The Power of the Narrative in Corporate Lawmaking

The Power of the Narrative in Corporate Lawmaking

Mark Roe, Roy Shapira

Series number :

Serial Number: 
554/2020

Date posted :

November 17 2020

Last revised :

November 17 2020
SSRN Share

Keywords

  • Corporate governance • 
  • short-termism • 
  • Hedge Funds • 
  • shareholder activism • 
  • behavioral economics • 
  • securities regulation • 
  • agency costs • 
  • research and development • 
  • narrative • 
  • political economy • 
  • corporate interests

The notion of stock-market-driven short-termism relentlessly whittling away at the American economy’s foundations is widely accepted and highly salient. Presidential candidates state as much. Senators introduce bills assuming as much. Corporate interests argue as much to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the corporate law courts.

Yet the academic evidence as to the problem’s severity is no more than mixed. What explains this gap between widespread belief and weak evidence?

This Article explores the role of narrative power. Some ideas are better at being popular than others. The concept of pernicious stock market short-termism has three strong qualities that make its narrative power formidable: (1) connotation — the words themselves tell us what is good (reliable long-term commitment) and what is not (unreliable shorttermism); (2) category confusion — disparate types of corporate misbehavior, such as environmental degradation and employee mistreatment, are mislabeled as being truly and primarily short-termism phenomena emanating from truncated corporate time horizons (when they in fact emanate from other misalignments), thereby making us view shorttermism as even more rampant and pernicious than it is; and (3) confirmation — the idea is regularly repeated, because it is easy to communicate, and often boosted by powerful agenda-setters who benefit from its repetition.

The Article then highlights the real-world implications of narrative power — powerful narratives can be more certain than the underlying evidence, thereby leading policymakers astray. For example, a favorite remedy for stock-market-driven short-termism is to insulate executives from stock market pressure. If lawmakers believe that short-termism is a primary cause of environmental degradation, anemic research and development, employee mistreatment, and financial crises — as many do — then they are likely to focus on further insulating corporate executives from stock-market accountability. Doing so may, however, do little to alleviate the underlying problems, which would be better handled by, say, stronger environmental regulation and more astute financial regulation. Powerful narratives can drive out good policymaking.

Authors

Real name:
Roy Shapira