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Friday, 28 May 2004

Corporate "People"

Our country is currently controlled by moneied interests who donate vast sums to both major parties. Corporate money now has greater voting power than humans in the United States. Legal systems have been set up that make this situation difficult to combat. This is a bit about how they work and where they're vunerable

What is a Corporation? - Definitions

The Daytrader's Glossary defines a corporation as a "form of business organization characterized by a state charter or articles of incorporation enabling certain rights separate from its owners. Common features of a corporation include limited liability of the owners, issuance of stock in evidence of ownership, election of directors and officers by vote of shareholders and taxation of the corporation separate to that of the owners." Ok, so what that means is that a corporation is a type of buisiness organization with many owners. The corporation is considered a legally seperate entitiy from it's owners. It is a thing that exists in the world, seperate from it's owners. Corporations limit liability of the owners. What this means is that the owners are not personally responcible for the debts of the corporation. If the company runs out of money and owes many debts, the company can go bankrupt, but the owners are not responcible for the debt. So if Mitch and I own a corporation that owes $50,000 to Sophie, and the corporation only has $20,000 in assets, Mitch and I personally don't owe the remaining $30,000 and too bad for Sophie.

Corporations issue stock. A stock is a share of ownership in the corporation. A person who owns one or more stocks (also called "shares") is a stockholder. The percentage of the corporation owned by any stockholder is the number of shares owned divided by the total number of shares issued. Stockholders get to vote on resolutions and on the directors and officers of the corporation. One share is one vote (except in special cases, like the Google IPO). So if you own 50 shares, you get 50 votes. Corporations also, as a seperate legal entity have tax liability. The organization owes taxes, but since liability is seperated, the owners do not owe those taxes.

Corporations are chartered. This means that some state causes them to come into existance. People who want to start a corporation file paperwork in some state and pay some fees and then they have a corporation. The state could, at some point, decide to revoke the charter of a corporation and then it would cease to legally exist.

Ok, so corporations are collectively owned and the owners have no liability. They are chartered in some state. Under law, corporations exist as things in the world. what sort of things?

Corporations are People too

In 1886, the supreme court of the Unites States decided that corporations were legally people. There was a case about corporate taxation before them. SANTA CLARA COUNTY v. SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD CO., 118 U.S. 394 (1886) And they decided that the 14th Amendment and Equal Protection applied to corporations, as they were legally people. An excellent explination what what this means and how it came about. This is called a "legal fiction." So when corporations are in court, judges employ a fiction and pretend that corporations are people. This means that corporations, as people, get all the rights that people get. Free speech. The right to bear arms. Protections against unlawful search and seizure. The whole bill of rights and every other constitutional right too. All the rights that were written for actual, real-life, non-fictional people.

But corporations have limitted liability. You can't send a corporation to jail, obviously. And the owners can't lose more than their stock. So coporations are super-people. They have all the same rights that you and I do, plus they don't get sick, fall and break their arm, go to jail, die of old age, or have any human frailties. The only bad things that can happen to corporations s that they can run out of money or they can have their charter revoked.

What does it mean for corporations to have human rights?

The idea that corporation deserve human rights, and, in fact, deserve more rights than humans is deeply troubling. One of the "rights" they have is freedom of speech. This means that a corporation can officially say whatever the heck it wants, just like a person can. Nike argued that this meant the have the right to lie about whether or not their shoes are made with sweatshop labor. It also means that corporations have the right to political speech, such as trying to influence the outcome of a poltical contest. Donating money to a politician is cirrently viewed as a type of "speech," so corporations have the right to give money to candidates that they agree with. Many coporations have way more resources than individuals. This means, practically, they have more freedom of speech than us lowly humans. And they're basically feudal. Corporations are heirachical. your boss tells you what to do. You, as an employee don't get to elect leadership or have any influence in anything aside from worrying whether or not you're going to get fired. Yeah, some employees own stock, but in their role as an employee they do not have any rights in influencing the direction of the corporation aside from what the corporation chooses to grant them. Which means that a textile company which employees 1000 people at minimum wage and 100 highly paid managers and who has 100 rich stockholders can use it's wealth to lobby to have the minimum wage reduced. It can publish ads in newspapers saying the minimum wage is too high. It can give sums of money to politicians that want to elmininate minimum wage entirely. It can put posters on the walls telling emplyees that minimum wages are a bad idea and unions are evil. It can make them watch videos saying that. So there would exist a company where 200 people controlled the wealth generated by 1000 (or 1100) people and decide in what political direction the money should be thrown. The 1000 workers could all decide to vote in favor of minimum wage increases, but they proabbly don't have much money to give to politicians, and the corporation does. A politician in favor of minimum wage increases would be at a financial disadvantage. And many the company gives equal sums to both major parties as long as they keep wages down. Then the workers can either vote Green or it doesn't matter who they vote for, because the company, working against their interests, bought the major parties.

Corporations have too many rights

and they keep getting new ones all the time. All these weird trade organizations, like the WTO have secret ruling councils that periodically decide that corporations should have more and more rights. Ones that humans don't get. As citizens, you and I can't vote about the WTO. So we work for feudal institutions who are given extra rights by pseudo-government bodies made up of the same people who own the corporations. Oh, and your pension fund? It's invested in those same corporations. The fund managers want the stock of the companies to go up. So they vote to lobby for lower wages. What this means is that your own retirement fund money is controlled by a financial manger who is activelly lobyying to lower your wages. You own money is being used as a weapon against you. when coporations have too many rights, we are serfs. The product of our labor is being sued to harm us. Our own prpoerty is a weapon against us. And our laws can be overtuned by super-national bodies, like the WTO, which we get absolutely no say in.

Things are bad, but we can undo them

The proplem is this stupid legal fiction. Corporations exist to make money for their owners. That's not a person! First of all, people can't own each other! What should happen is that SANTA CLARA COUNTY v. SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD CO should be overturned. Stupid descisions have been overtunred before. The will of the people does influence the court. So step one is letting people know about this. Human people. And human people need to let their voices be heard, corporate personhood was a bad idea and needs to stop now.

3 comments:

goat said...

the emperor trajan (i believe it was trajan) banned corporations of more than twelve people because he considered them a danger to the state and to the individual inhabitants of the state. i think this came about partially because rome had had continuous problems with the people who controlled the grain supply withholding grain during famines to drive the price up.

trajan was a very smart man.

goat said...

by the way, i'm goat. - sophie

Jesse said...

yup. so what's step two? are there any potential avenues for challenging corporations' status as people?