The Ancient Agora Museum in Athens houses a host of artifacts related to Athenian democracy, including a clepsydra, or water clock, which was used to impose time limits on speeches before tribunals and in political discourse in late fifth century B.C.
I became transfixed by the piece on a trip to Greece with my family a few years back, and joked with my kids about setting up a similar clock at home so we could keep their teen-aged pleas to a minimum.
Recently, I thought about the clock as we pulled together our Annual Report issue on "The State of Corporate Democracy." The focus of the cover package is on the evolving shareholder meeting, and a theme that kept coming up over and over again was voice--the voice of individual shareholders in particular.
We debated among our editorial staff the differences between political and corporate democracy, and whether public companies are an economic extension of political democracy or not. We pondered whether it was a legal obligation, or just fair, to give shareholders of all sizes the same voice.
The water clock, it can be argued, limited voice. It's very invention, however, shows how important a part of democracy, going back to ancient times, individual voices have been.
In this issue, we look at one significant part of corporate democracy, the shareholder meeting. We delve into the growing corporate trend toward virtual shareholder meetings, and the pushback against this by some investors. Are virtual meetings just like the water clock, limiting voices so that the process is...