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The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy Paperback – January 9, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The founder and editor of Business Ethics and a frequent contributor to NPR, Kelly here considers how corporations strive to make money for their shareholders regardless of the costs to society. The first of the book's two parts discusses the principles of economic aristocracy, showing how the corporation exists not for the employees or the community it supposedly serves but for the investor. Examples include the maxim that paying stockholders is more important than paying employees, the belief that the corporation is a property that can be owned and sold, and the fact that only stockholders can vote to determine the company's future. This power structure has resulted in layoffs, plant closings, and other forms of social discord. In the second part, she examines a thought-provoking course of action that would improve matters a new set of paradigms and laws that would result in economic democracy, insuring that corporations exist for the public good. Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, John Locke, and Adam Smith are some of the luminaries she cites to support her points of view. This well-documented and readable book is a good choice for business school libraries. Steven J. Mayover, Philadelphia
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Brilliant. So simple. So direct. And so beautifully written. I think we have found our Thomas Paine for the new millennium." - David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World "A marvelous piece of work - clear, concise, and beautifully written. It raises all the right questions with insight and provocative observations." - Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus, Visa International

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (January 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1576752372
  • ISBN-13: 978-1576752371
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,016,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marjorie Kelly is a fellow with the Tellus Institute, a 35-year-old nonprofit research and consulting organization in Boston. She holds a dual appointment as director of ownership strategy with Cutting Edge Capital, a national consulting firm (http://cuttingedgecapital.com/). Kelly advises private businesses on ownership and capital design for social mission.

She specializes in ownership and financial design for the "mission-controlled enterprise," a term she devised to define the companies - including many large corporations in both the U.S. and Europe - that maintain a primary focus on social mission, even when they might be publicly traded. Some do so through such mechanisms as dual class shares, which Kelly calls "mission shares," which can be held by a foundation, by a trust, by a nonprofit, by employees, by a family, or by key executives. Some enterprises use other designs, such as bicameral governance, with advisory or governing boards representing stakeholders such as employers, producers, and community members.

Kelly is co-founder of Corporation 20/20 (www.corporation2020.org), a multi-stakeholder initiative to envision and advocate enterprise and financial designs that integrate social, environmental, and financial aims. Over five years, this project brought together hundreds of thought leaders from business, finance, labor, government, law, and civil society for meetings, research, and two national conferences.

Kelly also leads a variety of consulting and research projects in corporate social responsibility, rural development, and impact investing. She is a member of the resource team of the Ford Foundation project Wealth Creation in Rural Communities (www.CreatingRuralWealth.org). As part of that project, she co-authored the reports Keeping Wealth Local: Shared Ownership and Wealth Control for Rural Communities, and Impact Investing for Rural Wealth Creation: Investing for Financial Returns and Community Impact. Also as part of that project, Kelly is working with Emerging ChangeMakers of Mobile, Alabama, helping the group create a new rural impact investing fund and network for local wealth creation in the poorest counties of the state.

Kelly is author of the new book, Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, to be released June 2012 by Berrett-Koehler. In it, she explores many experiments with new forms of ownership, which she calls generative: aimed at creating the conditions for life for many generations to come. To understand these emerging alternatives, Kelly reports from all over the world, visiting a community-owned wind facility in Massachusetts, a lobster cooperative in Maine, a multibillion-dollar employee-owned department-store chain in London, a foundation-owned pharmaceutical in Denmark, a farmer-owned dairy in Wisconsin, and other places where a hopeful new economy is being built. Along the way, she finds the five essential patterns of ownership design that make these models work. And she explores how they may hold the key to the deep transformation that our civilization needs.

Kelly was co-founder and for 20 years president of Business Ethics magazine, known for its annual ranking of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens and Social Investing Awards. She has experience working in many forms of ownership design, including cooperatives. She was president of the board of the William Street Grocery Cooperative, where she helped lead the store to double its size and revenue. She was also director of Great Neighborhoods Development Corporation, a nonprofit real estate developer in an under-served community of Minneapolis. She served on advisory boards for the Center for Corporate Governance and Accountability at George Washington University Law School, the Newsweek listing of the Greenest Big Companies in America, the Strategic Corporate Initiative, and other projects.

Her first book, The Divine Right of Capital, was named one Library Journal's 10 Best Business Books of 2001. Kelly's writings and op-eds have appeared in many publications, including Harvard Business Review, New England Law Review, Chief Executive, Boston Globe, Yes! Magazine and San Francisco Chronicle.

Kelly is from a business family, where her grandfather founded Anderson Tool and Die from his Chicago basement during the Depression; her father founded and ran Graphic Engraving, a supplier to the printing trade, in Columbia, Missouri, where she grew up; and many of her uncles were also in business for themselves. She holds a bachelor's in English, cum laude, and a master's in journalism from the University of Missouri, where she received the Penney-Missouri Award for most promising young magazine journalist.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Divine Right of Capital expands on a theme that many Leftist writers allude to but rarely explore in depth: the correlation between the profit motive and the co-optation of our democracy by private corporate interests.
Inspired by the work of Thomas Paine -- who in an earlier era helped build support for the American Revolution by communicating to ordinary people in clear, uncluttered prose -- Marjorie Kelly makes her case for the democratization of capital in an accessible manner, making this a highly readable book.
The work challenges our basic assumptions. Why are balance sheets constructed to highlight the rate of return from a shareholder perspective only? The author points out that accounting practices could easily be changed to create a more balanced view of the company's value to society. It could measure things such as the value of its employees, the amount of financial support corporations may have siphoned off the public trust, the depletion of natural capital, etc.
Kelly explains that such exercises are rarely taken because shareholders make infinite demands on capital, in much the way that Monarchs declared perpetual domain over land and people in an earlier time. The author refers to writings by Jefferson and other revolutionaries to support her case that the colonists were concerned about limiting the power of corporations even while they were struggling to overthrow the King: corporate charters were usually awarded during this era for limited time periods and were often revoked when companies misbehaved.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The central aim of "The Divine Right of Capital" is show that the structure and legal basis of the modern American corporation bears a great deal of resemblance to feudal estates of the Middle Ages. However, this situation is at odds with an era that holds democracy to be sacred. Large corporations that draw upon the ideas of an era of aristocratic privilege are contrasted with corporations organized democratically. A secondary and less successful interest of the book is to show paths that have or could be taken to bring about such a change.
The author outlines those characteristics of modern corporations that can be considered aristocratic. The aristocratic corporation adopts the legal pretense of being a non-public, private entity. Based on private property rights, a distant and ever-changing group of stockholders have the liberty and voting rights to choose the CEO, while the core constituent body of the corporation and the actual wealth producers, the employees, have no legal voice. Financial gains for the stockholders by virtue of their "ownership" position, irrespective of any real corporate functionality, are to be maximized while costs, which employees represent, are minimized. It is this "wealth privilege" that is truly reminiscent of the status of the olden feudal lord.
By contrast democratically organized corporations would be developed and viewed much differently. First, it would be acknowledged that corporations are semi-public entities with obligations for the public good and subject to control by both the community and employees. A body of distant, amorphous "owners" would not be able to disenfranchise a stable, human community of workers, that is, the employees. The aims of the corporation would reflect the primacy of employees.
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Format: Hardcover
In a knowledge age, it is becoming increasingly apparent that, in sharing the profits, intellectual capital should often hold sway over traditional equity investments and that this return should flow to the individuals who create the value. On this premise alone, Marjorie Kelly cogently and clearly argues that our current system of awarding the majority of the spoils to stockholders may be an idea whose time has past or, perhaps, never should have come.
The Divide Right of Capital is a tightly constructed, highly readable, volume that explores this singular issue along with a number of Wall Street Myths and sacred cows in order to lead the readers down a path that questions traditional investment wisdom and the present structure of our capital markets. Kelly gathers her arguments from across the intellectual spectrum, facts from economics, and political and social rationales, with equal facility, from philosophers. Footnotes inform and enlighten without the heavy hand of academic validation. In fact, with this slim volume, Marjorie Kelly solidifies her position as a public intellectual, a role that has, indeed, been almost vacated by the academic community.
Ms Kelly skillfully points out that, in the 90's, there was potentially, a net outflow of equity capital from the corporate community with corporate buyback of stocks exceeding the investments through new stock offerings. The increase in value in the stock prices through sales in the market did not directly accrue to the corporations whose stock was traded, leading the reader to question what the difference might be between Las Vegas and Wall Street or whether the stock analysis underpinning investment decisions might not be as different as schemes of gamblers to win at games of chance.
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