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.
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?
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
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?
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.
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 persons 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 didnt 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 anyones 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 dont have to submit to random inspections because, as persons under the Fourth Amendment, theyre 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 corporations 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.
Andrew Alden (alden) Mon 17 Feb 03 17:19
These are horrifying examples! And you say it's all based on a misunderstanding??
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?
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.
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?
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. Lets 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
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 Thoms 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 dont put their kids in car seats because theyre 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, youd 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 didnt 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 arent anonymous - Therefore corporations overgraze the commons (literally or figuratively) First of all, Corporations arent 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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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