Corporations were once considered a gift from the public to groups of people intended to achieve a specific goal toward serving the public trust (like building a bridge or a railroad), they were limited in scope by the purposes stated in their charter. They weren’t allowed to own any property, they certainly couldn’t own another corporation, and their shareholders were liable for the actions of the corporation.
After the Civil War corporations began to propagate exponentially, and so did corporate lawyers. The 14th Amendment was passed to protect the rights of freed slaves and read:
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The corporate lawyers were very clever, and for years many corporations were looking for ways to remove some of the constraints which had been historically placed on corporations, and gain more power to operate in the manner in which they saw fit. So, the corporate lawyers decided to start arguing that corporations are in fact “persons.” And between 1890 and 1910 there were 307 14th Amendment cases brought before the Court… 288 of them by corporations and only 19 by the people the 14th Amendment was written to protect.
In the Civil War 600,000 people died in order to get rights for people, and over the next 30 years judges, with the stroke of a pen, began applying those rights to capital and property, while stripping them from people. By shortly after the turn of the century corporations were large groups of people, operating as legal person’s, alleviated of individual liability, allowed to buy and sell property, borrow money, sue in court and be sued (collectively), and carry on a business.
But what kind of person’s are they? They were designed as special kinds of people, with a singular motive… Increasing profits for the shareholders. They are singular entities with no moral conscience, designed by law to be only concerned for the interests of their shareholders. They are not like the rest of the citizen’s of our society.
“They have no soul to save and no body to incarcerate.” – Baron Thurlow
The real problem with corporations is the profit motivation. However, because of a series of legal decisions, it is what they are legally bound to do. They are required by law to place the financial interests of their stockholders above all else, even the public good.
Corporations owe no loyalty to anyone other than themselves and serve no other purpose than to grow and become profitable. A corporation tends to be more profitable to the extent that it can make other people pay the bills for it’s impact on society. Economists have a term for this called “Externalities.”
“An externality is the effect of a transaction between two individuals, on a third party who had not consented to, nor had any role in, the carrying out of that transaction.” – Milton Friedman
At some point, in order to effectively reduce operating costs the corporation decides it has to let someone else pay for things necessary to make itself profitable. Things like building the highways and railroads to bring it’s goods to market, the military protection of the oil wells in the Middle East, the schools to educate it’s workers, the police and fire protection of it’s factories, etc.
And therein lies the rub. Corporations have moved into every aspect of our government. They used their money to push their agenda’s through BOTH parties. Unfortunately, the only thing that political parties are concerned with is money and power. Money and power help them win elections and control the message. Both parties and the politicians they support are to blame for the rise of the corporation. Both parties and the professional politicians that are now wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporations that fund their election campaigns have allowed the externalization of everything.
The “free trade” agreements of the 1990’s were the beginning of the end. Somehow the corporations convinced their employees in Congress and the White House that opening up our borders to free and open commerce was the way to ensure American dominance in the World markets. They even convinced them that it was a good idea to pay corporations to build factories in other countries and even move the entirety of their workforce overseas.
This was the beginning of the end of the Middle Class worker. The corporate employees in Congress began the process of stripping unions and workers of their rights, because, after all, it was the Unions’ fault that the corporations decimated America’s manufacturing base! The pampered factory worker’s had simply become too expensive and lived too lavishly. The corporations with the full complicity of Congress externalized their workforces, and it continues today.
The ultimate coup came in 2008, when the largest financial institutions in the World held our economy hostage on the brink of total collapse. They convinced their employees in Congress to bail them out because of massive losses caused by incredibly cavalier risk-taking. We all know what happened. They’ve now figured-out how to externalize their bad behavior to the tune of nearly a $Trillion bailout (not to mention the $3 Trillion secretly funneled to them later by the Fed in the way of 0% interest “loans”).
This “Grand Experiment in Democracy” that is our government became the greatest system in the history of the world because it was based on a mutable system of checks and balances. The past 30 years has seen a government that has become a for profit business, doing the bidding of their corporate masters by removing as many of the checks and balances on the corporate world as possible in the name of “small government.”
Our real enemy in this battle is the political class and the parties that support them. In order to clean-up Washington and get back to the business of governance, neigh, the ART of governance, we need to get the money out of politics. There are literally hundreds of different goals within the Occupy movement and the new revolution. But no matter what the stated goal: the Environment,. Pollution, Taxation, Hunger, Homelessness, Income inequality, the abuses of Wall St. and Student Loans, or the socialization of losses while capitalizing gains, we need to be able to find common ground and take actionable steps…
Simply put, there is no single easy fix for our broken government. However, the ONE thing that has become glaringly apparent we need to do is “get the money out!” It will be no easy task, but the first step is to repeal Corporate Personhood by calling an Article V Convention. Through and Article V Convention we can create and ratify a Constitutional Amendment that reads:
“Whereas Corporations of any type are not people, and therefore in their entity are not real citizens and therefore have no right to vote in local, state, or federal elections, they will not participate in the finance of election campaigns of any sort directly or indirectly, and candidates of any sort of public office may not accept more than $100 from individual private citizens, none of which shall be of foreign states or individuals in any single campaign. Participation in the Public Funding of Presidential Elections shall henceforth be compulsory.”
Getting corporate money out of politics is only the first step. Once we get the money out, we can get the professional politicians out. Once we get the professional politicians out then we can make the changes that are necessary to restore the simple greatness of the American government. Once we make the “American Dream” possible again for all American’s, then and only then can we begin to re-institute the rights and protections that have been usurped over the past 30 years.
Corporations are not the enemy. Capitalism is not the enemy. The political parties and the professional politicians that they support are the real enemy. Our founding father’s are turning-over in their graves! They would have never imagined how bad we would let it become. Our forefather’s considered politics a part of daily life. They felt that public service was every citizens duty. The concept of the “career politician” would have been completely alien to them. I think they would be deeply saddened by our divisive and vitriolic politics and the apathy it has bred in the electorate. George Washington wouldn’t even recognize our “representative democracy,” because it is no longer. We have slipped into a state of corporate fascism. We’ve got to take the power back! It starts with our elections.