Column for Monday, 4/2 - Sun Ra

Think as You are Told

I have largely accepted that all my friends and acquaintances assume I am a republican. It galls me, like one of those t-shirt labels that hardens in the drier and digs into your neck when you are nowhere near a scissors, but I have resigned myself to it. I'm white, well-off, have short hair, am attending business school, play golf... and people find it easier to be weak-minded and drop me in the 'conservative' box when, in fact, I'm a liberal. Not that I'm bitter. Sputtering indignation just doesn't seem to get me anywhere.

However, I felt that you, the reader, should at least be forewarned that the following treatise will expose me as the radical free-thinker I actually am. It will also, if it is any good, cause you to question one of the most fundamental tenets of our ("America and the rest of the G7 countries") society.

Corporations are not people.

I'm saying this because, in the West (and, as they realize just how sucky Communism is, in the East as well), corporations are people. They have all the same rights that you do, with just a few caveats. For instance, they have the right of free speech - however, tobacco and liquor makers are restricted in how and where they can advertise. But, as a general rule, corporations are quite literally "people" as regards the law.

In the United States, this came about through a series of Supreme Court decisions, most particularly the 1886 case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company. In that case, the Supremes had the following to say:

The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteen Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Fourteenth amendment states:

SECTION 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This Amendment was passed in 1868, with the intention of securing for the former slaves the rights which were to be denied them over the next century by the Jim Crow laws - laws subsequently approved by the same Supreme Court which ruled on Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. It was in no way intended to pertain to corporate entities, as attested to by the lawmakers who passed it and an earlier Supreme Court who made rulings based upon it.

However, that's what happened. This subsequent Supreme Court allowed the idea that a corporation was a "person" under the fourteenth amendment, and that idea has been an agreed upon legal precedent since. The similarity between a corporate entity and a person had been long remarked upon, and the term "artificial person" used to describe corporations. However, the situation changed from a corporation being often treated like a person by the law to a corporation being always treated like a person with only certain exceptions.

We should scrap this fiction.

Corporations are not people. For one thing, they need never die. They can just keep on going, accumulating wealth and power ad infinitum. Even Bill Gates will have to kick off eventually. Well, maybe. But Microsoft can certainly just keep on crushing competitors unfairly forever. And that's another thing. Corporations are amoral by design. People are generally looked at askance if they are willing to do anything to get ahead, but with corporations, that is the desired and accepted behavior. If you, as a corporate officer, make a decision based on moral principles rather than profit motive, you will probably be fired. Unless, of course, you can profit from the appearance of morality.

Inasmuch as corporations do not and are not expected to behave as people, and inasmuch as they display markedly different characteristics from people, corporate law needs to be separate from the law governing individuals. The Bill of Rights should not automatically apply to corporations - there should be a separate body of legislation, which may resemble the Bill of Rights, that applies.

Most importantly, corporations need to be pulled off of the body politic. In a democracy, the State is responsible to the People. We really must consider if we thus want existing individuals to be able to create and direct new entities which are considered to be people. The voice of a corporation is ultimately the voice of those running it - and thus they have an additional voice with which they can speak. That should not be the intention nor a byproduct of a corporation. If we feel that all people should be equal in the eyes of the law, why should we allow individuals of wealth to create new "people" who will bolster their voices? Corporations should never inherit a real person's right to freedom of speech, in particular the ability to give money to political parties. It is fundamentally in conflict with the basis of a democratic society.

And, despite what my buddies seem to think, I would sacrifice capitalism in a heartbeat if it meant saving democracy.

Sun Ra