Scylla or Charybdis? Historical Reflections on Two Basic Problems of Corporate Governance

Shareholders in corporations face two very different types of governance problems: expropriation by controlling shareholders or managers; and expropriation by greedy rulers or, more generally, by the state. The problem is that the more successful investors are in protecting their capital from the grabbing hand of the state, the less they are able to call upon the state to protect it from the grabbing hand of corporate insiders. Conversely, the more investors are able to call upon government to restrain insiders, the more they are vulnerable to expropriation by the state. Although the terms of this tradeoff have changed over time as modern democratic polities replaced absolutist monarchies, both types of threats are still very much with us.