Corporations aren’t people, but they’re trying
September 14, 2007
What exactly does the phrase, “corporate personhood” mean to you?Does it conjure up warm and cuddly images of a corporate mom and dad sitting down to supper with their little corporate tykes? Are they eating a meal prepared from boxes of ready-made filler and chemical-laden spices, mixed with factory-raised hamburger, drinking milk squeezed out of cows lined up by the thousands at cold milking machines? Is dessert flavored with petroleum byproducts in ceramic bowls manufactured in a Third World country by workers earning viciously substandard wages?Are you imagining a paternal corporate figure seated on a sofa made in Taiwan, reading a nationally distributed, non-threatening newspaper after a hard day at the office, perhaps with the corporate wolfhound stretched out on the rug chewing on the desiccated femur of a deceased union organizer?If those aren’t the nightmare images that churn to the surface of your overburdened mind when you hear the phrase “corporate personhood,” you need to read a little more deeply in the relevant literature and pull your head out of the sand.I’ve been visiting a website lately named reclaimdemocracy.org, reading about the ongoing battle to withdraw “personhood” status from corporations, which have been usurping what precious little freedom we have as individual humans for some time now.Corporations, as we know them today, have vastly more money and influence at their disposal than do we individuals, and they have used some part of that influence to gain recognition as “persons,” in the eyes of the law, for nearly two centuries.The previous remark may possibly state the obvious, but if it truly were obvious and understood by all of us then this column would be superfluous, not to mention silly. I mean, it’s so clear that corporations are not “persons,” at least to most rational people who have no vested interest in the issue, it’s not even worth discussing. Right?Wrong.Starting in the early 1800s, as the United States of America was recovering from the devastations of a revolutionary war intended to free us from British imperialism, colonialism and corporatism, lawyers were already hard at work trying to undo some of the most basic accomplishments of that revolution. These lawyers, along with certain corporate chiefs and their pet judges, started making inroads against a firm tenet in the language of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights – corporations are instruments only, to be used in the pursuit of profit for shareholders for a limited time, with limited scope, and are always to be held accountable for any damage or harm they do to society or individuals.Corporate leaders began seeing ever greater possibilities to accumulate vast wealth, bypass laws meant to regulate corporate excesses and avoid responsibility for corporate malfeasance. The best way to do this was to misuse the concept of individual, human rights, by attaching those rights to corporations that can manipulate society at many levels without regard to the welfare of the people in general.These are all difficult ideas to absorb, perhaps, because the story is a long and tangled one.But what is relatively easy to grasp is the basic idea that corporations are trying to gain equal footing with natural humans. Corporations already have freed themselves from the strictures of early U.S. regulations that limited the duration of corporate charters, called for charters to be revoked if the corporation broke any laws, and enforced transparency regarding a corporation’s books.Also easy to grasp is the idea that corporations, as a rule, are not interested in human welfare, only in profit. And in pursuit of that profit corporations have committed all manner of acts unfriendly to human welfare, such as the flight of our manufacturing base to foreign shores; the use of the World Trade Organization to cripple national regulations regarding the environment, labor rights and local control; and the creation of “free trade” agreements that are little more than carte blanche for corporations to keep wages depressed, ignore environmental safeguards and thumb their noses at everything but their own self-interest.The issue is deep, the ramifications of inaction are huge, and we, the people, are the only ones who will do anything about this mess. Government is a willing conspirator with the corporations, as things now stand.But we have options, and I urge everyone out there to check out the website mentioned above, and get ready for a fight.John Colson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.