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Abstract

In 1976, Michael Jensen and William Meckling published a paper reintroducing agency theory that explained how the modern corporation is structured to serve dispersed shareholders. They purported to describe the world as it exists but, in fact, they described a utopia, and their piece was read as a blueprint for that utopia. We take a page from the sociology of knowledge to argue that, in the modern world, economic theories function as prescriptions for behavior as much as they function as descriptions. Economists and management theorists often act as prophets rather than scientists, describing the world not as it is, but as it could be. And when new theories take hold, people tend to perform the roles economists script for them.