors because of this governmental provenance. They are mistaken. Like corporations, markets and contracts also require government for their creation. Governmental provenance does not distinguish corporations normatively because our coercive social institutions are pro tanto justified in re-arranging both corporate and non-corporate market activities on behalf of social and political values. The corporation is distinct only practically and prudentially, in that it represents a more proximate instrument for effecting morality in the economy.
At the close of the twentieth century, U.S. corporate scholarship was dominated by a principal-agent paradigm that assumed that shareholders were the principals or sole residual claimants in public corporations, and also assumed that corporate directors were the shareholders' agents. This approach led many corporate scholars to assume that the proper purpose of the corporation was to maximize shareholder wealth and that the chief economic problem of interest in corporate law was the “agency cost” problem of getting corporate directors to focus on this goal.
There are basic aspects of U.S. corporate law, however, that the principal-agent model cannot explain. These include directors' extensive and sui generis legal powers; the fact that directors control dividends; the device of legal personality; and the open-ended rules of corporate purpose. These corporate law “anomalies” have prompted contemporary economic and legal scholars to begin to move beyond a focus on agency costs and to pay attention to a second economic problem that arises in public corporations: the problem of protecting specific investment. When corporate production requires more than one individual or group to make specific investments, problems of intrafirm opportunism arise if shareholders try to exploit each other's specific investments or try to exploit the specific investments of creditors, employees, customers, and other groups. Board governance, while worsening agency costs, may provide a second-best solution to such intrafirm rent-seeking. This perspective explains many important corporate law “anomalies” that cannot be explained by the principal-agent model.
It also suggests a pressing need to revisit conventional notions of corporate purpose. Focusing on the problem of specific investment suggests that the proper purpose of the public corporation is not maximizing shareholder wealth, but promoting long-term, value-creating economic production under conditions of complexity and uncertainty, in a fashion that provides surplus benefits not only to shareholders but to other groups that make specific investments in corporations as well. This corporate objective is difficult to measure, much less maximize. Nevertheless, it may provide a better gauge of good corporate governance than the simplistic rubric of shareholder wealth.
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