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Is it meaningful to talk about the ownership of companies?

Who owns a company? The answer is that no one does, any more than anyone owns the river Thames, the National Gallery, the streets of London, or the air we breathe. There are many different kinds of claims, contracts and obligations in modern economies, and only occasionally are these well described by the term ownership.

Let’s challenge our fixation on the principle of one share, one vote

The Savoy Group and Google both adopted share structures that give individuals disproprtionately greater voting rights than their diverse set of shareholders. It has worked well for these companies and their investors over the long run. Perhaps we should reopen the debate over share structures?

Limited liability led to limited care for other people’s money

The financial sector in the 1980s and 1990s was characterised by a rush to incorporation. The mantra of “shareholder value” restored the nexus between finance and business that Smith had feared and Brandeis denounced. And the stage was set for negligence and profusion to prevail once again.

Barnett formula erodes the concept of “English votes for English laws”

Any action by the UK government that has tax or expenditure implications anywhere in the UK, whether related to reserved or devolved functions, will have consequences for tax and expenditure decisions in Scotland through the Barnett formula.

How a proud corporate history can lead to poor governance

The failures of the Coop provide insights into common management problems in not for profit institutions – including Oxford University.

Being ethical in business is not as simple as ‘doing the right thing’

Ethics are about what to do when good behaviour and profitable business are not necessarily the same thing.

Why business loves capital markets, even if it doesn’t need capital

One of the paradoxes of modern business is that firms have never had so little need of capital or so much involvement with capital markets.

Prosperity requires more than rule of law

When the Chinese ask how to establish the institutions to support a stable, prosperous economy, it is not enough to mumble: “Property rights and rule of law – go to Denmark and see.”

Finance needs stewards, not toll collectors

Trust usually rests on a long-term relationship: the merchant in a foreign bazaar does not expect to deal with you again, and that expectation governs his behaviour.

‘Not on my watch’: applies to banks and the navy

Casinos attract greedy people with deficient ethics: the fear this engenders frames regulation, the obligations we impose on executives and the culture we expect from operating companies. Perhaps banks should operate to standards as high as those of casinos.