This study examines whether corporations should operate solely to maximize shareholder value or to serve a more broadly defined, diverse set of social interests. This paper reviews how American public policy toward corporations has rested upon different answers to this question, from colonial times to the twenty-first century. American corporate finance and law has been shaped by the failures of bold, visionary speculators whose reckless gambles invariably attempted a bridge too far and inflicted great damage on others when they collapsed. In turn, their debacles spurred the reforms of the New Deal and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. But there is also a silver lining to the stunning failures: the outrage they provoke galvanizes public opinion in favor of corporate reform. This study offers a strikingly new diagnosis of the corporate governance in the context of recent corporate scandals that raise ethical questions related to the duties and obligations of corporate directors and officers, and lessons to be learned for global corporations.