September 30th – The Institutional Origins of Corporate Social Irresponsibility, by Paddy Ireland

FRIDAY 30th September 2016, Prof. Paddy Ireland (University of Bristol)

There has never been a shortage of instances of corporate irresponsibility. They do, however, seem to have increased in number in recent years. In this seminar, Prof. Ireland will trace the institutional sources of this problem to the way in which the corporate legal form has been constituted. In some contexts the large joint stock corporations which dominate so much of economic life are closely identified with their shareholders, while in others they are regarded as ‘completely separate’.

He will then explore the nature and historical origins of these schizophrenic ideas about the nature of the relationship between corporations and their shareholders, arguing that they underpin contemporary corporate irresponsibility. He suggests that they are attributable to the emergence in the nineteenth century of the perception of corporations as both separate legal persons and objects of property, and to the transformation of the joint stock company share into a Janus-faced, hybrid legal form which enables shareholders to retain some of the key proprietary privileges of ‘insiders’ (owner-members of companies) while they at the same time enjoy the liability- and responsibility-free privileges of ‘outsiders’ (creditors external to companies).

He will go on to suggest that, as commentators as diverse as Marx, Veblen, Hilferding, and Lippmann observed, the hybrid nature of shareholding could have taken corporate governance in very different directions and, historically, has done so, leading at times to highly ‘financialized’ shareholder-focused forms of governance and at other times to much more ‘socialized’ forms. He concludes by exploring the policy implications of the (re)financialized forms of governance that have emerged in recent years.

  • Discussant: Professor Antoine Lyon-Caen

When? Friday 30 September, 14:30 – 17:30

Where? at Sciences Po Law School, 13 rue de l’université, 75007, Paris, salle de réunion (4th floor)