History of American Corporate Governance: Law, Institutions, and Politics

37 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2014 Last revised: 14 Feb 2021

See all articles by Eric Hilt

Eric Hilt

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Wellesley College

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Date Written: July 2014


This paper presents an overview of the history of corporate governance in the United States, emphasizing the period before the advent of federal securities laws and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Recent research has overturned many widely accepted beliefs about corporate governance during this period. In particular, the evolution of American corporate governance has not followed a simple, linear trajectory, beginning with small, well-governed firms and ending with large, poorly governed ones. Over time, economic and institutional changes have given rise to successive generations of corporations with their own governance problems and their own mechanisms to address those problems. When existing governance mechanisms failed, the United States experienced corporate governance crises--episodes that shattered investors' faith in corporate management and the legal institutions intended to protect their rights. The resolutions of these crises have sometimes been found in legal innovations, and in other cases, in institutional or market-based solutions.

Suggested Citation

Hilt, Eric, History of American Corporate Governance: Law, Institutions, and Politics (July 2014). NBER Working Paper No. w20356, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2475703

Eric Hilt (Contact Author)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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