Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Corporations are corporations so why should it be?

On this night, as Mitt Romney wins the New Hampshire Republican Primary, it might be fitting for us to take a look at one of his most famous (infamous?) quotes:

"Corporations are people, my friend."

Romney said that in response to a heckler at a speaking engagement.  At first blush, the statement is both pithy and pompous but it does bear closer examination, especially since there appears to be a fair contingent that believes it.  This article I found does a fair job of hashing things out.

The article begins with a few very valid points.  First off, of course corporations don't exist in a vacuum.  They employ multitudes of people and that alone has far reaching implications.  Secondly, when the US Constitution was written, there were very few corporations in existence so the Founders probably didn't have major, multinational, "zaibatsus" in mind at the time.  Therefore, we must proceed from the standpoint that if corporations are indeed people, then they are subject to the Constitution like any other people within these borders.

As it continues, I believe that the article does a fair job of just how the "corporations are people" shield begins to break down and the author seems to center their argument on the idea of the public trust and what is in the interest of the whole.  A corporation does not care about such things.  They may claim to, but they don't.  Why would they?  The entity's number one aim is to make money.  All else becomes secondary and the entity, especially the entity's head, will do whatever it takes to meet that end.  Influence legislative process, alter the political process, it's all fair game. 

Before the baggers and the fundies get out their Bibles and flags, I'm not against corporations per se.  Of course people have a right to create, market, and make a profit on a product.  It just shouldn't been done in manner that harms the rest of society.  How much profit does one actually need?  If corporations are people, they should be expected to follow laws.  If they don't and become harmful to the greater whole, they are removed.
In fact, the best answer I've heard for this whole question is this:"I'll believe corporations are people when the state of Texas executes one."

I don't know.  It just seems that such a statement as Romney's is a convenient shield to duck behind and excuse...well, almost anything.  It's a dodge.  A pat answer that will soon lose its meaning to anyone who can think critically.  Using the phrase will be like exploiting patriotism to further a war or hurling accusations of socialism whenever someone can't make that extra hundred mil.

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  1. The problem I have with labeling a corporation as a person is that a corporation can't be incarcerated, nor does a corporation face the threat of death the way you and I do. Personhood comes with its own set of social responsibilities and punishments for shirking or defying them.

    If Google wants the same rights as Steve and Jon, then Google then Google needs to play by the same rules as Steve and Jon and face the same punishments for not following those rules.

    But how do you punish something that fears neither incarceration nor death? The answer is, "You can't."

  2. Jon, my friend, you cannot argue against the premise that "Corporations are people" while making statements that personify corporations such as "A corporation does not care about such things." You refer to a corporation as an entity but in fact, a corporation is an organization of people, just like a political organization, a non-profit group, or a union. These groups are afforded unique rights to allow them to pursue goals that would otherwise be very difficult to achieve with only individual rights. The goal of corporations is to provide goods and services for the acquisition of wealth. If corporations did not exist, we would still have individuals pursuing this same goal but without any incentive or benefit to forming large organizations for better efficiency. I agree with Gov. Romney that corporations are people. They are groups of people working toward a common goal of accumulation of wealth.

  3. David, please refer to Steve's comment above for I believe he encapsulates the difference quite well.
    If "corporations are people" then they need to be subject to the same laws as people. Oh sure, they can be hit with punitive damages and an executive can (rarely) get placed in jail but this is not nearly the same thing as you or I. You say that "These groups are afforded unique rights to allow them to pursue goals" and that this goal is "accumulation of wealth." You are correct on both points. Yet if your main goal is "the accumulation of wealth," how accountable are you likely to then be to the greater whole? As "people," you, me, Steve, and everyone else are accountable in that if we break the law, we go to jail or in an extreme case we are executed. If we act in a manner that is harmful to the whole, we are sanctioned in one way or another. With their "unique rights," corporations don't have that problem. How you may ask? One reader puts it quite well:

    1)Surf the wave: Go in, commit your crime, make your huge profits, and get promoted or golden parachuted out of there before anyone is aware there's been a crime committed.
    2)Hire a bevy of lawyers to develop a strategy wherein a law that would appear to prohibit your crime, actually doesn't.
    3)Hire a bevy of lobbyists to develop a strategy wherein a law that prohibits your crime is changed, usually in the very fine print.
    4)Hire a bevy of journalists to develop a strategy wherein a law that prohibits your crime is painted to be the greater crime ('gol-durn regulations!' anyone?).

    Indeed. How many times have you heard corporations whine and wail about environmental statues that impede their ability to make extra millions? Even if those regulations are for everyone's betterment? And that's just one example. Did Enron execs act in the good of the people? Hell, they didn't even act in the good of their own people. Additionally, these "special rights" afforded included access to and influence over the political process that the majority of people do not have.
    I don't believe any of the NWO conspiracy bunk that corporations are trying to take over the world and kill our children and all that bunk. I suppose it's simplest to say that if "corporations are people" then they are "people" that I simply don't trust.

  4. Heard a great quote today: "If corporations are people then I want to see the birth certificate."