Shareholder-owned corporations were the central pillars of the US economy in the twentieth century. Due to the success of the shareholder value movement and the widespread “Nikefication” of production, however, public corporations have become less concentrated, less integrated, less interconnected at the top, shorter-lived, and less prevalent since the turn of the twenty-first century, and there is reason to expect that their significance will continue to dwindle.
We are left with both pathologies (heightened inequality, lower mobility, and a fragmented social safety net) and new technologies suitable for being re-purposed in more democratic forms. Local solutions for producing, distributing, and sharing can provide functional alternatives to corporations for both production and employment; what is needed is the social organization to match the tools that we already have, or will have shortly. The time for democratic local economic forms prophesied by generations of activists may finally be at hand.
About the Speaker: Jerry Davis is the Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Management at the Ross School of Business and Professor of Sociology, The University of Michigan. His latest book Managed by the Markets: How Finance Re-Shaped America (Oxford University Press, 2009) examines how finance replaced manufacturing at the center of the American economy, and what the consequences have been for corporations, banking, states, and households in the 21st century.