November 18, 2012
Birdthistle on Janus
The Supreme Court's Theory of the Fund, by William A. Birdthistle, Chicago-Kent College of Law, was recently posted on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Just as the firm has long served as the foundational molecule of the U.S. capitalist economy, theories of the firm have for more than a century dominated legal and economic discourse. Ever since Ronald Coase published The Nature of the Firm in 1937 and asked why firms should exist in an efficient market, classicists and neoclassicists have competed to develop theories — predominantly managerialist and contractual — that best explain the structure and behavior of business organizations.
The investment fund, by contrast, has languished at the margins of corporate theory, relegated as simply a minor, if somewhat curious, example of the firm. But as the flow of assets into funds has swollen dramatically in recent years, so too has the relevance of the question whether funds are, in fact, best considered a subspecies of the firm or instead ought to be evaluated as independent phenomena.
Part II of this Article discusses the shortcomings of the recent ruling in Janus Capital Group v. First Derivative Traders, taking particular exception with the remarkable formalism of the majority’s reasoning, which appears to ignore or misapprehend the actual operations of mutual funds. If operating companies follow the lead of investment funds and use Janus as a model for immunity against securities litigation, deterrence of financial fraud is likely to drop substantially. Part III considers the potentially deleterious implications of the Court’s fund jurisprudence and predicts that substantial mischief will flow from the decision should its lessons be taken advantage of in other sectors of the economy. Part IV considers the theoretical lens — the theory of the fund — that justices of the Supreme Court appear to use to examine investment funds, and it identifies mistaken assumptions and problems with that lens and its use in the pair of recent rulings in Janus and Jones v. Harris. This Article considers whether alternative theories of the firm might inform a more useful theory of the fund for both the judicial and legislative branches in the future.
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