Long-Term Bias and Director Primacy

Bainbridge, Stephen M.

In an important recent contribution to the short-termism debate, Professors Michal Barzuza and Eric Talley challenge what they call an “emerging consensus in certain legal, business, and scholarly communities . . . that corporate managers are pressured unduly into chasing short-term gains at the expense of superior long-term prospects.” See Michal Barzuza & Eric Talley, Long-Term Bias, 2020 COLUM. BUS. L. REV. 104. Instead, Barzuza and Talley contend that “corporate managers often fall prey to long-term bias—excessive optimism about their own long-term projects.”

This article is an invited comment on Barzuza and Talley’s article. Subject to various quibbles raised herein, I broadly concur with Barzuza and Talley’s argument that corporate directors and officers can be biased towards long-term projects and, accordingly, may reject short-term projects offering higher returns.

But what law reforms follow logically from their conclusion, if any? With respect to judicial review, I want to differ with Barzuza and Talley on three points. First, I believe Barzuza and Talley overstate the risk of judicial intervention. Second, they fail adequately to distinguish between directors and managers, even though that distinction is central to the application of Delaware law. Third, I believe their analysis implies that judges should retain the deference to director decisionmaking inherent in doctrines such as the business judgment rule and intermediate review.

With respect to encouraging shareholder activism, I argue that the responsibility for policing managerial hyperopia (or myopia, for that matter) should be assigned to the board of directors, not the shareholders. Heterogenous shareholders lack the proper incentives and knowledge to properly police management.


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Columbia Business Law Review

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August 29, 2022