Corporate Governance and Inequality: The Impact of Financialisation and Shareholder Value

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Finance and Economy for Society: Integrating Sustainability, 2017, pp. 27 - 55
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Abstract Purpose The purpose of this chapter is to analyse how in recent years the rediscovery that extreme inequality is returning to advanced economies and has become widespread. What is at issue are the causes of this inequality. It is becoming clear that the wider population, particularly in Anglo-American economies have not shared in the growing wealth of the countries concerned, and that the majority of this wealth is being transferred on a continuous and systemic basis to the very rich. Corporate governance and the pursuit of shareholder value it is argued has become a major driver of inequality. Methodology/approach The current statistical evidence produced by leading authorities including the US Federal Reserve, World Economic Forum, Credit Suisse and Oxfam are examined. The policy of shareholder value and the mechanisms by which the distributions from business take place are investigated from a critical perspective. Findings While the Anglo-American economies are seeing a return to the extremes of inequality last witnessed in the 19th century, the causes of this inequality are changing. In the 19th century great fortunes often were inherited, or derived by entrepreneurs from the ownership and control of productive assets. By the late 20th century as Atkinson, Piketty and Saez (2011) and others have highlighted, the sustained and rapid inflation in top income shares have made a significant contribution to the accelerating rate of income and wealth inequality. Research implications The intensification of inequality in advanced industrial economies, despite the consistent work of Atkinson and others, was largely neglected until the recent research of Picketty which has attracted international attention. It is now acknowledged widely that inequality is a serious issue; however, the contemporary causes of inequality remain largely unexplored. Practical/social implications The significance of inequality, now that it is recognized, demands policy and practical interventions. However, the capacity or even willingness to intervene is lacking. Further analysis of the debilitating consequences of inequality in terms of the efficiency and stability of economies and societies may encourage a more robust approach, yet the resolve to end extreme inequality is not present. Originality/value The analysis of inequality has not been neglected and this chapter represents a pioneering effort to relate the shareholder value orientation now dominant in corporate governance to the intensification of inequality.
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