Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dear Mr./Ms. Corporation

My friend,

I understand that you want to be treated like every individual American -- imbued with all the rights and privileges included in the U.S. Constitution. For example, I understand that you'd like to be protected by the First Amendment and that you advance the view that "corporate free speech" should include the right to contribute to political candidates without limitation.

Let me point out that you already have more than half of this "cake." You have all the legal rights required to do business -- purchase and sell property, hire and fire employees, enter into contracts, advertise, etc. Although you are supposedly prevented from making certain kinds of political contributions, there are more ways around this than there are (or at least were) fish in the sea. You hire lobbyists in vast numbers and pay them so much that they just can't help attending political fundraisers and contributing to political action committees.

In fact, you even enjoy benefits individual people do not, e.g. perpetual life (hence, the ability to accumulate unlimited wealth and never be subject to an inheritance tax) and limited liability. Human beings do not have the right to sever their actions from their brains; in court, it is not considered a good excuse to say "my right arm may have hit you, but my brain was not involved." Yet, dear corporation, when you violate the laws of society, you have the right to shield your brains (your executives) from legal consequences. They do not go to prison unless they personally violate laws; mere malfeasance on your part (e.g. violating laws against pollution) only results in fines (paid, ironically, by shareholders who are not at all involved in your daily management). Even if your executives were to be subject to litigation individually, you undoubtedly protect them with general liability insurance (again paid for by your owners, the stockholders).

Unlike real human beings, if you are caught violating a law, you say you never did it, promise never to do it again, pay a small fine, and be done with it. You probably don't even feel embarrassed or ashamed, first because you are organically incapable of it, and second because you were just doing what the capitalistic system says you should do -- maximize profit!

Yet, with all these advantages, you continue to lobby for more -- usually with great success. According to a book by Dutman and Cray ("The People's Business," published in 2004 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.), you and your siblings handcuff the regulatory agencies by blocking sufficient funding for them to do their jobs adequately, and you promote legislation designed to block legitimate lawsuits (p. 202).

In summary, you want all the benefits of being an individual but none of the responsibilities. Is that fair? Does that work to the advantage of all citizens of this country?

Oh my, now I've gone and done it. In addition to wanting the rights of people, soon you might want the rights of citizens -- say, the right to vote. I can hardly wait to see what process you will use to determine who you will vote for.



1 comment:

  1. A good & very relevant piece of work here, Ron. Indeed, corporate influences seem to dominate much decison-making these days. Matters won't get any better if the Supreme Court doesn't do the right thing regarding the Citizens United case. Interested readers may want to see the article about this in the Sept./Oct. issue of the Public Citizen newsletter. Marty