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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Measuring Efficiency in Corporate Law: The Role of Shareholder Primacy


An extensive body of empirical research evaluates corporate law in terms of its effect on shareholder wealth and, based on this effect, makes efficiency claims designed to influence regulatory policy. Central to these claims is the premise that the principal objective of the corporation is the maximization of shareholder wealth. By defining regulatory efficiency in terms of shareholder wealth, the literature relies on the shareholder primacy norm to equate shareholder value with firm value. This Article challenges both the positive and the normative foundations of the shareholder primacy norm. The Article demonstrates that existing legal doctrine does not require corporations to maximize shareholder wealth at the expense of other stakeholder interests. Although economic analysis offers a theoretical defense of shareholder primacy, its conclusions are based on strong and questionable assumptions about the market conditions in which the corporation operates. Finally, the Article explores and rejects the argument that shareholder primacy may be founded in existing limits on management fiduciary duties, offering an alterntive defense of those limits in terms of comparative institutional analysis. Justifying the evaluation of corporate performance in terms of shareholder wealth is critical to empirical claims of regulatory efficiency. The presence of other stakeholders, whose interests in the firm may be not reflected in an assessment of shareholder value, raises questions about efficiency analyses that do not incorporate those interests into their assessment of firm value. Alternative conceptions of firm value suggest that empirical scholars need to offer better and explicit justifications for their reliance on shareholder wealth and, more importantly, for their argument that shareholder wealth effects should dominate regulatory policy.

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