Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Many BLPB readers are likely aware that Stephen Bainbridge recently published a new book, The Profit Motive: Defending Shareholder Value Maximization. I must admit that I’m a fan of the Introduction:
There are a lot of books on the market praising stakeholder capitalism. They proclaim a new age in which big corporations should embrace—and, in fact, are embracing—environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. Whether putatively objective academic tomes filled with statistics or mass market books filled with bullet points, the bottom line is the same; namely, that stakeholder capitalism is the right thing to do both morally and financially. This is not one of those books.
For those of you on the fence, there is an hour-long overview on YouTube (here), but if that’s too long you might consider a recent guest post by Prof. Bainbridge on the Corporate Finance Lab discussing the book (here). Below is a brief excerpt from that post.
Three major themes animate the project. First, any conception of corporate purpose that embraces goals other than creating value for shareholders is inconsistent with the mainstream of U.S. corporate law. Second, directors do—and should—have wide and substantially unfettered discretion as to how they go about generating shareholder value. Although many commentators claim that those statements are inconsistent, in fact they both reflect fundamental normative principles deeply embedded in U.S. corporate law. Third, a shareholder-centric conception of corporate purpose is preferable to stakeholder capitalism….
Pursuit of shareholder value maximization leads to more efficient resource allocation, creates new social wealth, and promotes economic and political liberty. To be sure, there will always be externalities. Just as pursuing profit is baked into the corporation’s DNA, so is externalizing costs. There is no such thing as a free lunch. The theory and evidence recounted in The Profit Motive, however, suggests that the balance comes down strongly in favor of shareholder value maximization.