Governance and Stakeholders

Vikas Mehrotra, Randall Morck

NBER Working Paper No. 23460
Issued in June 2017
NBER Program(s):Corporate Finance

Economic models routinely assume firms maximize shareholder wealth; however common law legal systems only require that officers and directors pursue the interests of the corporation, leaving this ill-defined. Economic arguments for shareholder wealth maximization derived from shareholders’ status as residual claimants are vulnerable on several fronts. Share valuations fluctuate as sentiment shifts. Introductory finance casts firms as maximizing expected net present values, which are quasirents, expected earnings beyond expected costs of capital from investors, to which shareholders have no obvious claim. Other stakeholders – entrepreneurial founders or CEOs, employees, employees, customers, suppliers, communities or governments, having made firm-specific investments, may exert stronger claims than atomistic public shareholders have to shares of their firms’ quasirents. Consistent with this, their contractual claims are often augmented by residual claims and liabilities. Still, shareholder value maximization constitutes something of a bright line; whereas stakeholder welfare maximization is an ill-defined charge to assign boards that gives self-interested insiders broader scope for private benefits extraction. The common law concept of “the interests of the corporation” captures this ambiguity.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23460

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