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When a corporation is unable to meet valid claims, control passes to the holders of these claims in a legally defined order of priority. But, as finance has grown more complex, these rules have come to look more shaky; they can falter dangerously in modern banking or in the case of a struggling retail business such as BHS.
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.
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?
Both the leading candidates for the leadership of Britain’s opposition Labour party have now committed themselves to renationalising the country’s railways. But the state-owned British Rail was one if the most reviled institutions in the UK, and privatisation has delivered many relative benefits.
The test of an organisational structure is not how it handles success but how it copes when things go wrong.
Ethics are about what to do when good behaviour and profitable business are not necessarily the same thing.
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.