hearts and minds

September 24, 2015

Dissecting “Corporate Personhood”

The core principle of our Movement to Amend is not to end “corporate personhood” – it is to end corporate Constitutional rights!

“Corporate personhood” is legal-jargon. The phrase itself is a jarring counter-intuitive oxymoron. We all know that a corporation is not a person! For that reason alone, it’s easy for people to disdain that phrase without even thinking about it. But what does it actually mean? Or maybe the question should be, what do WE actually mean?

Corporate personhood is a broad catchall phrase, which encompasses many concepts, depending on which lawyer, politician, academic or PR agent is talking about it. These concepts include corporations being able to sue and be sued, or to be a party in a contract, or to hold title to property. Often, corporations are entirely owned by other corporations. “Corporate personhood” can also embrace the concept that a corporation is legally separate (in certain ways, such as liability and responsibility) from whoever or whatever owns the corporation. Hucksters outrageously claim that “corporate personhood” even includes the unjustifiable legal theory that a corporation is a “person” in the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, and therefore has the inherent, unalienable rights of a person. That’s where our Movement to Amend, and we the people, have to draw the line. In fact, our Constitution has always drawn the very same line – a corporation is NOT a person, in the meaning of the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Constitution completely agrees with us when we deny the fraudulent legal theory that a corporation is a Constitutional “person”. So we insist that the strange box labeled “corporate personhood” may contain a lot of things, but it certainly does not contain corporate Constitutional rights.

It is a misrepresentation of our Movement to Amend for anyone to say that it is our intention to abolish “corporate personhood”. That legal jargon phrase is not at all useful to describe our core principle. The core principle of our Movement is far more precise and focused and easily understood. It is that corporations do not legitimately have Constitutional rights, and that we the people intend to put an end to corporate Constitutional rights.

Language matters. There is, in 2015, a nationwide effort underway to discredit our Movement and to undermine our almost universal support, by misrepresenting us as wanting to “abolish corporate personhood” and therefore hold stockholders responsible for corporate actions, and prevent corporations from entering into contracts, owning property, or being held liable for misconduct.

We can try to be careful not to (unintentionally) give ammunition to those defenders of corporate rule. Let’s not let corporatists get away with misrepresenting and undermining our Movement to Amend.

See: “Let Us NOT Praise Corporate Sycophants”

See: “Do Corporations Have Constitutional Rights? Where’s the Proof?”

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Clyde,
    I think that each time the issue is discussed, we should revisit the intent and mechanism of incorporation. It is a legal agreement by individual persons that creates an entity that acts in their interests as a whole. The people who agree to this mechanism do so in order to limit their liability by sharing risks. They do not share the risk of losing their lives in the venture: only their money. Unless they grant the risk of life, they are not creating a real person, with real rights. They are only creating a construct of money and paperwork that has no real life to risk.
    Ergo, NOT a person.
    That this is not a real person, it has no democratic opinion, and thus, no “speech” to be freely distributed as money or protected by law. It even should have no right to buy advertising that purports its opinion to the public as “information” or “infomercials”.

    I agree that the problem doesn’t really lie with the existence of corporations, but with our definition and treatment of them constitutionally. Just as the problem with unfettered capitalism isn’t capitalism: it’s the lack of fetters (negative feedback mechanisms like sales taxes). Treating a corporation as a person sets up a positive feedback mechanism that amplifies the power of corporations above and beyond the power of an individual person. It becomes a “super person” or “meta-person” that has more power and money than any individual has. The government holds elections and has three branches (supposedly) in order to provide checks and balances. By that reasoning, any corporation that is chartered by a democratic government should be subject to investigation (open records) and control by that government’s citizens, not just a few people who own stock and benefit from it. This is analogous to letting government employees decide on their own pay level without representation of the people being taxed.
    The “superperson” of a corporation often has enough power to influence through propaganda, and the super-superperson of the collective power of corporations has enough influence to manipulate the entire population (consumerism as culture), to the point that a company doesn’t have to spend money to get people into a buying mood: the collective culture does that. It only remains for people to believe they are making a choice where none actually exists (Coke vs. Pepsi or Chevy vs. Ford). There is no opposite and equal influence telling people not to buy stuff, not to vote for the limited field of candidates, or not to seek a job/house/car that engages them in a cycle of debt and servitude.

    You mentioned NPR. This is a good example of how an entity created to serve as a neutral if not opposing viewpoint became a tool of the corporate donors when its funding was cut to “reduce taxes.” Those reductions severed most of the links between NPR and the public itself (unless that “public” makes a very large donation).

    Our ‘government’ funds “Radio Free America” programs around the world to spread “democracy”, but not at home to support it against the assault of corporate metapersons.

    Letting people make decisions based solely on money (“cutting taxes”, “too big to fail”, “creating jobs”, etc.) loses sight of our humanity (our usefulness to the planet and our future) by making reality a servant of money, rather than the other way around.
    Corporations’ rights are about just that thing: establishing that the amount of money made and spent by corporations is more important than the needs of actual present or future people (or what the corporations are destroying to make that money).

    Calling money “speech” is a way of detaching actual speech from reality: eliminating all opinions that don’t support profits. If you spend a lot of money to tell people to “just say ‘No'”, then you end up supporting the media corporations. If you just say “No” and don’t spend money, you have no influence in the media-based society. Word of mouth has even become a manipulated tool of corporations to sell products. They pay people to attend parties and events and spread influence from the bottom up.

    Calling a corporation a “person” is a way of creating an immortal Giant that cannot be slayed by David or anyone else: allowed to do its worst until it consumes everything. The purpose of government is to be a giant that represents the interests of the people against just such giants. A giant can be humble, but only among other giants. Humans will always be creating them. Let us be vigilant of the machinery we make. The corporate giant does a good job convincing people that it is David and that government is Goliath. We just have a bunch of Goliaths stomping on people: people who are convinced that building Goliaths is the American Dream.

    Comment by Dan C. — September 25, 2015 @ 10:31 am | Reply

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