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A Theory of the Stakeholder Corporation

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There is a widely held view within the general public that large corporations should act in the interests of a broader group of agents than just their shareholders (the stakeholder view). This paper presents a framework where this idea can be justified. The point of departure is the observation that a large firm typically faces endogenous risks that may have a significant impact on the workers it employs and the consumers it serves. These risks generate externalities on these stakeholders which are not internalized by shareholders. As a result, in the competitive equilibrium, there is under-investment in the prevention of these risks. We suggest that this under-investment problem can be alleviated if firms are instructed to maximize the total welfare of their stakeholders rather than shareholder value alone (stakeholder equilibrium). The stakeholder equilibrium can be implemented by introducing new property rights (employee rights and consumer rights) and instructing managers to maximize the total value of the firm (the value of these rights plus shareholder value). If there is only one firm, the stakeholder equilibrium is Pareto optimal. However, this is not true with more than one firm and/or heterogeneous agents, which illustrates some of the limits of the stakeholder model.

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