So, Who Needs Corporations, Anyhow?
By Case Wagenvoord
10 July, 2009
In an age when it’s not only necessary to think outside the box but to reduce the box to kindling, a paralysis has gripped the Obama administration as it tries to figure out if we’re in a box, to begin with, and, if so, how big the box is, what color is it, and is it really necessary to think outside the box when we could easily build an addition to it, provided we could get the financing necessary to begin construction.
Meanwhile, the Left loudly proclaims that, “Something must be done! Systemic change is needed; reform is called for!” And, there it ends as the Left fragments into a spray of mini issues--gay rights, women’s rights, peace, the environment, animal liberation, universal health care—each droplet suspended in space independent of the others. Each of these issues is important, but each is made all the more difficult because we are confronting a system that is decayed and corrupt, and until this tottering superstructure is addressed, the above issues will simply limp along without any satisfactory resolutions.
The counterrevolution began by Ronald Reagan has run out of steam. Now, we must regain the ground we lost. It’s time for something totally off the wall, something bazaar, a wild cockamamie idea so screwed up it just might work.
Mine is a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that strips our corporations of their personhood. The net effect would be that our corporations would have no rights; they would only have privileges granted them by the state.
Today, such an amendment stands a snowball’s chance in Hell of passing. However, as our economy continues to tank, and as Wall Street bankers continue to get trillions in bailouts while the disempowered class in America, which increasingly includes the Middle Class, continues to slip down the economic ladder, the temperature in Hell is starting to fall.
Besides, think of the fun we could have with such a movement!
The drive for a 28th Amendment would serve two immediate purposes.
Dissatisfaction in America is badly fragmented. We are too isolated in our discontent, which is why we seek escape in Sanford’s infidelity and Michael Jackson’s canonization. The drive for a 28th “Amendment could well be the lightening rod that would unify this discontent into a viable movement.
The radical left has a millstone hanging around its, neck: a vocabulary straight out of the nineteenth century that, in today’s world, is devoid of both meaning and relevance.
The struggle is no longer between capital and labor.
Capitalism is dead; it’s been dead for decades. A CEO is not a capitalist; he is an employee. A capitalist grew capital by the sweat of his brow and the blackness of his soul. A CEO plays without other people’s capital while absorbing as much of it as he can through executive salaries, bonuses and stock options. The soul of a CEO is a bland beige.
We no longer have a working class; we have a dispossessed class that grows larger every day. It is an inclusive class claiming as it members not only workers but the poor, the working poor, undocumented immigrants, the unemployed, the employed who are squeezed for three hours of productivity for one hour’s pay and, increasingly, the middle class. It is just waiting to be mobilized by the right issue.
If there is to be any systemic change in the country, the corporation must be demonized, and the movement for a 28th Amendment would present the perfect platform from which to do just that. Let’s face it, the corporation is an anachronism, a dinosaur that has outlived its usefulness and is in the process of devouring itself as it takes the country down with it. That is the box that must be reduced to kindling! The corporation served its purpose; it gave us all sorts of nice toys and technological advances, many of which are destroying the earth, but it’s time it was put out to pasture before it ruins us completely.
The amendment would raise the possibility of doing something about our corrupt Congress. Cynics tell us Washington D.C. is an open septic tank overflowing with the raw sewage of corruption. In truth, it is a bit more sophisticated than that.
Granted, raw sewage is pumped into the beltway via open trenches that run from the nation’s power centers. But, instead of pouring into the Capitol, it is first pumped into the K Street Sewage Treatment Plant. There it is sanitized and deodorized before being piped into the Halls of Congress disguised as campaign contributions. It is still sewage, but, it smells sweeter.
The short answer to this mess is public funding of election campaigns. On the surface it seems to offer much. By freeing the congress from the multiple snares of corporate purse strings, Congress might start representing the public interest. As it stands now, every time an elected official speaks of our national interests or national security, “national” is simply a code word for “corporate”. The system is gamed to minimize public influence on policy.
Let us assume that Congress was struck blind on the road to Damascus and was seized with such an intense desire to serve to the public interest that a campaign reform bill was actually passed and was signed into law.
Before the ink was even dry on the bill, our corporatist oligarchy would go weeping to the nearest federal court claiming that the bill violated its First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Money talks, and if our corporate patrons aren’t allowed to speak through their wallets, they are being unconstitutionally silenced.
The argument would win the day, because under our current system, a corporation is a person.
People assume that corporate personhood was the result of a Supreme Court decision. In truth, the court made no such decision. The question of personhood arose when the court considered an appeal of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The focus of the case was the taxation of railroad properties. As the case worked its way through the lower courts, the question of whether corporations were persons protected by the 14th Amendment was argued.
However, before oral arguments began before the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Morrison Remick Waite stated, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question of whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are of the opinion that it does.”
Because formal arguments had not begun, Waite’s remark was a non-binding obiter dictum that had no bearing on the outcome of the case. The question of corporate personhood was never mentioned in the court’s written decision. The court limited its decision to the question of taxing corporate property.
However, the court clerk, when writing the header, or summary, of the case stated that, “defendant corporations are persons…”
Thus, was corporate personhood born.
The principle is so engrained in legal precedence that a judicial reversal is virtually impossible. That is why only a constitutional amendment could solve the problem.
But, why stop at stripping corporations of their personhood. It is not enough to pump out the sewage. We have to disinfect the place as well.
For twenty-three years, Robert Hinkley was a corporate attorney. He left corporate practice because he’d become convinced that corporate law makes it impossible for corporations to behave responsibility. The law says that a corporation has but one obligation, and that is to make money for its shareholders. Consequently, shareholders could sue the corporation were it to behave responsibly by paying its workers a living wage if this ate into shareholder dividends. Hinkley’s proposal is to change corporate law to read:
The duty of directors henceforth shall be to make money for the shareholders, but not at the expense of the environment, human rights, public health and safety, dignity of employees and the welfare of the community in which the company operates.
Hell, let’s add this wording to our 28th Amendment!
That our amendment would raise some corporate hackles is an understatement. Already, I hear lamentations about the sanctity of private property, etc. However, a very compelling argument could be made that the ownership of corporate property is so diffused amongst shareholders that it is a misnomer to call it private property. Since corporate property exists at the pleasure of the State through the granting of a corporate charter, it is more akin to quasi-public property than private property.
I admit this is heresy, but given rate at which corporations are eating us alive, I think some healthy heresy is called for.
This brings us back, in a full circle, to our corrupted Congress. If corporations were stripped of their personhood, a campaign finance reform bill that eliminated corporate money from the electoral process would be better protected from a court challenge. There is no guarantee this would clean up the system. All it would do is increase the probability that it would be cleaner than it currently is.
Granted, the idea of a 28th Amendment sits way out there in the foggy fringe, but if our Neocon colleagues taught us anything, it is that today’s fringe is tomorrow’s mainstream.
I see the makings of wonderful guerilla campaign as young people spray paint the number “28” of walls and signs; I see pin and bumper stickers sporting the number “28” along with a line of T-shirts and hoodies displaying the same. This is a movement that could cut across class, gender and ethnic divisions because if there is one thing unifying America, it is our economic misery. And if nothing else, the drive for a 28th Amendment would make our oligarchs and plutocrats sweat. That, alone, would make the effort worthwhile.
Sure, it looks hopeless, but I.F. Stone wrote:
The only fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing—for the sheer fun of it—to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.
It’s time to bring back the Merry Pranksters, but instead of promoting psychedelic drugs, they will promote the decorporatization of America.
Case Wagenvoord is a citizen who reads. He has a BA in Political Science and an MA in Liberal Studies. Wagenvoord blogs at http://belacquajones.blogspot.com and welcomes comments at Wagenvoord@msn.com.