Corporations, persons, tools, and fools

Melvyn Magree

Corporations are persons?  Someone said that you know a corporation is a person when Texas executes one.
How did we get to this situation where corporations have “freedom of speech” and many other freedoms granted to actual living individual persons?
Corporations were originally created to give monarchs and other nobility a piece of the economic action.  As the merchant class rose in cities, monarchs couldn’t tax them because merchants had no land.  By creating a corporation of a given business, a monarch could insist on a few shares of a corporation and rake in more in profits than he would have in taxes.  Also, by giving a monopoly to a corporation, he protected it from competition.
These monopolies soon expanded far outside the monarch’s country with colonization of other parts of the world.  An example is how British law forbade the American colonies from producing a long list of items or importing goods through any other organization than the British East India Company.  Was the British East India Company composed of Adam Smith’s “order of men” who “were not to be trusted” with proposing legislation?  The Boston Tea Party was an act of defiance against the corporate monopoly enjoyed by the British East India Company.
Is today’s Tea Party a tool of corporations who want to extract minerals without paying the full cost of such extraction?  These corporations are waging legislative, administrative, and public relations campaigns to allow them to operate on corporate terms.  Are these corporations composed of Adam Smith’s “order of men” who “were not to be trusted” with proposing legislation?  Also, just like the British East India Company was a “foreign” entity, many of the extractors of today are entities from out of state or even out of the country.
Does “open for business” or “business-friendly” apply to locally owned companies or to large corporations that will move elsewhere whenever they think an area is not bending to their wishes?  Does it mean that large corporations will be given subsidies, including reduced taxes, that aren’t given to locally owned businesses?  If we want truth in government, maybe we should insist that states and localities that claim to be “business-friendly” should admit to being “corporation-friendly.”
Can you find “corporation” in the U.S. Constitution?  That was deliberate.  Many of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention remembered well the dominance of a corporation over colonial affairs and did not want a repeat of that stranglehold.  Many of the national politicians of the time had a vision of craftsmen and farmers plying their goods in local markets.
But with advances in transportation, the economic situation changed drastically.  To build canals required capital.  To gather capital, groups of people had to organize to buy shares and/or borrow money.  If the enterprise failed, the shareholders didn’t want to be held individually responsible for the losses of the company beyond their own financial contribution.  Wouldn’t you?  Thus, the limited liability corporation came to the United States.
With the coming of the railroads came ever larger corporations.  The Illinois Central Railroad hired a lawyer to get special privileges like breaking unions, hiring foreign workers, and gaining privileges not held by people.  Yep, that lawyer was the “of the people, by the people, and for the people” guy.  Apparently, the Civil War opened his eyes to many things.  This excerpt from one of his letters shows this rather strongly:
“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
My, how political parties morph over the generations!  I think only two Republican presidents have had similar misgivings.
Many decades later, another wartime leader worried about the “military-industrial” complex.  But one of his predecessors pulled a corporate branding trick on the American people.  The Department of War was now to be called the Department of Defense.  Now corporations weren’t in the business of selling war machines but were fulfilling “defense contracts.”
One of the political ironies is that the political party that claims the federal government can’t do anything right bends over backward to lavish more money on the military-industrial complex.  Do they not know that snafu and fubar are terms coined by the guys in the foxholes?
So, are corporations the tools of the people, or are the people the tools of corporations?  If we let the latter happen, then we are the fools.
For a lot more about the abuse of and by corporations, see “Life Inc.: How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back” by Douglas Rushkoff.

Mel owns shares in a few corporations and almost always votes against their overpaid executives and boards.