Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
With an election coming up this fall, we should soon start seeing the effects of the Supreme Court decision to remove any limits on corporate campaign contributions.Boiled down, the ruling by the Supremes (and who can ever forget their stunning rendition of “Stop! In the Name of Love”?) was that corporations are, legally speaking, people, and, as such, they are entitled to all the rights of people – including free speech. And, since throwing money at a political campaign is a form of speech … well, ta-da! Limiting corporate campaign donations is the same as limiting free speech.Presto change-o! Just like magic.Indeed, there is a bit of magic in there. It’s the same sort of magic that transformed Pinocchio from a wooden puppet into a real live boy – except in this case, it’s transforming a soulless corporation into a real, live person. Well … sort of real and sort of live.Now let’s skip over the political implications (such as the death of democracy, the firehose of foreign money flooding our campaigns and all the rest) and the legal questions (such as “Huh?”) and focus on the corporations themselves.In a bizarre twist of legal fate, the Supremes decided in 1886 that the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave former slaves full citizenship and civil rights, also granted civil rights to corporations, also known as (I kid you not) “juridical persons.”So, if corporations are people with constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech, how long can it be before they demand the right to vote and the right to run for office?Not long. Read all about it:”Swept to victory by the votes of nearly 10 million of its fellow corporations, consumer products giant Procter & Gamble has become the first ‘juridical person’ elected president of the United States. “The president-elect issued the following statement: ‘This is a new Dawn for America, which will reap a Bounty of freedom as we stand Head & Shoulders above all other nations. We are riding the Crest of the high Tide of the new America. It is a Cascade of good Cheer. The Scope of our Joy is unbounded. Let our enemies beware. Those who try to steal our national Secrets will not be Pampered.'”In other news, a protester at the White House carrying a sign reading ‘Meet the new Hugo Boss, same as the old Hugo Boss’ was taken away by police.”But before we plunge headlong into this brave new world, let’s stop for a moment and think about what kind of people corporations are. I mean, suppose you had a corporation – a juridical person – working at the desk next to you. What kind of a person would it be?Well, to begin with, let’s take a quick step to humanize this juridical person. Let’s give him a name. We’ll call him Harvey, in honor of Harvey the 6-foot 3-and-a-half inch invisible rabbit featured in the 1950 movie of the same name, starring Jimmy Stewart. (Invisible rabbit, juridical person … not much difference there.)So, OK. Your pal Harvey will, to begin with, lie to you all the time. Well, not all the time, just whenever he thinks there’ll be any benefit in it.He’ll tell you he really, really deeply cares about your health, happiness and well-being – even as he persuades the boss to drop your health insurance, cut your wages and give the extra money to him. And he’ll hire people to tell you, day and night, that he is really a wonderful person, that you shouldn’t believe all those lies about him stealing your office supplies and eating the tuna and cheese sandwich you brought to the office for lunch. Really, Harvey’s a magnificent person!If you point to the half-eaten tuna and cheese sandwich that’s still on his desk or the stapler with your name on it, hidden in his bottom drawer, he’ll hire someone to write a jingle about how much he cares. And then he’ll pay someone to sing it in your ear 30 times a day – distracting you while Harvey himself sneaks over to your house on his lunch hour to seduce your wife. And poison your dog.And if you walk over to his desk to confront him, he’ll hold a hand up, smile and say, “Your concerns are really important to me. Please wait just a moment.” Then he’ll put his feet up on his desk and go back to picking his nose.If you clear your throat in impatience, he’ll repeat: “Your concerns are very important to me.” And continue ignoring you, until you eventually give up and walk away.Because that’s the kind of guy Harvey is.Just your average juridical person, totally dedicated to his own welfare and profit. Not that that’s a bad thing. For a corporation.It’s what corporations are supposed to do: make a profit. It’s why they exist. (As opposed to any shoddy reasons you may have for your own flesh and blood existence.)Corporations have an obligation to make a profit. So when they tell you how wonderful they are, it’s not because they’re wonderful. When they tell you how much they care, it’s not because they care. It’s because they think they have to do it to make a profit. Or make a bigger profit. Same thing goes when they poison your dog. Or you. Or your children. It’s not because they want to poison anyone. It’s because they can make more money by poisoning you than by not poisoning you.And as soon as it becomes clear that they’ll make more money by not poisoning you … bingo! No more poison.It’s really simple. As the Mafia dons say in the “Godfather” movies, “Nothing personal. It’s just business.”It’s what corporations do.And it’s why they make terrible, terrible “people.”No matter what the Supremes may say.(And, though I may disagree with them on corporate personhood, I adore their version of “Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart,” with Anton Scalia singing lead in the style of Alexander Hamilton.)
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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