Principal Costs: A New Theory for Corporate Law and Governance

71 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2015 Last revised: 4 Sep 2016

Zohar Goshen

Columbia University - Law School; Ono Academic College Faculty of Law

Richard Squire

Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: February 28, 2015


The dominant paradigm in corporate law is agency-cost theory, which asserts that the law’s proper role is to reduce managerial agency costs by forcing firms to allocate more control to shareholders. That theory cannot explain why shareholders voluntarily invest in firms that circumscribe their powers to hold managers accountable. This Article introduces principal-cost theory, which states that each firm’s optimal governance structure minimizes the sum of principal costs, produced when investors exercise control, and agent costs, produced when managers exercise control. Because the optimal division of control is firm-specific, firms rationally select from a range of governance structures that empower shareholders to varying degrees. Principal-cost theory generates more accurate empirical predictions than agency-cost theory. It also suggests different policy prescriptions: rather than banning some governance features and mandating others, lawmakers should permit each firm to tailor its structure based on its firm-specific substitution rate between principal costs and agent costs.

Keywords: principal costs, agency costs, governance structure, theory of the firm, dual class, concentrated ownership, dispersed ownership,

JEL Classification: D20, D21, D23, D24, G30, G32, G34, K22, L20, L21, L22

Suggested Citation

Goshen, Zohar and Squire, Richard, Principal Costs: A New Theory for Corporate Law and Governance (February 28, 2015). Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2571739; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-462. Available at SSRN: or

Zohar Goshen (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States
212-854-9760 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)

Ono Academic College Faculty of Law

104 Zahal St.
Kiryat Ono, 55000
972-50-5344332 (Phone)
972-3-5356120 (Fax)


Richard C. Squire

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-964-1584 (Phone)

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