Can We Do Better by Ordinary Investors? A Pragmatic Reaction to the Dueling Ideological Mythologists of Corporate Law

By:  Leo E. Strine, Jr.

 

In his essay, The Myth That Insulating Boards Serves Long- Term Value, Professor Lucian Bebchuk draws a stark dichotomy between so-called “insulation advocates” and proponents of shareholderdriven direct democracy. This Essay begins by rejecting this crude divide between “good” and “evil,” and focuses instead on the practical realities surrounding increases in stockholder power in an era where there is a “separation of ownership from ownership.” That separation arises because the direct stockholders of private companies are typically not enduser investors, but instead money managers, such as mutual funds or hedge funds, whose interests as agents are not necessarily aligned with the interests of long-term investors. These practical realities suggest that Bebchuk’s crusade for ever more stockholder power may not actually be beneficial to ordinary investors, and that his contention—that further empowering stockholders with short-term investment horizons will not compromise long-term corporate value—is far from proven. This Essay concludes with some thoughts on improvements that could be made in the system that we have. These suggestions are not radical in either direction and they do not involve rolling back the rights of stockholders. Rather, these suggestions recognize that the fiduciaries who wield direct voting power over corporations should do so in a manner faithful to the best interests of those whose money they control, include proposals to require activist investors to bear some of the costs they impose and to disclose more information about their own incentives so that the electorate can evaluate their motives, and provide incentives that better align the interests of money managers and ordinary investors toward sustainable, sound long-term corporate growth. Taken as a whole, these suggestions would create a more rational accountability system by making all of the fiduciaries for ordinary investors focus more on what really matters for investors, citizens, and our society as a whole—the creation of durable wealth through fundamentally sound economic activity.

 

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