If Corporations Were Human

Yesterday's Supreme Court decision in
the Citizens United case removes all limits on large corporations
to finance and influence federal elections. In its ruling the Court
reverse a decades old ruling barring companies from using their general
funds to fund political campaign, and guts pieces of the popular McCain-Feingold
campaign finance legislation. In so doing the Court implicitly embraces
a 125 year-old precedent in the case of Santa Clara v. Santa Fe,
where the Court first developed the legal doctrine of corporate personhood,
explicitly granting corporations the same political and civil rights
granted to human beings. Our nation's founders would be shocked to
learn that their revolution had resulted in non-human entities like
corporations being endowed with the same hard fought rights secured
for citizens.

But what if we accept corporate personhood
as the current reality and instead focus on changing the rules such
that corporations would also have to be bound by other limitations of
humanity? How would corporations be different if they were indeed human-like?

If corporations were human, they
would pause for sleep and recreation.
When human families vacation,
they frequently go to parks or natural places which they inherently
recognize as part of the commons set apart from the marketplace. Many
corporations know no such bounds; if resources are available, even in
the nation's National Parks, they will seek to develop them. Today's
modern corporations are 24/7 affairs, that are always charging forward.
The press for continuous growth and the need to deliver the next quarter's
earnings, make corporation's urgency and intensity toward time a threat
to many communities, which have other priorities like caring for children
and elders, not the tireless quest to produce more profit.

If corporations were human, they
would acknowledge their dependence on a healthy community for their
well-being and contribute financially to the vibrancy of the community
through payment of taxes.
Fifty years ago, corporate taxes made
up nearly 22% of the federal treasury receipts, today corporate taxes
contribute less than 13% to the Federal budget. The mindset of many
large corporations is that of takers, looking to be supported by society
with a stream of tax credits and preferential tax rates. According to
a 2008 report by the Government Accounting Office, 25% of large US corporations
paid no Federal income taxes in 2005 (the latest year studied) despite
reporting collective sales exceeding $1.1 trillion.

If corporations were human, they
would recognize that their brains are only one of many vital organs.

The brain, which provides the executive function for the body whole,
nonetheless consumes a relatively modest share of the body's nutrition.
A brain which swells beyond a normal healthy state is a dire threat
to the body and most often requires the dramatic intervention of surgery.
Inhuman corporations provide ever larger amount of nutrition in the
form of money to its executive function. These swollen levels of pay
are a cancer that often results in excessive risk, putting both the
corporation and society at risk.

If corporations were human, they
would be accountable to society when they break the law and would be
punished with a loss of their freedoms.
When a person steals or
murders, they are sent to prison, where they lose their freedom to practice
their trade, and to participate in the economic and political life of
the community. When corporations produce products they know to be deadly,
or withhold important information on the safety of their products are
they not guilty of murder? When corporations submit fraudulent financial
statements to investors, or engage in deceptive marketing practices
that cost people their homes or their life savings, are they not guilty
of felonious theft? Shouldn't corporate criminals, particularly repeat
offenders, be denied their freedom to practice business and have their
license revoked?

If corporations were human, they
would one day die.
Unlike the finitude of human life, modern corporations
can live forever under the law, growing in size and gaining political
and economic power generation after generation. It was not always so.
When our nation was young, people recognized both the good things that
business contributed but also the risks of concentrating too much power
in the hands of businesses. Business charters were granted for a set
period of time, commonly a generation, after which time the businesses
would be dissolved. While businesses could still prosper and grow to
have influence, they were kept from becoming too big to fail, where
their size alone was a threat to the social order.

Corporations can't have it both ways
- insisting upon the political and civil rights guaranteed human rights
under the Constitution, while at the same time refusing to live within
the constraints of human life in terms of longevity, size, accountability
and support of the communities which grant them their existence.

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