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Firm Ownership and Organizational Form

Henry Hansmann

Yale Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

August 1, 2008

The Handbook of Organizational Economics, Robert Gibbons and John Roberts, eds., Princeton University Press, December 2012
Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 450

In contemporary market economies, firms typically adopt one or another of a small number of standard organizational forms, both in terms of ownership and in terms of commitments to contractual counterparties. This review essay, prepared as a chapter for the forthcoming Handbook of Organizational Economics, explores the basic elements of those forms and the economic forces that shape them. It begins by focusing on the firm as a contracting entity, and on the relationship between the two different boundaries of the firm: the control boundary and the asset boundary. It then turns to the ownership of the firm, viewing the choice of the ownership class as a tradeoff between costs of market contracting and costs of ownership. The essay addresses in these terms not just investor-owned firms but also the variety of other ownership types found in modern market economics, including nonprofit and governmental enterprise, and focuses particularly on recent efforts to explain the evolution of employee ownership in the service professions, such as investment banking, advertising, and law. The essay concludes with a brief discussion of the role of law in enterprise organization, and a look to the future.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 34

Keywords: firm structure, ownership, organizational economics, enterprise form

JEL Classification: D23, H11, K22, L22, L31

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Date posted: July 5, 2012 ; Last revised: July 31, 2012

Suggested Citation

Hansmann, Henry, Firm Ownership and Organizational Form (August 1, 2008). The Handbook of Organizational Economics, Robert Gibbons and John Roberts, eds., Princeton University Press, December 2012; Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 450. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2101327

Contact Information

Henry Hansmann (Contact Author)
Yale Law School ( email )
P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-4966 (Phone)

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)
B-1050 Brussels
HOME PAGE: http://www.ecgi.org
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