Talk about Serendipity. I will swear on a stack of Bibles that I had no idea Severian’s latest post was on the same topic I’ve been kicking around since I got in a bit of a discussion over on facebook last week. I had literally typed this post up in notepad and came over here to paste it in and post when I saw his latest post. So … consider this is an unintentional but extremely timely follow-up to his post
On the left and increasingly on the far right, I constantly hear complaints, usually expressed with righteously indignant sarcasm, “well, Corporations have rights, Corporations are People just ask the Supreme Court!”
Just yesterday a letter to the editor of our local paper asked in what seat in what pew in what Church does Hobby Lobby sit?
People seem to have this idea of a Corporation as a Big Crime Syndicate Cartel Machine that somehow wills itself into existence and manipulates our lives in some sterile, unfeeling manner.
I think the problem boils down to one of understanding what a Corporation really is. Corporations have been demonized, Alinsky style into the perception way too many people have of them today.
Let’s take a look first at what a corporation is according to Webster’s:
- a group of merchants or traders united in a trade guild
- the municipal authorities of a town or city
- a body formed and authorized by law to act as a single person although constituted by one or more persons and legally endowed with various rights and duties including the capacity of succession
- an association of employers and employees in a basic industry or members of a profession organized as an organ of political representation in a corporative state
It’s that second definition we’ll focus on as it is the most general and actually covers the other two.
It’s a body formed and authorized by law to act as a single person.
Either a corporation is owned by everyone, or it is owned by the government, or it is owned by … a person or group of persons.
The first case is communism. That’s not what we have. The second case is basically fascism or some other form of socialism. The third is what we have here in America.
In the case of a business, a corporation is joined voluntarily. By people. It can be sued. Just like people. And it consists of … people. Whether democratically run or top-down dictatorially run, a corporation is a group of people exercising their liberty to act as a part of a whole toward a certain goal or goals … making brass bolts, building strip malls, serving food, selling craft supplies. There are for profit corporations, and non-profit corporations.
One of the goals of a for-profit corporation is obviously to make a profit. But it has other goals, too, and those goals are decided upon and guided along their way by … people.
In the end, it’s not the corporation itself whose rights are being protected, it’s the rights of the people who own it that are being protected — and in the case of a corporation itself being sued … it’s profits from the people who own it being taken. In the end, it IS people — they just decide by a set of internal rules how to pool their will collectively. And since ownership in (and employment by) a corporation is voluntary, there is no problem here.
The Supreme Court got it right. Corporations are people, and people have rights.
If a corporation wants one of the goals to be to build affordable housing for low-income people, that’s fine. If a corporation wants one of the goals to be to build luxury cars for the 1%, that’s fine, too. If a corporation wants one of its goals to be to promote reading, or gardening, or a clean environment … that’s fine, too.
And if a corporation wants to make it one of its goals to produce a documentary about a political candidate — or even to help get a political candidate elected — that’s fine as well.
People complain that a corporation has way more money than the average person and so the corporate “person” can has more to contribute and therefore has a louder voice … but … the same is true of a middle-class person over a poor person. And again, a corporation is typically a collective of people anyway. But since it acts as one entity, it is treated as one entity. The rights and responsibilities projected into it are the collective rights and responsibilities of its owners. Who are people.
I hope that clears things up.
As far as political influence goes, they are not the big bad wolves they are made out to be. (They CAN be, but so can any individual person.)
The Court had given corporations the power to “overwhelm elections,” fumed the New York Times corporation. A commentator from another corporation (MSNBC) declared the case the worst ruling since Dred Scott, which upheld slavery. President Obama said Citizens United “strikes at democracy itself.” Others called the ruling a “constitutional Frankenstein moment,” a “corporate takeover,” “radical,” “absurd” and “terrifying.” Some progressives launched a campaign to rewrite the First Amendment. Really.
How did the predicted hostile takeover of democracy by corporate America turn out? In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, the Times reported: “American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove, spent $104 million in the general election, but none of its candidates won. The United States Chamber of Commerce spent $24 million backing Republicans in 15 Senate races; only two of them won. Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul, spent $53 million on nine Republican candidates, eight of whom lost.” It was, as the paper noted, “A Landslide Loss for Big Money.”