Controlling Shareholders in the Twenty-First Century: Complicating Corporate Governance Beyond Agency Costs
Series number :
- controlling shareholders •
- Corporate governance •
- nationalism •
By the end of the twentieth century, the then-dominant literature on “law and finance” assumed that concentrated ownership was a product of deficient legal systems that did not sufficiently protect outside investors.
At the same time, commentators posited that the competitive pressures of economic globalization would push countries around the world to adopt an efficient regime of strong investor protection, which was thought to facilitate ownership dispersion. Nevertheless, at the dawn of the 2020s, ownership concentration not only persists, but appears to be on the rise among the world’s largest companies. This symposium essay in honor of Ronald Gilson explores what went wrong with the original predictions from two decades ago and the resulting lessons for corporate governance analysis. It shows that the focus on agency costs that dominated the earlier literature overlooked the fact that corporate governance structures are both (i) influenced by factors beyond tradeoffs in agency costs (such as non-pecuniary private benefits of control and nationalism), and (ii) affect social welfare in ways other than through their effects on investor protection. The essay then reflects on the emerging challenges to what I call the “modularity approach” to corporate law scholarship, and contemporary law-and-economic analysis more generally, which stipulates that each area of law should serve one key efficiency objective.