By Justin Fox:
"The rise in intangibles since the 1970s is in part just a reflection of rising stock market valuations. But that’s not all it is: the cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has risen about 2 1/2 times since 1975, while the intangibles increase has been almost fivefold.
So the modern corporation really is a different, much less bricky-and-mortary creature than its predecessors. In a speech in London earlier this month (it will eventually show up online here), Colin Mayer, a professor at and former dean of the Said Business School at the University of Oxford, cited the above data as evidence that we are on the cusp of a new corporate age. To illustrate, he recited an awkward yet informative knockoff of the seven ages of man from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”:
At first the merchant trading company established by royal charter to undertake voyages of discovery and promote commerce around the world.
Then the public corporation created by Acts of Parliament to engage in major public works and the building of canals and railways.
Then with the freedom of incorporation in the 19th century, the private corporation -- the seedbed of the industrial revolution and the manufacturing corporation.
Next comes the service firm and the rise of the financial institution.
The fifth age is the transnational corporation putting a girdle around the world and running rings around national governments.
Last scene of all that ends this strange eventful history is the mindful corporation -- sans machines, sans man, sans money, sans everything.
Mayer’s prime example of this “mindful corporation” is WhatsApp, a company with no assets, no profits and very few employees that Facebook bought for $22 billion. “The mindful corporation is an extraordinarily efficient concept,” he quipped. He went on:
The fact that the corporation has become footloose and timeless could be a source of tremendous wellbeing that frees it from the political constraints and historical conventions to which we are currently subject." (http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-03-18/brick-and-mortar-gives-way-to-the-intangible-corporation)