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date: 18 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

In the 1960s and 1970s, corporate law and finance scholars gave up on their traditional approaches. Corporate law had become “towering skyscrapers of rusted girders, internally welded together and containing nothing but wind.” In finance, the theory of the firm was recognized as an “empty box.” This essay tracks how corporate law was reborn as corporate governance through three examples of how we have usefully complicated the inquiry into corporate behavior. Part I frames the first complication, defining governance broadly as the company’s operating system, a braided framework of legal and non-legal elements. Part II adds a second complication by making the inquiry dynamic: corporate governance as a path dependent process that co-evolves with the elements of the broader capitalist regime. Part III considers unsuccessful efforts to simplify rather than complicate corporate governance analysis through static single factor models: stakeholder, team production, director primacy, and shareholder primacy. Part IV concludes by highlighting the tradeoff between a governance system’s capacity to adapt to change and its ability to support long-term investment.

Keywords: corporate law, corporate governance, comparative corporate governance, varieties of capitalism, team production, director primacy, shareholder primacy, stakeholders, path dependency, short-termism

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