The aim of this article is to present a brief conceptual overview of the “historical alternatives” approach to business history. The notion of alternatives is central to this approach in both a historical and a historiographical sense. Historically, the hallmark of the historical alternatives approach is its emphasis on the salience of alternative possibilities, contingency, and strategic choice in the development of modern industry over the past three centuries. Historiographically, it represents an alternative to mainstream currents in economic, technological, and business history: an alternative, in particular, to Chandlerian business history focused on the economic and technological efficiency of administrative coordination and learning within large, hierarchically managed enterprises. The article sets out the core elements of the historical alternatives approach in the form of ten positive theses, before going on to respond to five major misconceived objections that have recurrently arisen in the course of the ensuing debate.
The Transatlantic Paradox: How Outdated Concepts Confuse the American/European Debate about Corporate Governance
The concept of the corporation is not separable from the systems of incorporation and regulation that instantiate it. This is true of both the ‘American’ model of the corporation, with its dominant emphasis on shareholder rights (no matter how imperfectly those rights are protected), and of the ‘European’ model, with its attention on community interests, especially employment issues. The former is frequently attacked by Europeans for its neglect of the interests of key stakeholders, while the latter is attacked by Americans for its neglect of economic efficiency. This article shows why too much journalistic and academic debate has been wasted defending the American conception over the European and vice versa. Given the conceptual tools that both sides tend to employ defending their conceptions, the debate is irresolvable. It is, in effect, a puzzle with missing pieces.