Over on Crooked Timber, Daniel Davies has uncorked a hell of a rant on the fatuous absurdity of the old saw that "corporate officers have a fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value." He starts off by pointing out that you could maximize the profits of the company for this quarter by, for example, firing everyone -- but that the next quarter would be pretty dismal. Then he gets into the meat of it, how every conceivable action
can be justified as "maximizing value."
In real life, the business judgement rule protects more or less anything that the Creative Capitalism gang might want businesses to do. Even the paradigm example used by Posner – of a corporate chief executive making charitable donations and specifically saying that they weren’t doing it for PR purposes and that they didn’t run the company in the interests of the shareholders – doesn’t actually necessarily give rise to a situation which would fail the business judgement test, because that’s pretty much the story of Body Shop, and if the only way that a company can secure the services of a talented and energetic cosmetics executive like Anita Roddick is to give away money without regard for shareholders, then that’s in the interests of shareholders. There is, of course, a cottage industry in business school cases and the funnies pages of the Economist in proving that instances of corporate philanthropy are actually in the interests of shareholders in the long term.
What obligation? Maximise what?
And, of course, the long term is a terribly difficult thing to forecast. It would, we can presume, be pretty bad for the S&P500 index if the Antarctic ice cap melted and we all drowned. Conversely, if the continent of Africa were to develop a billion consumers in a first world economy, that would be pretty good for the share prices of most companies on the stock exchange. There is a general long time interest of all humanity in doing good (that’s why it’s called “good”) and corporations and their shareholders do, in fact, share in this general interest of humanity. If you want to argue in any particular case that an act of corporate philanthropy isn’t connected tightly enough to a specific benefit which can be appropriated by the company and that this is wrong, then go for it but don’t expect the courts to agree with you.
My UK publisher, Head of Zeus, has published the official tour schedule for the British tour for Walkaway, with stops in Oxford (with Tim Harford), London (with Laurie Penny), Liverpool (with Chris Pak), Birmingham, and the Hay Literary Festival (with Dr Adam Rutherford). Hope to see you there!
My publicist just found an extra box of the cool promotional Walkaway multitools, and she’s generously offered to give them to the next 100 people to reserve tickets to the May 7th Walkaway event at Chicago’s Royal George Theater, where I’m presenting with CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY creator Max Temkin (current ticket-holders, don’t worry, you get […]
Carol from Cheapass Games writes, “In our continuing quest to bring back the very best classic Cheapass Games, we’re creating a new boxed set of Button Men, our strategy dice combat game. This time around, the characters will appear on cards, rather than pin-back buttons, but since they’re all 1950s era gangsters, the ‘button men’ […]
Bamboo has lots of uses beyond just being panda food. Things like bikes, roads, scaffolding, and musical instruments are made from the fast-growing grass. But unless you are participating in a tropical-themed LARP, you probably wouldn’t want a shirt made from bamboo stalks. So why do bamboo bed sheets make any sense? Because yarn extracted from […]
If you want to work in tech, but don’t have any desire to code web apps to help businesses sell things to other business, you might want to consider a career in cybersecurity. Judging from the apparent complete infiltration of Russian hackers in American cyberspace, it seems fair to speculate that there’s a major shortage of […]
All moms are different. But all moms like getting flowers on Mother’s Day, and that’s a fact (not, however a fact we can document in any fashion.) Instead of getting chewed out for forgetting to call her on the second Sunday of May, you can take care of it ahead of time with Teleflora’s flower […]