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Shareholder Democracies?Corporate Governance in Britain and Ireland before 1850$
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Mark Freeman, Robin Pearson, and James Taylor

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780226261874

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226261881.001.0001

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The Joint-Stock Company and Its Environment, 1720–1850

The Joint-Stock Company and Its Environment, 1720–1850

(p.20) Chapter Two The Joint-Stock Company and Its Environment, 1720–1850
Shareholder Democracies?

Mark Freeman

Robin Pearson

James Taylor

University of Chicago Press

This chapter outlines the growth of the joint-stock economy in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain and argues that, until recently, its size and significance have been grossly understated. Attention is increasingly being paid to some of the external issues generated by this first corporate economy. Some historians have focused on the relationship between business and the state with new research on taxation, company law, and the effectiveness of commercial lobbying. Several others have explored attitudes toward corporate failure and fraud and the political and social factors influencing company legislation. Others have examined the gender and social composition of shareholders, their motives for investment, and the limitation of their liability. In fact, the increased capital requirements associated with overseas commerce or large-scale manufacturing or mining operations were already a common explanation for the emergence of big corporations between the late sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries, as was the desire to reduce information and transaction costs associated with market exchange. The data presented in the chapter reveal the beginning of the demise of “voluntarism” and “participatory politics” among joint-stock companies and the expansion of executive powers and the virtual representation of the passive investor.

Keywords:   joint-stock economy, Britain, business, taxation, company law, shareholders, market exchange

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