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Sorry, Mitt: Why Corporations are Not People

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By Walter Salloway on August 16, 2011

Mitt Romney awkwardly told a bunch of Iowans last week that: “Corporations are people, my friend.” Look at that, Romney, CHAMPION OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. Erm, Champion of the American Corporopeople. Or something like that. A refresher:

Seemingly gone are the days when a person feared the large powerful faceless entity that could see and do all. For some reason, 21st century Americans love the very entities that are shipping jobs overseas, failing to maintain adequate safety precautions (Hello, Deepwater Horizon!), or exploiting the spoils of an American taxpayer-supported war (Give Me My Iraqi Oil, Halliburton.)

To be fair to Romney: corporations technically (at least, legally) are people. Thanks to the modern legal system, corporations have the same rights as any other American citizen: They can vote, sue (or be sued) and can make campaign contributions (or unlimited “expenditures”).

To be fair to common sense: corporations are not people. Corporations are vehicles for liquidity; they give an incorporator the ability to raise capital for business operations by selling shares of the corporation to a limited class of investors or to the public at large. A corporation’s sole goal is to enhance its profits, thereby inducing more investment and increasing its liquidity (dollar, dollar, bills, y’all).

But corporations are something more. They are liability shields. A director charged with some sort of malfeasance can always use the corporate entity as a shield, deflecting liability onto the corporation. Even though, according to Romney, they are people, a corporation cannot go to jail; it can only be forced to pay money damages. But if the corporation is really the people who operate it, then it simply exists as a way for very rich men to avoid being punished for immoral behavior.

Now, before someone goes ahead and labels me as an anti-business Socialist, I am not anti-corporate. First, that doesn’t make any sense. A corporation is simply a very large, powerful business entity. The current sentiment in the United States is that the very rich, and by extension, corporations, are “job creators.” The market simply CANNOT exist if corporations are not free to do whatever the hell they want. This argument is simply illogical. Markets, whereby people exchange goods/services for currency/goods/services based on the demand for said goods/services, have existed since the DAWN OF MAN. Corporations do not create markets — they may make them more streamlined — but they are not the economic cosmic egg that some say they are.

Second, I am not anti-corporate. I simply want the rules to be re-written. The political and economic system we rely on makes assumptions based on individual, rational actors. A corporation is not an individual. It is a group of very rich, profit-determined individuals. Government is supposed to be the steward of society, not the handmaiden of industry. Teddy Roosevelt would rise from his grave and wreak havoc on Wall Street if he…were a zombie who got the paper in his coffin (now if I could only find that damn Indian Burial Ground…).

So the problem isn’t that corporations exist. That is a good thing. The problem is we are entering a near-feudal system of economic serfdom, whereby an average worker’s wealth and retirement is tied to a corporation whose interests may be wholly unrelated to said workers’ (or society’s) future interests. The players are not at fault; the system is outdated.

Imagine that the NBA rules for traveling allowed a player to take six steps since 1995. The game would be a mess. Sure, the most athletic players would dominate and the score would look great; but deep down you’d know the game was a farce. The rules would have to change.

Similarly, the system we live in today has to change.

Corporations allow money and ideas to aggregate. Checked, this is a wonderful tool for economic and technological growth. Corporations allow for massive amounts of R&D investment, product testing, and so forth. Unchecked, however, this is dangerous. If a corporation’s sole goal is to increase its shareholders’ profits, and someone isn’t a shareholder in said corporation, then how the hell is that corporation going to represent your interests (hint: it’s not).

Click next page to read the truly sickening part about this whole “corporations are people” meme…

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