It is unlikely that many readers of this journal ever thought about the history and world changes wrought by an invention known as "The Company," coincidently the title of a new book by John Micklethwait and AdrianWooldridge, both editors of the British publication The Economist. The earliest companies date from 3000 BC Mesopotamia usually for limited partnership traders. By the early middle ages, a corporate person, or association of individual people, was recognized by European monarchs, and distinctive features of the "company" were granted to applicants, embodying three concepts of being an "artificial person," with limited liability, allowing joint stock ownership or the ability to issue tradable shares to any number of people. Probably, Stora Enso of Sweden is the oldest, continuously operating, private company, begun as a copper mine in 1288. As the authors of this wonderful book examine, the company has become the basic societal unit, not the state (Hegel), the commune (Marx), the political party (Lenin and Hitler), or any of the churches, manors or monarchies throughout history. The most important organization in the world is the company, possibly only rivaled by the family.
Company evolution has been sporadic and not always with intended outcome. The English East India Company ultimately ruled India with a private army of 260,000, pillaged the country, but changed the nation's cultural development while despoiling the subcontinent. The Virginia Company was instrumental in fostering ideas of democracy in the American colonies as a means to assure economic survival, causing King James I to claim the company "a seminary for a seditious parliament"; Curiously, the company produced no profits for its 700 investors. However, the Mississippi Company literally destroyed the economy of France and financial speculation that led to restructuring of debt owed by the English South Sea Company created a larger financial bubble from 1689 to 1714 than is estimated to have existed in the U.S. during the 1920s.