Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Powers, Principalities and Alito

After getting a heads-up on this from another spear-oriented blog I regularly read, I've been recently watching chunklets of a rather interesting documentary on corporations, which is accurately if unimaginatively titled: "The Corporation." It's faskinating schtuff, and draws from perspectives from both within and outside the business community. It's worth a watch.

It's particularly intriguing given the recent Supreme Court decision to permit corporations to act as if they had the same rights as citizens of our democratic republic...up to and including direct action to effect an election. One of the more striking segments (which you can watch above) discusses the dynamics of these corporations. The question is asked: What kind of person is a corporation? Among the answers:
  • They are "immortal persons," meaning they can exist forever.
  • They are constituted for the purpose of shielding human beings from culpability for their actions towards other human beings.
  • They exist for the purpose of providing profit for themselves.
  • They have no soul.
  • They cannot be held personally accountable for their actions.
Reflecting on this, I encounter two things. First, a slight shiver as I think about the ground that such "persons" stand upon morally and spiritually. One wonders how Jesus would respond to such a "person," and whether that response would involve a herd of pigs and a cliff.

Second, I wonder how these "persons" relate to the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. Are they the governed? Is government instituted among them, and does it require their consent for it's just powers? Are they...men? Meaning, you know, people?

They do not live. Liberty means nothing to them. They cannot know happiness. And these entities will be influencing and guiding our nation?

I've said it once, and I'll say it again, these are interesting times in which we live.


  1. Corporation as "legion"... Now that's an idea I hadn't thought of before... But have it knocking around in my head now for sure!

  2. I haven't read the decision yet, but Alito's rationale must be fascinating. Methinks the deck is stacked against the plebes.

    So help me here: When the corporate servers become self-aware will they be eligible for Social Security?

    The Declaration of Independence has no bearing on the legal status of either people or corporations. It is a protestation.

    [An aside: That whole schtick about "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." does not recognize or grant any rights; a contemporary equivalent would read: You're not the boss of me now!

    To me, the Declaration reflects the mentality of a college freshman who got hisself a bit of book-lernin' and turned his back on those who supported him and helped him get to where he is today. Youth is frequently more enamored with the 'glory' of violent revolution than with the principled, non-aggressive acts of civil disobedience (non-compliance).--This is purely conjecture, of course.]

  3. By the bye, if corporations were somehow 'covered' under the Declaration's preamble, their theoretical ability "to dissolve the political bands which have connected them" would be an act of self-destruction. A corporation is a legal entity which derives its status from the government under which it was established. Once that legal entity dissolves it's affilitation with said government, it destroys it's legal status and unravels like a ball of yarn.

    It could only continue it's business (under a new jurisdiction) if it's shareholders seceded as well.

  4. @ newworld: You're right about the corporation being dependent on legal structures for it's existence.

    As for the use of the preamble, it's more for it's understanding of the rights of the individual. I wasn't thinking of corporations biting the hand that feeds 'em. That is, as you point out, not in their interest.

    I think they're more interested in controlling the hand that feeds them.

  5. Curiously the corporation as person is not a new legal theory. Back in the 1870's the 14th amendment was used to give rights to corporations as persons. At the same time the rights guaranteed to those of color in that amendment were removed.

    Ironic, yes?

  6. It is, in a way, a throw back to the 1870s.

    That way of thinking eventually led to the most destructive 30 years in human history, starting in about 1915.

    I was struck by the irony of how the conservatives had coined a phrase "activist judges" as a thing of evil.

    Then the conservative court comes up with this pro big business aberration.

    The next thing that struck me is that corporations are run by very small numbers of autocratic authoritarian people.

    An Exxon Mobile, or a Lockheed Martin, are run by maybe a dozen individuals at most. Usually very highly paid with millions of dollars of personal assets with which to express and influence others with their personal political points of view.

    Now they will be able to tap into the billions of their corporate coffers to express their personal points of view.

    Billions that could have been spent on employee salaries, health care and retirement plans, and corporate infrastructure.

    Make no mistake. The freedom of speech of a corporation is no more than the freedom of that dozen of individuals. They will NOT permit or extend that freedom of speech to anyone else beneath them, on penalty of termination.

    If we thought there might have been a plutocratic coup in America before, this decision makes it absolutely clear. Democracy in America not even as real as the world of Avatar.

  7. Jodie: "Billions that could have been spent on employee salaries, health care and retirement plans, and corporate infrastructure."

    It's not as if they're throwing this money into a bonfire and destroying it. It will pay employee salaries for people who produce TV commercials and lawn signs and other campaign paraphernalia. It will be added to the health care and retirement plans of others, who are no more or less deserving than their own employees.

    Now, whether campaign spending is productive or worthwhile is another question entirely. I'm sure the world would be better off if we stopped funding political campaigns entirely and made contributions which enabled third-world farmers to become self-sufficient.

  8. interesting that someone mentioned 1915 as the beginning of "the most destructive 30 years in human history"...

    1913 was the year pres. Wilson passed The Federal Reserve Act, and in short order the Bureau of Internal Revenue was renamed to the IRS which gave birth to the 1040 tax form

    more than coincidence - this country aint goin to hell in a handbasket, but rather a top-fuel dragster

  9. It IS a coincidence.

    The social upheaval brought about by unbridled corporate plutocracy was a world wide phenomenon. America's leadership on the world stage was significantly smaller then than it is now.