Mr. Sensitive

June 30, 2010

Corporations Aren’t People

Filed under: Stuff I Just Wanted To Say — lbej @ 11:30

I don’t like politics so I avoid it here.  It’s like watching a movie in that you know that what is said is based on the part being played, not the beliefs of the actor.  If you’re comfortable with that, you’re comfortable with politics.  As with a movie, most of the people watching don’t wish to have it shoved down their throats what the actors really think.  It kind of ruins it if you find out.  It’s like watching Mel Gibson in a movie now that you know he’s poisonously deranged–not as enjoyable.  Of course, we all understand on an intellectual level that no politician can have gotten to a level of national prominence without being responsive to changing political sentiment, what they used to call having no moral principles.  The big difference between a theatrical production and a political one is that there is no fourth wall.  And the big problem therein is that it seems to me that lots of folks vote like there is.  I like comedies, and when the play hinges on tanks and taxes, the jokes tend to fall flat.  I don’t like political diatribes, either, honest.  You’re just loudly exhorting people to take action they clearly already decided not to take, such as vote, or vote based on anything relevant to the task of governing.  Next time something bad happens, one or more politicians will exploit it effectively and they’ll get votes.  That’s how it works.  It’s pretty depressing, which is yet another reason I don’t like politics.


The point of this commentary, though, is to talk about corporations, the multinational, multigenerational ones that dominate the modern world for good or for ill.  I’m resistant to broad-based bashing of large corporations, because they aren’t all the same (some are worse) and they have been a defining feature of a civilization with the highest living standard in human history.  If corporations dominate the world (they do), and the world is a decent place to live in (it is in the West), I should, in the interest of fairness, bear that in mind when criticizing them as a group.  What a multi-billion dollar corporation is is not my concern here.  What I want to forcefully state is what corporations are not, which is people.

I am not a lawyer of any kind, much less an expert in constitutional law.  However, I do have a copy of the U.S. Constitution on my wall, and I can read it (despite f sometimes being pronounced like s), and all you have to do to figure out that it doesn’t apply to corporations is read the first sentence.  It applies to people.  Something happened in the history of English and American law so that corporations being treated like people for certain legal purposes (such as entering into contracts) somehow obtained the constitutional civil rights of people.  I say no to this.  Corporations are simply not people.

I don’t care if the legal precedent established by prior court rulings treats corporations as people.  Precedent means something that came before, not something that was, or is, correct.  Throughout the history of our civilization, legal precedents (slavery, mass disenfranchisement, suspension of habeus corpus, and so on) have been as famously incorrect as they have been correct.  Citing precedent is a self-serving argument that is only ever made by those who prefer the status quo, specifically or in principle.  Take the following observations about a corporation, all self-evident:

  • It does not eat
  • It does not sleep
  • It does not breathe
  • It has no sexual identity (thus the need to refer to it as it and not he or she)
  • It can be in more than one place at one time
  • It does not die

People, human beings, cannot be described by any of those statements, all of which are characteristics of corporate entities.  So no more of this application of rights that we, the people, assert in our Constitution for ourselves, to these deathless inhuman things, however useful they may be as a form of organization.  Some of the news programs I watch (okay, all of them), go back and forth now on the question of whether BP plc (British for corporation) should be sorry for causing so much carnage in the Gulf of Mexico.  Of course it should not feel sorry, because it is a corporation, not a person, and it doesn’t have feelings.  This is not a semantic issue, it is vital to our civilization because of the dominance of corporations.  It goes to a headline issue such as who is responsible for the mistakes made by BP (owners and managers–sorry, U.K. pensioners, maybe you should’ve studied your proxy materials a bit more rather than just cashing the dividend checks, I mean cheques).  Or to the question so central to the agenda of the Roberts Supreme Court, does the Bill of Rights grant individual freedoms to a corporation?  (It does not.)  There are probably ways that ending the treatment of corporations as people would be to the benefit of their owners; I don’t really care.  Let’s just start with the first sentence of the Constitution and see how it plays out from there.

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