Sunday, January 24, 2016

Elsewhere: passive control rights

I came across the intriguing notion of the "passive control rights" of bondholders, which strikes me as one way in which the strict distinction between debt and equity need not always be as strict as we tend to think.

I'm gathering evidence to support the unpopular opinion that money, which is sometimes seen as a form of debt, might also be fruitfully approached as a special form of equity. This aspiration belongs to my broad sense that more needs to be done before money comes properly into focus as, in Geoffrey Ingham's words, a social relation. Ingham writes in The Nature of Money:
by a ‘sociology of money’ I intend more than the self-evident assertion that money is produced socially, is accepted by convention, is underpinned by trust, has definite social and cultural consequences and so on. Rather, I shall argue that money is itself a social relation; that is to say, money is a ‘claim’ or ‘credit’ that is constituted by social relations that exist independently of the production and exchange of commodities
Anyway, the rather dry excerpt about passive control rights is over at the Economic Humanities blog.

Another case where debt and equity may become blurred, by the way, is in the case of very short term money market securities, especially where issuers are continually rolling over their commercial paper-type debt. Such relationships can be short-term in one sense and long-term in another: that is, a company borrows money, pays it back, borrows it again, pays it back again, perhaps even on a daily basis, perhaps for years. So the lenders may not have any voting rights or collateral, but they may still be respected and even feared stakeholders with influence over the company's dealings. One thing I don't really understand yet is the extent to which a group of lenders in an arrangement like this really can be thought of as an agent or actor or even a continuous (albeit evolving) entity over long spans of time.

It's also interesting that whereas "debt" always implies "credit" -- to the extent that in certain contexts the terms become interchangeable, although always with distinct nuance -- there doesn't seem to be any equivalent language that differentiates equity as either owning or being owned by. Or perhaps there is but I just don't know about it?

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