Take, for example, the shareholder model of corporate ownership. Despite their theoretical status as “owners” of the corporation, shareholders have little genuine control over management. In fact, management’s responsibility to shareholders is a legitimizing myth comparable to the claim of the State industrial bureaucracy in the old Soviet Union to represent “the people” or “the workers.” The management of most large corporations is actually a self-perpetuating oligarchy in control of a mass of unowned capital. But their claimed status as representatives of the shareholders, as little basis as it has in fact, serves a useful purpose in insulating management from internal political challenges–especially from internal stakeholders.
As organization theorist Luigi Zingales has pointed out, the main source of corporate book value is shifting increasingly from physical capital to human capital. That means that an increasing share of profit and equity results from the contributions of the workforce–specifically, their tacit, job-specific knowledge and skills. Whether workers are willing fully to invest these skills and knowledge in the firm depends, to a large extent, on whether the governance system recognizes their stakeholder status and rewards them for their contribution to the bottom line. Without contractually defined stakeholder claims to the revenue stream that reflect their contribution to value, workers know it’s quite likely that in a mixed economy with State impediments to free competition, management will expropriate whatever productivity gains result from their special situational knowledge and skills via management bonuses, downsizing, or both. Consequently they are likely to keep to themselves any knowledge that might increase efficiency.