Images of Organizations and Consequences of Regulation

Edward L. Rubin


Government can control conflicts of interest in business firms by either issuing obligatory commands to behave in a specified way or by creating incentives to alter private behavior. In order to choose between these two approaches, we also need to know something about the nature of the subject firms and the way that they are likely to respond to particular stimuli. Legislators and legal scholars often rely on intuition to predict the behavior of firms, but this will not suffice for such a complex situation. Fortunately, there is a well-developed body of scholarship that addresses organizational behavior; unfortunately, like many bodies of scholarship, it contains rival and conflicting approaches. This article discusses four of these approaches to organizational behavior: the nexus of contracts theory, an application of rational choice theory to corporations; decision theory; general systems theory and its recent autopoetic variants; and new institutionalism. It then uses each of these approaches to predict the way that firms will respond to obligatory commands and behavior incentives. The specific cases it discusses are the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s Organizational Sentencing Guidelines, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and contemporary compliance theory’s idea of reasonable, responsive, or cooperative enforcement.

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