Serial Entrepreneurs and Small Business Bankruptcies

Morrison, Edward R.; Baird, Douglas G.

Chapter 11 is thought to preserve the going-concern surplus of a financially distressed business-the extra value that its assets possess in their current configuration. Financial distress leads to conflicts among creditors that can lead to inefficient liquidation of a business with going-concern surplus. Chapter 11 avoids this by providing the business with a way of fashioning a new capital structure. This account of Chapter 11 fails to capture what is happening in the typical case. The typical Chapter 11 debtor is a small corporation whose assets are not specialized and rarely worth enough to pay tax claims. There is no business worth saving and there are no assets to fight over. The focal point is not the business, but the person who runs it. She is a serial entrepreneur, searching for the business that best matches her skills. For the vast majority of cases, then, Chapter 11 is best seen through the lens of labor economics not corporate finance. Chapter 11 offers the entrepreneur increased liquidity as well as a forum for renegotiating debts (such as unpaid withholding taxes) for which she as well as the corporation are liable. But Chapter 11 offers these benefits only to entrepreneurs who remain with their existing businesses. This lock-in effect is qualitatively no different from the one commonly associated with rent control. These effects, as well as the costs the process imposes on third parties, should be the focus of any assessment of how well Chapter 11 works.


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October 16, 2015