The Seductive Comparison of Shareholder and Civic Democracy

This Faculty Working Paper has been updated and posted within the Faculty Scholarly Works Series. It is currently available here.


This Comment briefly describes democracy in the political and corporate world, and goes on to discuss how seemingly similar kinds of democracies exist in both spheres. It then takes the common comparison of shareholder democracy and political democracy in a new direction by exploring the parallels between the Electoral College and the board of directors, examining both institutions in light of the differences between nation and corporation and their contrasting histories. Both are "once removed" representative democracies: both systems only give voters the right to vote for representatives who then select the individuals who actually govern. The Comment then steps back from this analogy and argues that comparisons between the corporate and civic polities, while intellectually tempting, ultimately falter because participation in a corporation fundamentally differs from participation in a nation. It concludes that the Electoral College/board of directors comparison, like the comparison of the two democracies, is tantalizing but ultimately of limited value given the distinctive roles that each institution, and each polity, play in the modern world.