Facebook IPO dud: Is the future of public companies at risk?

In the wake of Facebook's poor stock market debut, is it time to start worrying about the future of publicly traded companies?

Richard Drew/AP
Television correspondent Sabrina Quagliozzi reports from inside the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square, Monday May 21, 2012. Facebook's tumble has some worrying about the future of public trading.

Early reports describe Facebook’s much-ballyhooed IPO as a dud. This seems to support The Economist’s worries about the future of the public company, a theme raised by Michael Jensen in a famous 1990 article. Indeed, the corporate form has been hammered lately, the victim of particularly burdensome regulation under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other schemes. As noted in the Economist piece, the number of public companies, as well as the number of IPOs, have declined sharply over the last decade.

I’m certainly a fan of private equity (along with proprietorships, partnerships, cooperatives, and other organizational forms). But, as Art Carden and I discussed in a recent Mises Academy course, reports of the death of the public company are greatly exaggerated. Despite the additional regulatory scrutiny, the agency problems associated with diffused ownership, and other challenges, the corporate form is still an effective means of raising large amounts of capital.

To be sure, corporations benefit from a number of state interventions (though I don’t think the corporate form itself is one of them, contrary to a widespread view in “left-libertarian” circles). So do all forms of organization. With a diminution of the regulatory state we would see a flourishing of a variety of firms, both public and private.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.