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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Corporate governance has arrived?

As a New York Times editorial observes today: "corporate governance, a relatively obscure issue a few years ago, has now grown big enough to generate its own scandals."
"New Twist on Corporate Goverance," NYT, 1/11/05, A26, emphasis added--the rest of piece is about the "forced resignation" of the director of Yale's International Institute for Corporate Governance.
The creation of Yale's institute in 1999 was one sign that corporate governance had become a recognized "issue" in the academy, its importance affirmed by the corporate scandals of recent years. But business historians have been much slower on the uptake. Aside from a few works by legal historians and the 1932 classic, Private Property and the Modern Corporation by Berle and Means, there are hardly any studies of the history of corporate governance, especially in the years before the 1930s.

Why so little attention by historians? One reason is that business historians tend to conflate the history of big business, on which a great deal of research has been done, with the history of corporations. As a result, most of my colleagues don't realize how little we actually know about the history of corporations per se.

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