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The Unfinished Business of Governance

Monitoring and Regulating Industries and Organizations

Alexander Styhre

The Unfinished Business of Governance provides an overview of the changing landscape of governance and focuses on the three specific domains of corporate governance, university governance, and market governance. The book examines how changes in competitive capitalism and the wider social organization of society is recursively both determined by, and actively shaping underlying governance ideals and their practices. The shared theme in the various changes of the governance system is that free market theory and ideologies have gradually penetrated governance practices.
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Chapter 2: Governing the corporation: the economic theory roots of the shareholder primacy doctrine

Alexander Styhre


Chapter 2 examines the components of the shareholder primacy governance model that has dominated corporate governance scholarship since the early 1980s. Tracing the roots of the economic theory that justifies shareholder governance to the cold war era and what has been called cold war rationality, the chapter stresses how rational choice theory has informed corporate governance through, e.g., agency theory and other economic theories stipulating instrumental rationality as a privileged analytical model. The cold war heritage has been criticized for overstating experimental data and for ignoring rational responses from experimental subjects, resulting in an overtly negative view of human decision making capacities. When transferring such analytical models to, e.g., corporate governance affairs, salaried managers, e.g., are at risk of being portrayed in unfavourable ways to justify the market for management control, in turn resulting in shareholder primacy governance. The chapter concludes that the efficiency criterion that economic theory stipulates is too one-dimensional to serve its purpose and calls for novel analytical models to better assist corporate governance activities.

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