According to wikipedia, a share is defined as follows:
A single share of the stock represents fractional ownership of the corporation in proportion to the total number of shares. This typically entitles the stockholder to that fraction of the company's earnings, proceeds from liquidation of assets (after discharge of all senior claims such as secured and unsecured debt), or voting power, often dividing these up in proportion to the amount of money each stockholder has invested.
This definition has always confused me, largely because it doesn't really correspond to the way that I see stocks treated in real life.
Only a small number of stocks actually pay dividends, which would correspond to "fraction of the company's earnings" from the above definition. Proceeds from liquidation is a rare occurrence, and as quoted above it would only happen after the discharge of debt, which in many cases would leave nothing to the stockholder. In any case, no one buys a stock for the purpose of receiving money from the liquidation of the company's assets when the company folds. Lastly, you have to have a ton of stock in a company to have any voting power. So it seems to me that for the average retail consumer, most stocks provide none of the three things listed in the wikipedia definition - not a fraction of the company's earnings, nor proceeds from liquidation, nor voting power.
So in that case, what is a share, really, to an average retail consumer? In practice it seems like it's just a token that we speculate about. People like to say that somehow the value of a stock corresponds to the value of the company, or the perceived future value of the company. But I see no real reason why that would be true, except for the fact that we believe it to be true. I see no legal, or financial or other practical connection between the value of a share of a company and the company's overall real value. In practice we see the values of many stocks swing wildly - is the real value of the company swinging wildly too?
If anyone can explain to me the gap that I'm seeing here, I would love to hear it. I want to understand how a share of a company is tied to the company's worth, and in what sense a share of a company is really a share of the company, and not some arbitrary and essentially meaningless token that we love to speculate about, much like bitcoin or gold.