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Calling in a Debt: Government's Role in Creating the Capacity for Explicit Corporate Social Responsibility

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Abstract

Before the field of business and society can adequately analyze the relationship between governmental policies and corporate social responsibility (CSR), either as a reality or an ideal, it is first necessary to understand exactly how governments nurtured the development of the autonomous corporation. The roles assigned to government by the economics and management literatures—regulator, standard setter, protector, and adjudicator—ignore the crucial part played by state violence and government expenditures in the rise and sustained success of the corporate economy. An examination of the history of the American case, crucial for the development of the modern corporation as well as the “explicit” form of CSR that eventually followed it, highlights these roles: the willingness of the state to intervene with force in labor conflicts bolstered the managerial autonomy that defined the large corporation, and the way government expenditures promoted innovation and firm success. Acknowledging how corporations depended on government assistance in their development is a necessary step for both assessing the responsibilities owed stakeholders and for advancing the theoretical development of the field.

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