sent int to us to day
On 8 June, a Scottish banker named Alexander Fordyce shorted the collapsing Company’s shares in the London markets. But a momentary bounce-back in the stock ruined his plans, and he skipped town leaving £550,000 in debt. Much of this was owed to the Ayr Bank, which imploded. In less than three weeks, another 30 banks collapsed across Europe, bringing trade to a standstill. On July 15, the directors of the Company applied to the Bank of England for a £400,000 loan. Two weeks later, they wanted another £300,000. By August, the directors wanted a £1 million bailout. The news began leaking out and seemingly contrite executives, running from angry shareholders, faced furious Parliament members. By January, the terms of a comprehensive bailout were worked out, and the British government inserted its czars into the Company’s management to ensure compliance with its terms.
If this sounds eerily familiar, it shouldn’t. The year was 1772, exactly 239 years ago today, the apogee of power for the corporation as a business construct. The company was the British East India company (EIC). The bubble that burst was the East India Bubble. Between the founding of the EIC in 1600 and the post-subprime world of 2011, the idea of the corporation was born, matured, over-extended, reined-in, refined, patched, updated, over-extended again, propped-up and finally widely declared to be obsolete. Between 2011 and 2100, it will decline — hopefully gracefully — into a well-behaved retiree on the economic scene.
In its 400+ year history, the corporation has achieved extraordinary things, cutting around-the-world travel time from years to less than a day, putting a computer on every desk, a toilet in every home (nearly) and a cellphone within reach of every human. It even put a man on the Moon and kinda-sorta cured AIDS.
So it is a sort of grim privilege for the generations living today to watch the slow demise of such a spectacularly effective intellectual construct. The Age of Corporations is coming to an end. The traditional corporation won’t vanish, but it will cease to be the center of gravity of economic life in another generation or two. They will live on as religious institutions do today, as weakened ghosts of more vital institutions from centuries ago.
It is not yet time for the obituary (and that time may never come), but the sun is certainly setting on the Golden Age of corporations. It is time to review the memoirs of the corporation as an idea, and contemplate a post-corporate future framed by its gradual withdrawal from the center stage of the world’s economic affairs.
Framing Modernity and Globalization
For quite a while now, I have been looking for the right set of frames to get me started on understanding geopolitics and globalization. For a long time, I was misled by the fact that 90% of the available books frame globalization and the emergence of modernity in terms of the nation-state as the fundamental unit of analysis, with politics as the fundamental area of human activity that shapes things. On the face of it, this seems reasonable. Nominally, nation-states subsume economic activity, with even the most powerful multi-national corporations being merely secondary organizing schemes for the world.
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve been pulled towards a business-first perspective on modernity and globalization. As a result, this post is mostly woven around ideas drawn from five books that provide appropriate fuel for this business-first frame. I will be citing, quoting and otherwise indirectly using these books over several future posts, but I won’t be reviewing them. So if you want to follow the arguments more closely, you may want to read some or all of these. The investment is definitely worthwhile.
- The Corporation that Changed the World by Nick Robins, a history of the East India Company, a rather unique original prototype of the idea
- Monsoon by Robert Kaplan, an examination of the re-emergence of the Indian Ocean as the primary theater of global geopolitics in the 21st century
- The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660-1783 by Alfred Thayer Mahan, a classic examination of how naval power is the most critical link between political, cultural, military and business forces.
- The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria, an examination of the structure of the world being created, not by the decline of America, but by the “rise of the rest.”
- The Lever of Riches by Joel Mokyr, probably the most compelling model and account of how technological change drives the evolution of civilizations, through monotonic, path-dependent accumulation of changes
I didn’t settle on these five lightly. I must have browsed or partly-read-and-abandoned dozens of books about modernity and globalization before settling on these as the ones that collectively provided the best framing of the themes that intrigued me. If I were to teach a 101 course on the subject, I’d start with these as required reading in the first 8 weeks.
The human world, like physics, can be reduced to four fundamental forces: culture, politics, war and business. That is also roughly the order of decreasing strength, increasing legibility and partial subsumption of the four forces. Here is a visualization of my mental model:
Culture is the most mysterious, illegible and powerful force. It includes such tricky things as race, language and religion. Business, like gravity in physics, is the weakest and most legible: it can be reduced to a few basic rules and principles (comprehensible to high-school students) that govern the structure of the corporate form, and descriptive artifacts like macroeconomic indicators, microeconomic balance sheets, annual reports and stock market numbers.
But one quality makes gravity dominate at large space-time scales: gravity affects all masses and is always attractive, never repulsive. So despite its weakness, it dominates things at sufficiently large scales. I don’t want to stretch the metaphor too far, but something similar holds true of business.
read full article at source here :http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2011/06/08/a-brief-history-of-the-corporation-1600-to-2100/
- A brief history of the corporation (tobiasbuckell.com)
- The declining corporation and peak attention (zompist.wordpress.com)
- A Brief History of the Corporation: understanding what an attention economy is and where it comes from (boingboing.net)
- All-Star Lineup of Economists Look at the Global History of Entrepreneurial Innovation in Latest Book from the Kauffman Series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (kauffman.org)
- Corporate sector vital to Canadas global success (theglobeandmail.com)