Conference on Corporations and Democracy
Corporations do not vote in elections, but their impact on democratic societies is immense. The Corporations and Democracy Conference brought together scholars and practitioners in various areas of law, business, and the media to examine the complex interactions and balance of power among corporations, governments, and individuals in democracies today and consider how those with power can be held more accountable to society’s broad interest.
The conference was sponsored by the Corporations and Society Initiative at Stanford Graduate School of Business, in collaboration with the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, Stanford Law School, the Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the Ira M. Millstein Center for Global Markets and Corporate Ownership at Columbia Law School, the Division of Research and Faculty Development at Harvard Business School, and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.
All the session videos are available on the Corporations and Society YouTube playlist, and individual sessions are linked below. Each session consisted of a panel discussion and audience questions with the noted participants, as well as 20–30 minutes of discussion with additional participants.
For a deeper understanding of the issues discussed at the conference, here’s a list of additional readings.
DAY 1: December 7
Corporation and Political Voice
Corporate Legal Rights and Democracy Video Link
Elizabeth Pollman, University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law
Adam Winkler, UCLA School of Law
Moderator: Susanna Kim Ripken, Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law
Corporations are abstract persons. What legal rights have corporations gained and how? What rights should corporations have so that they can best serve the needs of democratic societies? How do we ensure that corporations do not expand their rights excessively or abuse them?
Related Reading: How American Corporations Used Courts and the Constitution to Avoid Government Regulation by Adam Winkler
Is Corporate Personhood to Blame for Money in Politics? by Elizabeth Pollman
Corporations and Money in Politics Video Link
Marianne Bertrand, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Bruce Freed, Center for Political Accountability
Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs
Moderator: Neil Malhotra, Stanford Graduate School of Business
How do corporations and their leaders use money to impact key democratic outcomes such as elections and policy? To what extent does corporate lobbying and other forms of spending distort democracy? What actions might correct these distortions?
Related Reading: The Self-Destructive Downside to Corporate Political Spending
DAY 2: December 8
Corporate Influence and Democratic Decision Making
Expertise, Incentives, and “Thin Political Markets” Video Link
Karthik Ramanna, University of Oxford Blavatnik School of Government
Sarah Bloom Raskin, Duke University School of Law
Tommaso Valletti, Imperial College London
Moderator: Paul Pfleiderer, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Thin political markets arise in areas where the issues have low salience to the general public and special interests have tacit knowledge that is relevant to policy. How might policy outcomes get distorted in these thin political markets? What are the incentives of experts, including those from academia, when they participate in policymaking? How can we mitigate special-interest capture?
Related Reading: George Stigler and the Challenge of Democracy by Anat Admati
How well do traditional media outlets inform the public and help hold those with power in corporations and in government accountable? What is the impact of internet platforms and social media on democratic discourse? How might we balance free speech with the need for truth to inform citizens in a democracy?
DAY 3: December 9
Corporations and Democratic Accountability
Corporations, Corruption and Democracy Video Link
Kevin Davis, New York University School of Law
Alexander Wilson, United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York
Luigi Zingales, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Moderator: Larry Diamond, Stanford University
International corruption threatens democracies everywhere. Oligarchs and others attempting to preserve their ill-gotten gains use financial institutions in developed economies in corruptive ways. How well do anti-money laundering laws and anti-bribery laws deal with these challenges? This session will discuss a specific case involving European corporations helping a corrupt Nigerian politician.
Related Reading: Recovering from Kleptocracy: A 10-Step Program by Larry Diamond
Corporations and the Justice System Video Link
Anat Admati, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Brandon Garrett, Duke University School of Law
Vikramaditya (Vic) Khanna, University of Michigan Law School
Moderator: John Donohue III, Stanford Law School
Does the justice system, including law enforcement, hold those with power properly accountable when they cause substantial and preventable harms to others? Is there equal justice under the law in the corporate context? If not, what must change in the laws and in the institutions and mechanisms of law enforcement to achieve more just outcomes?
Related Reading: Holding Corporations and Executives Accountable Depends on our Legal System by Vic Khanna