The link from scholarly research to front-page headlines is rarely as tight as for the topic of financial control within the modern corporation. On March 14-15, a group of researchers met for a two-day workshop at the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) to consider current perspectives on comparative corporate governance – the rules that establish property rights and authority relations within the firm.
Coming from several different disciplines and geographic specialties, the group was well placed to question the priorities of corporate governance in the United States — transparency, shareholder control, and smoothly functioning takeover markets. Although these priorities are sometimes viewed as a universal model of economic efficiency, most participants at this workshop agreed that they were a recent invention. And as other attendees noted, one had to look no further than the collapse of the investment company, Bear Stearns, to see the reasons for reassessing the conventional wisdom. If anything, comparative experience shows that the preoccupation with shareholder sovereignty has customarily been combined in other countries with such priorities as regulation for market stability, labor representation on boards of directors, pension-fund security, and varied forms of social responsibility. Long a concern of specialists in corporate law, managerial economics, and organizational sociology, corporate governance is increasingly a topic of study across the social sciences. This workshop was convened by J. Nicholas Ziegler of Berkeley’s Political Science Department, building upon an earlier set of discussions that took place at the University of California, San Diego at the initiative of Peter Gourevitch. This working paper provides a summary of the presentations made at the workshop and the ensuing debates among participants. It concludes with a discussion of future directions for inquiry in this research field.