May 08, 2009
View from Europe;Paradigms
Posted by Lyman Johnson

I strongly urge readers to read the Defining Tension comment to my second post, Why It Matters. The link noted in that comment takes you to a very thoughtful, balanced, and helpful essay. It is must reading for those interested in the debate over corporate goals. It convinces me that this debate over corporate purpose is critically important both here and abroad as it touches on a fundamental matter that cannot be dismissed.

On another note, we all know that paradigms shape thinking within a discipline by framing what questions are and are not asked. It may not be a Copernican or Einsteinian revolution, but certainly the contractarian theory changed corporate law thinking several years ago, though many, like me, while finding  it a helpful perspective, are not prepared to abandon more organic conceptions of corporateness that emphasize mutual interdependence over a purely bargain-based conception. My post today though  argues that religion can influence corporate law whatever one's theory of corporateness.  The hard contractarian view of corporate relations can be de-coupled from the shareholder primacy view and, more importantly, it can be de-coupled from a theory of human motivation that contends that people seek only to advance self-interest. The latter point is squarely at odds with the core teachings of much religious teaching about being a "good samaritan." One can contract but do so from motivations other than wealth-maximizing for one's self.

On the other hand, many progressives automatically seek, at least implicitly, statist solutions to corporate ills. Those of a more reform-minded bent on the left should keep in mind, first, that many "progressive" reformers have religious convictions as the grounding  of  their beliefs on corporate reform and, second,  also keep in mind that many with religious beliefs who brand themselves as "conservative"  may actually agree that corporations should be more responsible and seek such reform from the right(whether or not they are contractarians). Politically active conservatives largely have focused on social issues and tax issues without paying sufficient heed as to how their religious commitments might lead them toward criticism of many corporate practices. Also, social conservatives may see this issue quite differently than the libertarians.

Reform by means of non-statist solutions actuated by religious belief, then, need not be dependent on subscription to a particular theory of corporateness or confined to one part of the ideological spectrum.

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