Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci, Oscar Gelderblom, Joost Jonker, and Enrico C. Perotti have posted “The Emergence of the Corporate Form” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The Dutch East India Company (VOC) is generally viewed as the first modern corporation, yet its 1602 charter did not introduce all features of legal personality. A detailed historical analysis reveals how its statute proved inadequate to sustain the massive military investment needed to secure a strong trade position in Asia. In response, legal innovations were introduced in the subsequent twenty years. In 1612, state intervention overruled shareholder rights and created capital lock-in. The associated loss of control by shareholders was ultimately compensated by long-term profits, as the escalated commitment to Asia allowed the VOC to outperform its competitors. Once capital became permanent, VOC directors needed and gained the final corporate feature of general limited liability in 1623. We argue that this transition could be achieved while preserving private interests because the Dutch Republic’s limited form of government protected long term private capital, while autocratic colonial powers maintained a royal monopoly on colonial trade. The English East India Company adopted the much-admired Dutch model only half a century later, as the crown became subject to parliamentary control. By then the Dutch grip on South-East Asia had become entrenched, leading its competitors to focus elsewhere.