a bit late to the party, but:
While shareholders are traditionally considered owners, whether this is legally true is a matter of dispute
As Cornell Law professor Lynn Stout writes in The Shareholder Value Myth:
Although laymen sometimes have difficulty understanding the point, corporations are legal entities that own themselves, just as human entities own themselves. What shareholders own are shares, a type of contact between the shareholder and the legal entity that gives shareholders limited legal
rights. In this regard, shareholders stand on equal footing with the corporation’s bondholders, suppliers, and employees, all of whom also enter contracts with the firm that give them limited legal rights.
And as Harvard business professor Jay Lorsch writes:
In legal terms, shareholders don’t own the corporation (they own securities that give them a less-than-well-defined claim on its earnings)...
But remember, shareholders aren’t quite the same as owners. A simple
illustration: If you own a car, you’re liable for damages in an
accident even if they exceed the value of the car. But shareholders
are on the hook only for what they’ve invested. And although some
shareholders behave much like owners, most of them are effectively
For more, see the works of Stephen Bainbridge or Kent Greenfield, or The Fundamental Rights of the Shareholder by Julian Velasco, which gives a good summary of the debate and shareholders' legal status:
https://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/40/2/articles/davisvol40no2_velasco.pdf (see section IV)
Shareholder primacy ideology is bad for the economy
So when you write:
The more I look at the shareholder system in modern capitalism, the more it starts to appear as nothing more then an otherwise meaningless system that allows rich people to profit off others work while providing nothing and holding no liabilities.
There are a lot of very smart and very well-informed people who believe that this is not too far off, and that our financial system is practically designed to cause inequality and wealth extraction.
Here are some interesting papers with some choice quotes:
Corporate profitability is not translating into widespread economic prosperity...The allocation of corporate profits to stock buybacks deserves much of the blame. Consider the 449 companies in the S&P 500 index that were publicly listed from 2003 through 2012. During that period those companies used 54% of their earnings—a total of $2.4 trillion—to buy back their own stock, almost all through purchases on the open market. Dividends absorbed an additional 37% of their earnings. That left very little for investments in productive capabilities or higher incomes for employees...
the amount of stock taken out of the market has exceeded the amount issued in almost every year; from 2004 through 2013 this net withdrawal averaged $316 billion a year. In aggregate, the stock market is not functioning as a source of funds for corporate investment...
from 2003 through 2012, Pfizer funneled an amount equal to 71% of its profits into buybacks, and an amount equal to 75% of its profits into dividends. In other words, it spent more on buybacks and dividends than it earned and tapped its capital reserves to help fund them.
Scholars and executives alike have criticized Wall Street not only for promoting short-term thinking but for sacrificing the interests of employees and customers to benefit shareholders...
One of the most important—and most dangerous—is when a single sector or group is so powerful that it dominates how an entire society thinks about itself. Once you view research from a variety of fields through that lens, it becomes clear that we must do something to curb the enormous and disproportionate power of Wall Street.
By legitimizing massive distributions of corporate cash to shareholders, MSV directly undermines the building of the organizational capabilities that are the essence of innovative enterprise.
...regulatory changes that are needed to curb the destructive
outcomes associated with some types of private equity activity
The bloated financial sector in the United States is a major engine of inequality sucking money away from poor and middle-income households and making folks like Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, and Robert Rubin incredibly rich.
(okay, a Huffington Post article isn't an academic paper, but just about everything Dean Baker writes is gold, such as: http://cepr.net/documents/working-paper-upward-distribution-income-rents.pdf)
EDIT: not sure why I'm getting downvoted. I (1) provided two reputable sources arguing that the accepted answer is incorrect (don't have enough rep to comment), and (2) giving a broad answer to a broad question, I explained that the OP's concerns about inequity are completely justified and provided reliable and rigorous reading material if they should want to learn more