The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


EPISODE # 321

William Magnuson — For Profit: A History of Corporations

For Profit: A History of Corporations (book cover)

Americans have long been skeptical of corporations, and that skepticism has only grown more intense in recent years. Meanwhile, corporations continue to amass wealth and power at a dizzying rate, recklessly pursuing profit while leaving society to sort out the costs.

In For Profit, law professor William Magnuson argues that the story of the corporation didn’t have to come to this. Throughout history, he finds, corporations have been purpose-built to benefit the societies that surrounded them. Corporations enabled everything from the construction of ancient Rome’s roads and aqueducts to the artistic flourishing of the Renaissance to the rise of the middle class in the twentieth century. By recapturing this original spirit of civic virtue, Magnuson argues, corporations can help craft a society in which all of us — not just shareholders — benefit from the profits of enterprise.

William Magnuson is an associate professor at Texas A&M Law School, where he teaches corporate law. Previously, he taught law at Harvard University. The author of Blockchain Democracy, he has written for the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Bloomberg. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Shermer and Magnuson discuss:

  • What is a corporation and what is it for?
  • What are limited liability corporations (LLC)?
  • Roman corporations
  • medieval economics
  • banks (Medici bank), Renaissance Florence guilds
  • Credit Mobilier scandal
  • Dutch East India Company, British East India Company
  • stocks and bonds (railroads), joint stock companies
  • monopolies (oil companies like Exxon) and duopolies
  • assembly lines (Henry Ford)
  • multinational corporations
  • raiders (KKR — Kohlberg, Kravis, and Roberts)
  • private equity firms
  • start-ups (Facebook)
  • antitrust, trustbusting, Sherman Antitrust Act
  • bankruptcy
  • bitcoin/cryptocurrency
  • Adam Smith’s critique of corporations
  • profit and market efficiency
  • slavery and economics
  • unions

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on February 4, 2023.

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