Reimagining the Corporation
So I finally watched the documentary, "The Corporation," and was astounded to learn that corporate personhood was unleashed along with the 14th Amendment. That is to say, the very Constitutional move that nominally sought to assure recently freed blacks had equal protection under the law was the very same move that birthed the modern corporation: a virtual person, albeit devoid of liability.
It's too perfect: the end of one form of tyranny — nominally, that is — and the birth of a new form in the same breath ! (Well, corporate personhood was officially established in 1819. But, in 1886, with the 14th Amendment, corporations asked to be treated like everyone else — and won that right! It's literally insane and marks the birth of the virtual entity, long before the internet.)
For those who might not know what I'm talking about, corporations in this country have the same legal rights as individuals — they can enter contracts, sue and be sued, buy property. You may say, "Duh! Of course." But not of course. It's actually incredibly strange: a corporation is not a person — it has no feelings and no body. It can't go to jail. And it has no interests, by definition, other than profit. This is not true of human beings, even incredibly greedy human beings. Because even the most greedy motherfucker wants to eat, sleep, dream, pee, think, emote, opine, speak. A corporation is not anything; it is thoroughly virtual. And, again, is has — by definition — no other interest than maximizing profit.
When corporations first began, they did so at the behest of the public good, offered their corporate status by the government in order to serve the public good — to build a bridge or mine coal. This corporation was severely limited in what it could do — it could not, for instance, buy other companies. It could not go public. Its reign and purview were limited by the terms of its incorporation.
But, with the 14th Amendment, corporations claimed that, as people (you following me? It's bizarre and insane), a corporation should be free to do as it pleased within the boundaries of the law. Just like anybody else. Again: did you hear me? Just like anybody else.
And so the modern corporation was born and, very quickly, began to take over basically every aspect of life, including the legislature, the police, the military. The government fights wars to defend corporate interests — and yet the corporations don't pay for the war. We do. No fair!
Corporations are persons — bereft of sentiment and body, of course — who act with relative impunity. After all, you can't put a corporation in jail — it's a thoroughly virtual entity. And you can't put the officers in jail because they work for the corporation and hence have limited liability.
If a group of individuals were, say, to dump enormous amounts of pollution into a river causing birth defects, cancers, and death those individuals would be arrested, indicted, stand trial, perhaps go to jail. A corporation, meanwhile, pays some fines — maybe — and — maybe — loses a civil action suit and pays money to those left dead and deformed.
And this is the normal functioning of this country! This is how corporations are legislated! It's madness. And it's not normal. It's not capitalism. It's corporatism in this very particular, relatively unrestrained form.
To limit what corporations can do is not to go against liberty for all, against the rights of the individual. On the contrary! Corporations are not people! They are tax and legal entities! They only exist because of a law that brought them into existence!
You want capitalism? Well, level the playing field and eliminate the corporation. You can do business; you can make and buy and sell. But not as a corporation.
So let's imagine, for a moment, how it might be different.
What might things look like if we eliminated the corporation all together? That is, individuals could get together and form companies but, legally, they would have to do business as a group of liable individuals. How might behaviors change? Would a corporation still be as willing to dump pollution? Release products that make people sick? Could they grow as exponentially (by eliminating all those individuals involved and creating one entity, the corporation, it makes acquiring money swift and easy: get rid of it and a business has to move much slower)?
Or let's keep the corporation but change the laws. What might we do? How about this: all profits exceeding x amount have to go towards employee pay, starting from the lowest paid? You want the right to be a corporation? Then that's what we, the people, require of you for that privilege.
What else? Let's re-imagine our corporate culture. What might we do differently?