This article, The Corporation as Time Machine: Intergenerational Equity, Intergenerational Efficiency, and the Corporate Form, advances an explanation for the rise of the corporate form and an alternative perspective on its economic function. The article argues that the board-controlled corporate entity is a legal innovation that can transfer wealth forward and sometimes backward through time, for the benefit of both present and future generations. The article was written for a symposium organized around the author’s prior work with Margaret Blair.
The corporate form allows natural persons to aggregate and transfer resources to a legal person with the capacity to hold assets in its own name in perpetuity. When the corporate entity is controlled by a board subject to the fiduciary duty of loyalty, corporate assets can be “locked in” and insulated from the demands of natural persons (e.g., the current generation of shareholders) who want to extract and consume them. Asset lock-in thus permits board-controlled corporate entities with perpetual life to invest in and pursue projects that may generate wealth only in later time periods, possibly even after the current cohort of human beings has ceased to exist.