One of the most famous signs to come out of Occupy Wall Street stated simply: “I will believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.”
That was sort of a joke.
My guess is that most of the occupiers at Wall Street would be in favor of the corporate death penalty.
Some – like Richard Grossman – would criminalize the corporate form.
But if you want to take the incremental approach, here’s my list of five candidates for the corporate death penalty.
Health insurance corporations. Most western industrialized countries – with the exception of the USA – already have this death penalty in place. In those countries, corporations are not allowed to sell primary private health insurance. Instead, there is a public single payer – everybody in, nobody out. Under this death penalty proposal corporations like Aetna, CIGNA, UnitedHealth, and Wellpoint would be put out of business. And with a public single payer to replace them, we’d save billions of dollars and the lives of more than 45,000 Americans who die every year from lack of health insurance.
Nuclear power corporations. Do we really need a Fukushima here in the United States? We do not. Without government loan guarantees and federal limits on nuclear liability, the industry would be put out of business. So, we could simply cut the federal subsidy and that would be the end of it. And we should. A wide range of safer, cleaner energy options is available to replace the energy currently being generated by unsafe nuclear power.
Giant Banks. Wells Fargo. Citibank. Bank of America. JP Morgan Chase. Morgan Stanley. Goldman Sachs. They should be executed – broken up and replaced by smaller banks. Break up the big banks. And impose a hard cap on their size. No bank should have assets of more than four percent of GDP. There is support across the political spectrum for this proposal. During the debate over financial reform, the measure garnered 33 votes in the Senate – it was called the Brown-Kaufman amendment.
Fracking corporations. Hydraulic fracturing – fracking – is wrecking havoc in the northeastern part of the United States. Any corporation engaged in fracking behavior that threatens drinking water supplies ought to be put out of business. Anti-fracking activists in New York have already drafted legislation that would criminalize fracking corporations.
Corporate criminal recidivists. Legislatures should adopt provisions to strip corporations of their charters for serious corporate violations or for recidivist behavior. Some states already have such provisions, although they are rarely invoked.
Some corporations have been put to death for wrongful behavior, but they have been mostly smaller companies.
In 1983, the Attorney General of Virginia asked the state’s corporation commission to dissolve a book company convicted of possessing obscene films.
But when it comes to the serious crimes that big corporations engage in – pollution, corruption, fraud, threatening the lives of real Americans – the death penalty is off the table.
If we are serious about corporate crime, the death penalty is a deterrent that will work.