Firms as Political Entities
Saving Democracy through Economic Bicameralism
November 2017, Cambridge University Press, New York
Democracy has been disrupted by capitalism to the point of near extinction. Isabelle Ferreras proposes a simple, yet revolutionary solution: democratizing capitalism.
For generations, workers have been viewed as human capital, and firms as private economic organizations. Starting with the sociological observation that workers expect to be treated as full citizens, and drawing on the history of Western democracies, this book argues that workplaces are part of the public sphere, and that firms can only be fully understood in that light – as political entities in need of democracy.
Examining political revolutions since Roman Antiquity, Ferreras identifies a “bicameral moment” that was the lynchpin of their successful democratic transition, and argues that the time has come for corporations to undertake this transition in a bicameral moment of their own, by granting the same rights to workers – firms’ labor investors – as the ones held by capital investors.
Economic Bicameralism, the book’s central idea, is a revolution that is no less political or powerful for its quiet efficiency. Once read, the idea cannot be ignored: firms are political entities with global impact, and must be governed as such – democratically.
Recent Talks for a Non-specialized Audience
U.Wisconsin-Madison – March 2018 – Havens Center Visiting Scholar: The Urgency of Making Workers Citizens, The Situation Today: Firms as Political Entities – introduction by Erik Olin Wright
RTBF La première Public Radio, Brussels, Avril 30, 2018
RVH/Journal Le Monde – Blois, France – Octobre 12, 2018 – A qui appartient l’entreprise ?
Point Culture Bruxelles – Octobre 4, 2018 – Gouverner le capitalisme ?
Book Reviews in Scientific Journals
by Stan De Spiegelaere, 2018, Samenleving & Politiek, 5 Mai, pp. 69-72
by Sara Lafuente Hernández, 2018, Transfer. European Review of Labour and Research. 24(3) August pp. 356-359
by Abraham Singer, 2018, Perspectives on Politics, Volume 16, Issue 3 September, pp. 832-834. Section: Book Review in Political Theory
by Michael J. Piore, 2018, ILR Review (Industrial and Labor Relations Review). 71(5), 2018, pp. 1255–1256
by Roy Adams, 2018, Canadian Journal of Industrial Relations, 73-3, pp. 617-620
by Jean-Philippe Deranty, 2019, Critical Horizons. A Journal of Philosophy and Political Theory, forthcoming in print.
by Elodie Béthoux, 2019, Revue française de sociologie, RFS Recension_2019-1_Livres, 60-1, pp. 138-141
by Waheed Hussain, 2019, Book Review of “Ferreras Isabelle, Firms as Political Entities. Saving Democracy through Economic Bicameralism”, Cambridge University Press, Business Ethics Quarterly 30:1 (January 2020).
by Robert Boyer, Antoine Rebérioux, Virginia Doellgast, 2021, “Symposium on Isabelle Ferreras’ Firms as Political Entities (CUP)”, Socio-Economic Review. Vol. 19, N° 3, July, pp. 1201-1236.
Joshua Cohen, Professor, Apple University and University of California, Berkeley; editor, Boston Review and Joel Rogers, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Director, COWS
« Isabelle Ferreras presents a forceful case for a very big idea. Firms, she argues, are political entities, and democracy is the right kind of governance for political entities. So firms should be governed democratically—by a bicameral body, representing workers as well as owners of capital. We urgently need creative, ambitious, constructive thinking, and Isabelle Ferreras delivers it: clearly, gracefully, and with great intellectual power. »
David Singh Grewal, Professor of Law, Yale Law School, Yale University
« Isabelle Ferreras’s book presents an exciting and intriguing proposal for the reform of corporate organization and decision-making: that private firms should be modeled along the lines of bicameral legislatures, with an upper and lower house consisting of representatives of owners and workers respectively. An agreement of majorities of both parts would be required for any major corporate decision. Ferreras details the mechanics of this proposal, discusses its advantages, and answers anticipated criticisms of the scheme.
It is an opportune and urgent moment to bring questions of corporate decision-making into the discussions of economic and political power that have blossomed since the financial crisis. Ferreras hopes to contribute to a broader debate about democracy and corporate power, and her proposal will surely prompt much reflection among scholars, activists, and policy-makers. Even those who remain unconvinced by her proposal will come away enriched by her investigation, and better able to face the deepest questions about what it means to be a citizen and a worker in the democracies of today. »
Erik Olin Wright, Vilas Distinguished Professor, University of Wisconsin – Madison; Past President, American Sociological Association (2011-12)
« Isabelle Ferreras presents a deeply original and provocative proposal for deepening and extending the ideals of democracy in capitalist economies by democratizing the governance of corporations. She provides a powerful, nuanced critique of the autocratic forms of rule that are taken-for-granted within capitalist firms as they exist, and a compelling model of an emancipatory alternative that could be realized in the future. The book is a brilliant contribution to the kind of progressive thought desperately needed for the 21st century. »
Elaine Bernard, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School, Harvard University
« Democracy must not stop at the workplace door. While many have lamented the autocratic rule of corporations, Isabelle Ferreras offers a radical and exciting proposal on how democracy can be inserted into corporate governance. Arguing that workers, not just capital, are investors in enterprises, Ferreras demands that workers be granted the rights of citizenship and a role in the government of firms. With corporate power challenging democracy everywhere, Ferreras challenges workers, unions, and anyone interested in breathing life into democracy to recognize firms as political entities. She shows how to extend democratic structures into these authoritarian entities that play such a commanding role in our lives and economy. »
Philippe Van Parijs, Professor, University of Louvain, Hoover Chair of economic and social ethics
« A simple and radical proposal — bicameral firms — supported by a powerful analogy with the history of political democracy and by an insightful analysis of the growing tension between corporate despotism and civic equality. This is the sort of smart interdisciplinary thinking that we need to shed light on the present and feed hope for the future. »
Christopher Mackin, American Working Capital, LLC; Lecturer at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations
« Economists have long been content to describe corporations as an abstract legal shell, a « nexus of contracts » governed by narrowly constructed notions of property rights. Political scientist Isabelle Ferreras introduces us to an alternative view of the corporation as a political association comprised of stakeholders who expect to be governed according to democratic rules and norms. In times of skyrocketing inequality, a deeper debate about the « theory of the firm » is urgent and timely. Ferreras has launched that debate. »
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