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Corporation Nation
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Corporation Nation

Robert E. Wright

328 pages | 6 x 9 | 6 illus.
Cloth 2013 | ISBN 9780812245646 | $75.00s | Outside the Americas £60.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the Haney Foundation Series
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"An excellent work and stands as the best volume available on the development of the antebellum corporation. . . . [This] should be at least the first word on the subject for many years to come."—Journal of Economic History

"Excellent."—Economic History Review

"A valuable contribution of the book is the presentation of new data Wright collected with Richard Sylla of NYU on the annual numbers of corporate charters granted by the American states up to 1860. . . . Wright and his collaborators undertook the formidable task of reading through the session laws of every state up to 1860 and collected basic information on each charter they found. . . . This is the first comprehensive count of such incorporations, and the data, which are freely available from the authors, will be quite valuable to scholars."—

"Drawing from newly collected data, Corporation Nation offers a provocative perspective on the history of the American business corporation and argues for reforms that would improve the governance of modern business enterprises."—Eric Hilt, Wellesley College

"An engaging and well-written narrative of the development of corporate governance practices in American corporations."—Dan Wadhwani, Eberhardt School of Business

From bank bailouts and corporate scandals to the financial panic of 2008 and its lingering effects, corporate governance in America has been wracked by crises. Amid a weakening system of checks and balances in which corporate executives have little incentive to protect shareholder interests, U.S. corporations are growing larger and more irresponsible at the same time. But dependence on corporate profit was crucial to the early republic's growth, success, and security: despite protests that incorporated business was an inefficient and potentially corrupting system, U.S. state governments chartered more corporations per capita than any other nation—including Britain—effectively making the United States a "corporation nation." Drawing on legal and economic history, Robert E. Wright traces the development and decline of corporate institutions in America, connecting today's financial failures to deteriorating corporate law.

In the nineteenth century, checks and balances kept managerial interests aligned with those of stockholders, and public opinion grew supportive as corporations raised billions of dollars to finance infrastructure such as transportation networks, financial systems, and manufacturing operations. But many of these checks and balances were dismantled after the Civil War, creating a space for the managerial malfeasance that spiraled into economic crisis in the twenty-first century. Bolstered with archival and original data, including the first complete count of American business corporations before the Civil War, Corporation Nation makes a compelling argument for improved internal governance and more effective external government regulation.

Robert E. Wright is Nef Family Chair of Political Economy at Augustana College and the author of many books, including One Nation Under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson, and the History of What We Owe.

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