Abstract: Shareholders of U.S. corporations historically tended towards rational apathy. Holding small blocks that were unable to affect the outcome of the vote and faced with the considerable costs associated with gathering sufficient information to make an informed decision, they adopted the so-called Wall Street Rule (it was easier to switch than fight). In the last 15 years or so, a growing number of commentators and investor activists have claimed that the rising importance of institutional investors has the potential to reshape the field by empowering shareholders to become active players in corporate governance.
This paper situates investor activism in the so-called director primacy theory of corporate governance. In so doing, it demonstrates that the separation of ownership and control typical of U.S. public corporations has significant efficiency benefits. It then argues that shareholder activism threatens to undermine the advantages of director primacy without offering significant countervailing gains.
Accordingly, the paper concludes that pending regulatory proposals to expand shareholder governance rights should be viewed with suspicion.