The principal-cost theory: a revolution in the debate on corporate law and governance?

Zohar Goshen and Richard Squire develop a new model for corporate governance in the Columbia Law Review

In a recently published papaer (here and here), commented on the Oxford Business Law Blog, a new theory of corporate governance is offered, referred to as the principal-cost theory. The theory challenges the theoretical foundations of the traditional agency-cost theory, in particular their one-size-fits-all policy recommendations.

The authors claim that the principal-cost theory demonstrates that the governance structure reducing control costs varies by firm. Lawmakers therefore should avoid one-size-fits all solutions. Rather they should seek to grow the menu of governance-structure. Accordingly, each firm could establish a governance mechanism adapted to its specific needs.

Does that mean that the agency-cost theory should be neglected from now on? Not necessarily. According to the authors, agent costs and principal costs are two sides of the same coin:

Any reallocation of control rights between shareholders and managers decreases one type of bust, but will  increase the other,  The rate of substitution is firm-specific, driven by factors such as business strategy, industry, and the personal characteristics of the key parties.”

Only time will tell whether this theory of principal costs marks the end of an era dominated by a uniform  theory of “good” corporate governance.


Roel Verheyden

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