The Anglo-American Misconception of Stockholders As ‘Owners’ and ‘Members’: Its Origins and Consequences
Journal of Institutional Economics, Forthcoming
40 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2019
Date Written: August 6, 2019
That stockholders ‘own’ the corporation and are its ‘members’, are assumptions deeply embedded in Anglo-American treatments of the business corporation. They are also principal supports of the policy of ‘shareholder primacy’ and, in the United States, of the corporate claim to constitutional rights. This article critiques these assumptions, while also explaining why they took hold. Among several reasons for this, the primary explanation is to be found in the peculiar parentage of England’s first major business corporation, the English East India Company (EIC). The EIC did not begin its life as a true business corporation, but as a cross between a guild (a form of member corporation) and a joint-stock company (a form of partnership). In the transition to a unified business corporation, its stockholders inherited the monikers of ‘member’ and ‘owner’ from their guild and partner forebears. This misdescription set the legal mold for all subsequent Anglo-American treatments of stockholders.
Keywords: member corporation, property corporation, Dutch East India Company, English East India Company, Levant Company, stockholder, owner, member
JEL Classification: B15, N73
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation