Long-Term Bias and Director Primacy

the Columbia Business Law Review (forthcoming)

UCLA School of Law, Law-Econ Research Paper No. 20-04

24 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2020 Last revised: 14 Sep 2020

See all articles by Stephen M. Bainbridge

Stephen M. Bainbridge

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Date Written: September 11, 2020

Abstract

In an important recent contribution to the short-termism debate, Professors Michal Barzuza and Eric Talley challenge what they call an “emerging consensus in certain legal, business, and scholarly communities … that corporate managers are pressured unduly into chasing short-term gains at the expense of superior long-term prospects.” See Michal Barzuza & Eric L. Talley, Long-Term Bias (February 20, 2019), forthcoming in the Columbia Business Law Review, available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3338631. Instead, Barzuza and Talley contend that “corporate managers often fall prey to long-term bias—excessive optimism about their own long-term projects.”

This article is an invited comment on Barzuza and Talley’s article. Subject to various quibbles raised herein, I broadly concur with Barzuza and Talley’s argument that corporate directors and officers can be biased towards long-term projects and, accordingly, may reject short-term projects offering higher returns.

But what law reforms follow logically from their conclusion, if any? With respect to judicial review, I want to differ with Barzuza and Talley on three points. First, I believe Barzuza and Talley overstate the risk of judicial intervention. Second, they fail adequately to distinguish between directors and managers, even though that distinction is central to the application of Delaware law. Third, I believe their analysis implies that judges should retain the deference to director decision making inherent in doctrines such as the business judgment rule and intermediate review.

With respect to encouraging shareholder activism, I argue that the responsibility for policing managerial hyperopia (or myopia, for that matter) should be assigned to the board of directors, not the shareholders. Heterogenous shareholders lack the proper incentives and knowledge to properly police management.


Keywords: corporate governance, management, directors and officers, short-term, long-term, behavioral economics

JEL Classification: K22

Suggested Citation

Bainbridge, Stephen Mark, Long-Term Bias and Director Primacy (September 11, 2020). the Columbia Business Law Review (forthcoming), UCLA School of Law, Law-Econ Research Paper No. 20-04, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3666593

Stephen Mark Bainbridge (Contact Author)

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