inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #0 of 55: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 12 Feb 03 12:14
    
We want to welcome Thom Hartmann, author of _Unequal Protection: The rise
of corporate dominance and theft of human rights_, to Inkwell.vue.  The
book is a history of the modern corporation, and a critique of the concept
of "corporate personhood." For a broader sense of Thom's work, check out
his web site at http://www.thomhartmann.com/.

Thom is the author of more than a dozen books available in that many
languages on 5 continents.  In earlier years he has been an entrepreneur,
psychotherapist, international relief worker, founder and executive
director of a school and residential community for emotionally disturbed
children in New Hampshire, marketing consultant, guest faculty member at
Goddard College, editor, and news reporter. The parents of three grown
children, he and Louise live in Central Vermont with their five cats and a
well-fed woodchuck. His most recent book is: "Unequal Protection: The Rise
of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights" and a previous book
is "The Last Hours Of Ancient Sunlight."

Adina Levin leads Thom's inkwell discussion. Adina has over 13 years of
experience in strategic marketing and product planning in a variety of
emerging high-tech markets. She is currently VP Products at SocialText, a
company that provides social software solutions including weblogs and
wikis. Before that she was Senior Director at Corporate Strategy for
Vignette Corporation, a leading provider of Internet content management
software. Prior to Vignette, Levin was co-founder and partner in Fastwater
LLP, a research and consulting firm focusing on ebusiness marketing and
business metrics. She's also served as senior consultant in the Document
Software Strategies group at CAP Ventures, and conducted market research
at BIS Strategic Decisions. She currently serves on the Board of Directors
of Campaigns for People, a non-profit working for campaign finance reform
in Texas, and is a member of the Advisory Board for the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, Austin. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from
Yale University. She currently lives in Austin, Texas.
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #1 of 55: Adina Levin (adina-levin) Sun 16 Feb 03 09:24
    
Thom, thanks for writing an enlightening and thought-provoking book
(though I didn't agree with every item in it). 

The idea of corporate personhood is entrenched and taken for granted
in the U.S. legal system and culture. It was fascinating to learn how
things got this way and to think about the consequences of the current
system.

Can you talk a bit about how corporations in the U.S. came to have
civil rights like people? 
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #2 of 55: Thom Hartmann (thomhartmann) Mon 17 Feb 03 08:56
    
Hi, Adina,

   You're "I didn't agree with every item in it" was interesting -
what didn't you agree with?  That might make a good basis for
conversation. 

   Anyhow, when this nation was founded, the Founders and the Framers
had a very clear and explicit view of the difference between "human
beings" and "human institutions."  Human beings were born into the
world with certain inalienable *rights* and these were clearly
acknowledged in the Bill Of Rights (and the Declaration and other
places).  

   Human institutions, however, had only privileges.  And those
privileges were defined by "We, The People" - the sole holders of the
rights.  This was true of corporations, unincorporated businesses,
fraternal groups, churches, and even the institutions of government
itself.  All had privileges - rights were reserved solely to humans. 

   What they teach in law schools today, however, is that in 1886, in
the "Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad" case, the US
Supreme Court plucked corporations alone - not unions, not churches,
not governments, not unincorporated businesses, but corporations alone
- out of the "privileges" category and dropped them into the "rights"
category along with individual human beings. 

   Human rights are, of course, a huge club with which humans could
beat back government.  It was intended that way, should governments
ever become oppressive, among other reasons.  

   And so once corporations got that club, they began to subdue
government and to compete hard against humans.  They claimed the First
Amendment right of free speech, and claimed that meant they could give
money to politicians, overturning hundreds (perhaps thousands) of
local, state, and federal laws forbidding such activity.  They claimed
the 4th Amendment right of privacy to keep you and me and the
government from knowing what they were doing.  They claimed the 14th
Amendment right against discrimination (the 14th was passed to free the
slaves, along with the 13th and 15th), so now it's nearly impossible
to "discriminate" against a Wal-Mart and keep it out of your community,
etc. 

And, in the ultimate irony, although in law schools today they teach
that the Court ruled thus in 1886, the court actually ruled the
opposite - they explicitly chose NOT to decide the constitution issue. 
But the court's reporter wrote a commentary (headnote) to the case,
and corporations have been pointing to that ever since, even though it
has no precedential status or legal standing. 

Anyhow, that's the beginning of it all, and the core of my book...

Thom 
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #3 of 55: Adina Levin (adina-levin) Mon 17 Feb 03 11:58
    
I liked the examples you gave in the book about the way corporations
have used and abused their rights to privacy, free speech, and other
civil liberties intended for humans.

Could you share just a few examples? 
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #4 of 55: Life Is Easy When Considered From Another Point Of View (dam) Mon 17 Feb 03 14:49
    
lord, a book on the current corporate greed at the top would interest me.

up until the last few years, i was pro corporate, but now that really no
company chould give a crap about their employees, i don't know where i
stand.

welcome to our community.
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #5 of 55: Thom Hartmann (thomhartmann) Mon 17 Feb 03 14:57
    
Here are a few examples, in addition to the 14th Amendment one I just
mentioned:

First Amendment (“freedom of expression”)
        Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted in the landmark
1919 Shenck v. US case that shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater does
not constitute free speech; the Bill of Rights guarantees that a
person’s opinion can be expressed, not that there are no limits on what
one can do. 
        But consider how this fundamental freedom has been bent since Santa
Clara. Companies have claimed:

·       Freedom to spend what they want on lobbyists: claiming the same
right as everyone else to “express themselves” to the government
(without limit), companies won approval to spend whatever they want on
lobbyists in Washington. At one point there was a full-time tobacco
lobbyist for every two legislators on Capitol Hill. As of this writing
there are roughly 38 registered lobbyists for every member of Congress,
over 20,000 in total, and 138 of them are former members of Congress.
·       Pediatricians ask for restrictions on corporate ads to children;
industry is unmoved: The American Academy of Pediatrics  has proposed
that the federal government initiate controls on advertising directed
at children, and recommended that parents educate their children about
how advertising can manipulate them. Business, using their First
Amendment rights to freedom of expression, have instead increased its
spending on ads to children.
·       Utility refuses to comply with a government order to notify
customers, because of a First Amendment “right not to speak”: The
California Public Utility Commission told a public utility that it must
include a statement-stuffer in their bills, to inform consumers on a
key point. In a move that was startlingly reminiscent of the Santa
Clara case, the utility (a government-authorized monopoly) sued the
state that gave it the monopoly, and took the case all the way to the
U.S. Supreme Court – and won. They asserted that they didn’t have to
comply because they had “a new corporate First Amendment right ‘not to
speak,’” and the Supreme Court, extending the logic of the Santa Clara
case, agreed.
·       Lawyers recommend using the First Amendment to invalidate SEC
regulations on truthful disclosures: Lawyers at a 1988 judicial
conference recommended that corporations “use the First Amendment to
invalidate a range of Federal regulations, including Securities and
Exchange Commission disclosure requirements that govern corporate
takeovers, and rules affecting stock offerings.”    
Fourth Amendment
        The Fourth Amendment, against unreasonable search and seizure, was
instituted because in pre-Revolutionary America, soldiers were allowed
to burst into anyone’s home for no particular reason. Companies have
used it to push away government regulators is if they were British
dragoons.
        Two Supreme Court cases, in 1967 and 1978, affirmed that corporations
don’t have to submit to random inspections  because, as “persons”
under the Fourth Amendment, they’re entitled to privacy and freedom
from unreasonable searches. Corporations have pursued this logic for
many years:
·       Antitrust compliance: Referencing the 1886 Santa Clara decision, the
Supreme Court granted Fourth Amendment rights to a corporation in
1906,  just 16 years after the Sherman Act had been passed.  As William
Meyers notes in The Santa Clara Blues: Corporate Personhood versus
Democracy,  “This ruling made it difficult to enforce the Sherman
anti-monopoly act, which naturally required the papers of corporations
in order to determine if there existed grounds for an indictment.” 
·       Deterring a health & safety investigation in Idaho: An electrical
and plumbing corporation in Idaho cited the Fourth Amendment and
deterred a health and safety investigation. 
·       Pollution & safety compliance: Meyers continues that “Without random
inspections it is virtually impossible to enforce meaningful
anti-pollution, health, and safety laws.”  In  a 1986 Supreme Court
case, a corporation sued the Environmental Protection Agency because
the EPA hired a professional photographer to fly over the plant with a
camera after the corporation had turned down a request by the EPA for
an on-site inspection of the plant.  The Court acknowledged the
corporation’s right to privacy from inspections by the EPA within its
buildings.
Fifth Amendment
        Like the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment was written to prevent
a recurrence of government abuses from colonial days. Among other
thngs, it says that a person cannot be compelled to testify against
himself, as often happened under English royal rule, or be tried twice
for the same crime. This was in a time when the balance of power was
definitely in favor of the government; governments could, and routinely
did, execute people.
        Today the shoe is on the other foot: the more powerful party,
business, is claiming protection, again to avoid government
investigation of its alleged misdoings. Convicted once of criminal
misdoing in an anti-trust case, a textile supply company used Fifth
Amendment protections and barred retrial.  
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #6 of 55: Andrew Alden (alden) Mon 17 Feb 03 17:19
    
These are horrifying examples! And you say it's all based on a
misunderstanding??
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #7 of 55: The Fucked-Up Piano Chicks (magdalen) Mon 17 Feb 03 17:26
    

classic stuff.

supposing some of us haven't even read your book -- though now that i know about it,
we might! -- but we're right there with ya. (Paco Xander Nathan published a piece in
my online magazine, Signum, about this subject a couple years ago if anyone is
interested: http://www.signumpress.com/Issue11/ ).

i completely believe all this. the question is, what do we do about it, if anything?

is there any baby in the corporation-as-person bathwater, some morally upstanding
reason that the corporation *should* be treated as a person, under certain
circumstances?
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #8 of 55: Adina Levin (adina-levin) Mon 17 Feb 03 17:27
    
The trouble, as a law-student friend explained to me the other day, is
that once such a principle is established in legal precedent -- even
if it got there by mistake -- the law stands.

So we'd need to make explicit changes to law and policy in order to
roll the system back.
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #9 of 55: the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Mon 17 Feb 03 20:26
    
Thom has spelled out the changes that would need to be made to each 
State's laws.  

Have you heard from any legislators who are willing to take this on?
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #10 of 55: Douglas Barnes (salguod-senrab) Mon 17 Feb 03 20:40
    
Thom--

This is Adina's law student friend. :-)

Lots of stuff creeps into caselaw on little cat feet, sometimes good
stuff, like the right to privacy. (You can find a right to privacy in
the Constitution as quickly and easily as you can find corporate
personhood.) Sometimes there are sea changes (i.e. in the middle of the
New Deal, after FDR's re-election), but more often principles are
build up over time like sedimentary rock. 

Moreover, I'm not sure that the particular manner that courts started
to recognize corporate personhood is particularly relevant or
interesting from this remove-- far larger social, cultural and
political pressures were pointing in in the direction of rights for
corporations, and the courts just gradually acceded to this.

Frankly, Thom, I just don't see that you made your case very
effectively. You point out a lot of Bad Things that Corporations Do,
and you point out the fact that corporations have certain rights or
privileges or whatever, but you fail to show any causation.

Let’s take the problem of brutally exploiting third-world countries. 

At one point, you tell us about the corporate role in propping up
despotic third-world governments, like that of Idi Amin. Was Idi Amin a
Bad Guy? Clearly. Should anyone have supported him? Clearly not. But
what do corporations qua corporations have to do with this?

Folks in the Western world were involved with Bad Things in Africa
long before corporations had strong legal protection as persons. The
slave trade was cheerfully carried out by a wide variety of business
entities, and the full cooperation of many Africans. Everyone from your
basic entrepreneur with a boat to national sovereigns took part in the
trade, all without the benefit of modern corporate structures. In
fact, the rise of industrial corporations played a key role in the
*end* of slavery in the U.S.

If there had been no corporations, as such, would wealthy Western
individuals, partnerships, and so on still have indirectly supported
Amin to reap the benefits of investment in Uganda? Of course they
would, because individuals, no less than corporations are driven by the
profit motive. If what you object to is international investment in
general, then he should do that and not quibble about the type of
business entity that carries it out.

So, if other business entities are perfectly capable of committing
abominations, and have committed them with the same glee and abandon as
modern corporations, where is the causation? How will revoking the
legal rights of corporations change any of the dire stories that you
put on the table? 

In short, I think you have your causation backwards. Corporate rights
evolved because of concentrations of wealth and power, not vice versa.
They are a symptom, and not the problem.

I get a strong feeling from the book that you're practicing a kind of
misdirection -- that your real beef is with modern industrial
civilization, and not on the narrow problem of corporate rights. I'm
open to arguments against modern industrial civilization, but if this
is your agenda, you should go for it explicitly.

Cheers,

Doug
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #11 of 55: Thom Hartmann (thomhartmann) Tue 18 Feb 03 06:34
    
Thanks, all.  For the record, I have nothing against modern industrial
civilization, as anybody who's actually read my book (or even just
read the dust jacket!) will know.  I've started 7 corporations in my
life that have generated over a quarter billion dollars for this
economy and employed hundreds of people, and have benefited from that
significantly.  AND, I've never used corporate personhood to hide
crimes by me or my corporations from the public or the public's agent,
the government.  (This is all in the book.)  I also think that the
prescriptions I'm suggesting - ordinances like Porter Township, PA
passed in December 2002 - when they make their way to the Supreme Court
will provide the Court with the same opportunity they had in '54 and
'73 - to reverse a 19th Century mistake.  (In '54 they reversed 1896
Plessy with Brown v. Board of Ed, in '73 they reversed 1873 Bradwell
with Roe v. Wade.)  Look also at the Nike case - where corporations are
claiming the first amendment "right to lie" - this may bring the Santa
Clara case forward, too; some of us are working on making that happen,
not so much because we believe the case will turn on it (it won't) but
because we want to educate the SC justices (read the B v B dissent to
see how mistaken they are, even though many on the Court have their
goals right, in this case/regard). 

Yes, corporate personhood is now law, even though it got in by
subterfuge.  But it's not legislator-made law, it's not
citizen-voted-on law, it's court-interpreted law (when the court later
built new decisions on Santa Clara).  That law can be changed (as 1896
segregation/Plessy was and as 1873
women-have-no-rights-separate-from-their-husbands/Bradwell was) in one
of two (or both) ways: by the Supreme Court deciding to reverse a prior
mistake (and they may be close - read Rhenquist's dissent in Boston v.
Bellotti <sp?>), or by the states ratifying a constitutional amendment
to insert "natural" before the word "person" in the 14th amendment. 
To those who say the former is not likely, I point them to the dissent
in B v. B just mentioned; to those who say the latter is impossible, I
remind you of how quickly the amendment to allow 18-year-olds to vote
happened.  

The amazon reviewer who said I was against industrial civilization
obviously hadn't even bothered to read the jacket liner notes on the
book, much less the chapters in which I suggest that the actions I'm
proposing could cause an entrepreneurial boom and revival of the
American and worldwide economy...

Thom 
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #12 of 55: Adina Levin (adina-levin) Tue 18 Feb 03 07:43
    
Doug, 

I read the history of how corporations got civil rights a little
differently. It didn't seem to me that the book naively assumed that,
because the law was based on a "mistake", it could be undone any more
easily than, say, the right to privacy.

The history section shows how things got to their current state, and
shows clearly that the law was not always the way it is today.

People take the current state of affairs -- in which corporations have
civil rights -- for granted. The history is a reminder that there's no
need to take the current system for granted.  
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #13 of 55: Douglas Barnes (salguod-senrab) Tue 18 Feb 03 10:17
    
Thom, 

I'm away from the book at the moment, but I did read most of it, and
while I'm aware you've started businesses, that's not as relevant as
the words you've actually written and the arguments that you make. I'll
address the "opposed to industrial civilization" issue with specific
examples in a subsequent message. I didn't read the Amazon review you
mention -- all the reviews I saw were glowing.

History of Corporate Personhood

With respect to the legal history of corporate personhood, you seem
argue in the book that there is something sinister about how this came
about. From that, you invite the reader to conclude that this reflects
on whether it was a good idea or not. Since there are lots of rights
that have evolved in a similar fashion, and are dear to your target
audience (like the right to an abortion), I think this is a highly
suspect mode of argument. 

The fact that it would be possible to change things is trivially true.
The interesting question is whether it doing so would accomplish any
of our (largely shared) goals.

Causation

The most serious flaw in your argument is that you fail to show that
any of the problems you identify are *caused* by corporate personhood,
or that any of them would *get better* if there were no corporate
personhood (or any of your proposed laws were passed.)

Rather, I would argue, the problems that you identify are not caused
by particular business entity types, but by other factors. The root of
all these factors is not "corporate personhood", which is at most a
sideshow, but rather the ability of wealth -- no matter what container
it's in -- to distort the political process.
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #14 of 55: Mark Richards (volund) Wed 19 Feb 03 05:02
    
I've just gotten a copy of the book, and I'm in the process of reading it.

In reference to the argument posed in the last paragraph of the previous
post -- hasn't "corporate personhood" helped enable wealth to be
concentrated in such large quantities that the political process is that
much more distorted? And in that case, is it really, as you are stating, a
sideshow?

Also, I'm not sure just how much it's covered (I skimmed the book when I got
it, only now starting to read it through), but to what extent do
international "free trade" arrangements such as the WTO, etc., threaten to
transform the concept of corporate personhood from an American legal concept
to an international one?
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #15 of 55: Twilight Jack (novelguy) Thu 20 Feb 03 13:29
    
Unfortunately, Thom, I haven't yet read the book, but off the top of
my head, I think that the biggest problem with corporate personhood is
that a corporation is composed of a collection of natural persons. 
These natural persons can consolidate their assets and liabilities in
such a way as to allay personal responsibility for misdeeds and abuses
of their power.  Again, I admit that I don't know what I'm talking
about (with regards to the arguments presented in your book), but isn't
the real problem here that a corporation protected as a person under
the rights offered by the constitution and our body of laws can use
those rights to obfuscate the actions of the natural persons who
determine the corporation's activities?

At a glance, this is what I see as the strongest difference between
the abuse of power and wealth that takes place at a corporate level and
the same abuse by an individual.  Yes, the concentration of wealth
will always lead to this type of behavior in a society, but the entity
of the corporation-as-person allows this distortion of justice to take
place at a level that would otherwise be impossible.  Almost no single
citizen can wield the sort of economic clout that can be mustered by a
corporation like Pepsi or Microsoft or Nike.
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #16 of 55: Douglas Barnes (salguod-senrab) Thu 20 Feb 03 19:32
    

Twilight--

First of all, we need to distinguish between "corporations" and
"corporations that have some of the same rights as natural persons."
One of Thom's central theses appears to be that there's a really
important difference between the two -- so important that it can
explain a great many terrible things that modern-day corporations do.
So important that revoking those rights would have a perceptible
effect. (I think we all agree that modern-day corporations do some
truly terrible things, and that they should stop doing them.)

The legal principle Thom is critiquing has been around only since the
latter part of the nineteenth century. Before this principle was
adopted, corporations and other amalgamations of wealth had no trouble
whatsoever in both (a) getting really big, and (b) doing really
terrible things. So clearly this legal principle is not a necessary
condition for having really big blobs of wealth that throw their weight
around in socially undesirable ways.

Do you really think that Microsoft needed corporations-as-persons in
order to acquire and abuse its software monopoly? Did WalMart? Does the
size of a conglomerate (made up of unrelated or weakly related
businesses) really enable it to do more evil than its individual parts?

IS BIGGER BADDER?

Some of the biggest environmental problems in the country have been
caused by remarkably small industrial operations. Not long ago, there
was some horrible stuff in the Oakland involving a mom-and-pop chrome
plating operation that had been doing some really unfortunate things
with cyanide. Silicon Valley has a huge *number* of toxic waste sites,
not because of some peripatetic monolithic corporate polluter, but
because of dozens of little corporations that cut corners in
manufacturing semiconductors, and then disappeared.

THE MYTH OF THE VIRTUOUS INDIVIDUAL

Thom’s planet is populated by highly virtuous individuals. Early on in
the book, he seems to argue that an individual or small business would
never decide to build a truck that had a serious risk of exploding gas
tanks. But individuals can, and do, make similar decisions all the
time. They don’t put their kids in car seats because they’re lazy. They
drive too fast and tailgate because their appointments are more
important than the lives of others. When I lived in Taiwan, propane gas
was delivered – by sole proprietors – on the back of motorcycles.
Think about that for a second.

Given that individuals aren't virtuous, the only thing remaining to
keep them in check is their presumed powerlessness. BUT, even if Thom's
measures were in fact successful at keeping corporations smaller
(which I don't believe is the case), the economic benefits of scale and
scope in modern industrial society are so *vast* that individuals,
partnerships and other business entities would rush into the void. They
might be less efficient at occupying the niches that are currently
occupied by corporations, but they would be no less able to wreak
havoc. And wreak havoc they would, just as individuals and small
associations have done for millennia.

The idea of the "individual" makes you think first of yourself, then
your family, then your friends. You don't think about Bill Gates and
Sam Walton and Andrew Carnegie.

OVERUSE OF COMMONS

From reading Thom's book, you’d think that nobody had overgrazed a
field before the advent of the modern corporation. In fact, modern
archaeologists believe that entire ancient civilizations were wiped out
by overuse of common resources, and, last I checked the Anasazi didn’t
have corporate personhood.

His argument is (I think) that:
- Corporations are anonymous
- Therefore corporate use of the commons is anonymous
- Commons can only be regulated if the users aren’t anonymous
- Therefore corporations overgraze the commons (literally or
figuratively)

First of all, Corporations aren’t anonymous. They can be identified
and shamed in an astonishing variety of ways, and some of the best
activism these days consists of just that. The examples of resource
plunder that he cites – which are very real problems – were far from
anonymous (unless you consider things printed in the Congressional
Record to be anonymous.)  

Regulating a commons in a complex, heavily-populated society is a very
real problem, but the existence of corporate personhood is almost
totally irrelevant. Take, for example, low-cost grazing leases, which
are an abomination. These are almost entirely owned by individuals and
families, none of which seem to have any compunction about using them
to systematically overgraze government-owned land. Where are the
corporate actors here? The real problem is that regulating common space
and common assets is hard – even in "idyllic" rural areas.
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #17 of 55: Mark Richards (volund) Fri 21 Feb 03 02:40
    
>Early on in
 the book, he seems to argue that an individual or small business would
 never decide to build a truck that had a serious risk of exploding gas
 tanks.

I'm not sure that that is precisely what he's saying. What I got from that
is that a _limited_ _liability_ corporation would be able to weigh the cost
of making the gas tank (or what have you) safer as opposed to the potential
liability of paying off wrongful death suits; i.e., that they can get away
with that sort of risk analysis where an individual could not. An individual
who did that would be sued for everything he or she had.
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #18 of 55: Thom Hartmann (thomhartmann) Fri 21 Feb 03 16:10
    
Thank you, Mark.  My apologies for my delay - I was driving all over
Michigan yesterday, between business meetings in Chicago and Detroit
and visiting my father, who's dying of mesothelioma, and then flying
home today.

I don't think I take in the book a strong position on the inherent
goodness or evil of human nature - it's rather an issue of the way
people tend to behave within certain cultural/institutional
constraints/organizational forms.  If, for example, we don't want an
aristocracy in this nation (and some, like Hamilton and de Toqcueville
would say it may be a good/stabilizing thing if we did have one) - but
assume we don't want that, but would rather have a more egalitarian
society and to think that, to a meaningful extent, economics (over the
short term) is a zero-sum game, then we have things like inheritance
taxes (or the old Jubilee) to periodically or relatively rebalance the
playing field and open up more opportunity.  But what happens when the
"person" lives forever?  (As a corporation does.)  

But even all this is very much off topic - I don't even address these
points in the books (thanks to those of you who have actually read it
before offering opinions on it).  The point of the book is that
historically we had humans with "rights" and all forms of human
association had "privileges" and corporations have, through various
means (when you read Beard's history you conclude it *was* sinister),
acquired "rights."  And the result of this has been harm to the
environment, democracy, entrepreneurship, and our culture in general. 
I'm suggesting that reversing or changing this could/would create a
boom time for the United States, and would actually be more consistent
with the backroom discussion Field, Waite, Davis, and Sanderson had -
that 'artificial prsons" should have a playing field leveled by the
14th Amendment, and so should "natural persons," but nobody in 1886
(except Field) was suggesting that "artificial persons" (corporations)
and "natural persons" (humans) should have the same rights.

Thom  
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #19 of 55: Michael Edward Marotta (mercury) Sat 22 Feb 03 09:27
    
Every entity takes every advantage. The Catholic church or for that
matter your friendly Dokun or whatever, in my case the local coin club,
every entity, flower, fungus or corporation takes every advantage.  We
expect this from people and robins.

To deny that this is appropriate to "artificial" individuals
(so-called) is to preclude the acquisition of legal resources
("rights") by sentient software, robots, androids, etc.

We might think that a cluster of mechanically enhanced or artifially
derived humanoids linked in a common multitasking braining context is
science fiction, but with crowns on my teeth, and a DSL line for an
online chat, I think we are already there... and have been for almost
50 years or more.  In fact, it would hard to delineate when it started.

I teach 8th graders in a town where 10 bucks an hour is an eviable
wage and some of them have multitasking cellphones.  All you have to do
is implant them and what have you got?

So, why should "artificial" persons be denied anything except that
they threaten _ALL_ "humans", the same way that proto-rats threatened
the dinosaurs?

We still have alligators and monitor lizards and we will always have
people.  Earth's dominant species -- if that concept makes sense at all
-- may not much longer be homo sapiens, but something else new and
wonderful.
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #20 of 55: The Phantom of the Arts Center (tinymonster) Sat 22 Feb 03 09:32
    
<To deny that this is appropriate to "artificial" individuals
(so-called) is to preclude the acquisition of legal resources
("rights") by sentient software, robots, androids, etc.>

You know, that crossed my mind when the "artificial" term came up. 
But that was probably on my mind because the AI topic in <science.> has
been so active lately.

FWIW.
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #21 of 55: the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Sat 22 Feb 03 09:34
    
I found it interesting that no less than Abraham Lincoln had been a 
lawyer for the railroads before he went into politics.  

I suppose they needed a lot of legal work and paid well, at least when 
they paid.  

Today the corporations are like big cash cows for lawyers, or at least 
they were until recently.  I live in a neighborhood thats crawling with 
corporate lawyers and they are now sucking wind for lack of work and 
worrying about their cash flow.  

When an industry, in this case lawyering, depends on one class of 
customer, in this case business enterprises, to support its lifestyle, 
isn't it only a matter of time before we get lawyered into a situation 
like this?

What seems to have been lost in all this is the notion of operating in 
the common good.  That's been shifted from the original ideas of life, 
liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the citizens into some form of 
corporate hegemony and access to lightly taxed plunder for the people 
who sign the lawyers' pay checks.

What I'm getting at is the thought that your initiative needs corporate 
support or the lawyers need some new sense of purpose if we're ever 
going to see a change in the law.  
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #22 of 55: Thom Hartmann (thomhartmann) Sat 22 Feb 03 13:55
    
Ah, yes - well said.  And that's where the book begins - with the
commons.  And the notion that the commons is something we all agree to
support, protect, and use wisely if for no other reason than
self-protection and survival.  

But the current corporate form sees (by law) the commons as an
opportunity rather than an obligation.  How to extract the most for the
current P&L?  And, empowered with "human rights," corporations are
increasingly damaging the commons to the detriment of the world our
children will inherit.  Thus, the Founders and Framers thought it quite
important to put rational limits on the behavior of corporations and
other forms of human association, and the Santa Clara case (and
subsequent ones that have built on it) have eroded those protections.

Thom
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #23 of 55: the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Sat 22 Feb 03 17:41
    
How do other corporate charters around the world compare to ours?  Is 
there another country that would provide a good example for us to move 
toward?
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #24 of 55: OZRO W. CHILDS (oz) Sat 22 Feb 03 17:58
    
What rights, exactly, should businesspeople organized as partnerships, joint
ventures, or even sole proprietorships have that should be denied to
corporations?  Conversely, is there any right that should accrue to a
corporate organizaton that should be denied to private persons or
associations?

The second question is easily answered:  The owners of corporations are not
personally liable for corporate debts.  They may, indeed, be personally
liable for any crimes or torts they commit while acting for the corporation,
but the ordinary stockholder is exempt from personal liability.  All that is
at stake is the value of his stock.  This of course is the basic reason why
corporations exist, the other being the perpetuity of their "personhood", so
that they are not subject to reorganization when even a controlling
shareholder dies or becomes insolvent.   This is, to be sure, a privilege
granted by the state, but it is hard to imagine a successful economy that is
not based on the existence of this privilege.

The first question I find hard to answer.  Why should, for instance,
partners in a partnership be free to exercise First Amendment rights on
issues of concern to them, or be free from unreasonable searches and
seizures, or be protected against confiscation of their assets without due
process of law, while corporations have fewer rights?  I cannot think of any
reason why a corporation should not have every Constitutional right that
individuals or individually-run organizations have.

The problem Thom identifies is a recent tendency to expand the rights of
businesses *of all sorts* as a shield against reasonable and necessary
regulation.  Corporations are not evil, necessarily, and should have every
right any individual has.  But this does not mean that those rights should
be expanded to the point where corporations *or anyone else* are immune from
having to deal honestly, avoid harm to the environment, and so forth.
  
inkwell.vue.176 : Thom Hartmann, _Unequal Protection_
permalink #25 of 55: Thom Hartmann (thomhartmann) Sun 23 Feb 03 06:29
    
>>I cannot think of any
reason why a corporation should not have every Constitutional right
that
individuals or individually-run organizations have.<<

The reason is simple.  Human rights are for humans.  Institutions have
not rights but privileges.  Humans within institutions are always
fully able to exercise their rights, but when institutions claim
"equality" with humans, individual human rights are at risk.  This was
the core of the American revolutionary war - that an institution
(government) should not have rights but only privileges that are
granted by the holders of the rights: humans.  

At law today unions do not have rights.  Churches do not have rights. 
Governments do not have rights.  Only human beings...and, oddly, since
1886, corporations, have access to the Bill Of Rights.  

This has paved the way for a new feudalism in America and the world
where the new feudal powers are corporations. 

As to other countries with different corporate laws, I'm not much of
an authority on that.  I spoke at Oxford University a few months ago
and one of the profs there said that in most Scandinavian countries the
corporate charter laws are closer to American laws pre-1886, in that
corporations must "first serve the public interest" and only
secondarily serve stockholders.  But, as I said, that's not the area my
research covered in detail.
  

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