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Corporate Purpose: Shareholder Value or Public Purpose?

Venue: Online

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Birkbeck’s Responsible Business Centre is pleased to invite you to a research seminar by Prof. Sue Konzelmann (Birkbeck College, University of London) discussing her current work debating Corporate Purpose. 


The debate about corporate purpose is a recurring one that has re-emerged today. What should be the guiding principles of business: the pursuit of profit or a contribution to public interest? We trace key elements in this debate in Britain and America, from the interwar years, when John Maynard Keynes and Adolf Berle made important contributions, to the 1970s, when events ushered in a return to laissez-faire and the rise to dominance of the shareholder primacy model of corporate governance and purpose, to today. Both the earlier and the current debates are centered around whether we see business institutions as strictly private entities, transacting with their suppliers, workers, and customers on terms agreed with or imposed upon these groups, or as part of society at large and therefore expected to contribute to what society deems to be its interests. Whether current developments will ultimately produce a shift in corporate purpose akin to the one that followed the Second World War remains to be seen. But the parallels to the interwar debates, and the uncertain economic, political, and social environments in which they took place, are striking. Our objective is to see what might be learned from the past to inform the current direction of thought concerning capitalism and corporate purpose.


Sue Konzelmann is Professor of Economics at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research interests include the political economics of austerity, corporate purpose, and the “variety” within liberal capitalism that became apparent in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Recent work in this area explores the alternatives to austerity, including industrial strategy, social policy and financial reform, with the aim of informing theory and practice as well as policy. Most recently, she has been investigating the dynamic inter-relationship between liberal capitalism, austerity and fascism between the wars, and the lessons this might have for today. Sue is co-executive editor of the Cambridge Journal of Economics and Contributions to Political Economy, Research Associate of the Cambridge University Centre for Business Research, and a Council Member of the Progressive Economy Forum. 

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