China's entry into the world economy will affect not just how we act but how we think. It will affect especially what "business," "business law," and "business corporation" come to mean both in a transnational setting and in American law. The nature of American business law today still stands in the way of a wholly profit-maximizing approach to law or the world in general. But there is strong pressure, consistent with a general tendency in Western thought, to make business and corporate decision-making entirely manipulative and calculating and to eliminate the force of human value from it. This Youde Lecture traces the development of the business entity and the conception of its purpose in American business law -- including late-twentieth century discussion in the American Law Institute -- and describes contemporary efforts to change the legal statement of corporate purpose. It observes that the twentieth century struggle between "socialism" and "capitalism" did not end in utter elimination of the influence of the ideals that might be expressed in "socialism," including its Chinese form. The development of China's economic institutions and China's participation in world trade may have the surprising effect of blunting contemporary pressure to change American business law, and ultimately making the way we think fifty years hence more humane than it might otherwise have been.


International Law | Law and Economics | Organizations Law | Securities Law

Date of this Version

September 2008