Next, Corporate Marriage

by A. Jay Adler on January 23, 2010
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My post about the just rendered Supreme Court decision on campaign spending limitations, Corporations Are People Too, has received some comments that require response enough to deserve a post. Basically, the argument is that, no, really, corporations are people too, and liberals are frauds for arguing otherwise.

I have already acknowledged that the law has, in some respects, for legal purposes, attributed personhood to corporations. I cited the 1886 Supreme Court decision not to call that attribution recent, but instead one of some long standing. The question is in what particular respects corporations have been legally considered as persons, and in which respects that attribution is useful and beneficial.

Because it is useful and beneficial to treat corporations as persons in some instances, mutatis mutandis conservatives want to mingle concepts and imagine that corporations actually are persons. They are “born” and they “die.” Do they feel too? Fall in love and procreate? Maybe they think transcendentally and contemplate the nature of a supreme being. Can’t wait until one wants to be artificially inseminated. Why not let them run for office and serve as judges? The PR flacks who serves as the Wizard of Oz “voice” of the corporate “mind” whose “speech” is being “censored” could hold the positions.

This argument is an absurdity. As Justice Stevens said in his dissent

The fact that corporations are different from human beings might seem to need no elaboration….

Unlike our colleagues, [the Framers] had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.

But why concern ourselves with “original intent.” Or common sense.

It is only when corporations are treated as actual people that this matter can be argued as a “speech” issue. It is, in fact, a categorical confusion, and liberals have come down on both sides. The ACLU supported the corporations’ position. Some conservatives will have a difficult time processing that into the stereotypical meat grinder through which they feed liberal thought. (Whereas conservatives are, of course, completely disinterested in this matter.)

Most liberals can hold the common sense position they do on the issue because liberalism is a humanist philosophy, not corporatist. That so many conservatives are comfortable arguing for the fundamental political powers of corporations suggests that their criticisms of “big government” are not really an aversion to large, abstract organizations overwhelming individual human liberty, but just a preference for a different kind of organization to do it. The campaign spending limitations overturned by the Court’s decision properly applies to labor unions too, though this is of little solace to the advocates of corporate power, since labor wealth is a David without a slingshot compared to corporate wealth. And that, too, extreme positions have been taken at times provides the convenient straw man against which to argue rather the flock of actual crows in the actual field.

This decision left to stand unmodified by future legislation will hasten the evolution of the U.S. into, effectively, an oligarchy, its political and policy decisions determined by corporate and individual wealth, with only the window dressing of a representative democracy of the people.

AJA


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