Monday, January 24, 2011

Resolution Calling to Amend the Constitution Banning Corporate Personhood Introduced in Vermont....not what you think

Here, on Alternet.

Actually, much of the rhetoric, as opposed to the substance, of the opposition to corporate personhood is really flawed. We all know, or, at least many people think, that corporations have more power than they should have. However, there's a basic problem in the whole "Corporations aren't people" argument, and it's this: legally, they're one entity. That's what incorporation means. This is far from being a novel idea, and is actually very functional. It's based on the notion that large business enterprises with lots of people are for legal purposes better dealt with as single entities as opposed to entities run by particular people who are each responsible legally for a definite area of their work.

This may shield people unnecessarily from the consequences of their actions, but in that case I think it would be better to have both sorts of identity running concurrently instead of one or the other, because not treating corporations as a single legal entity with fictitious personhood would be a nightmare.

The question, then, is if this thing is a fiction, what rights should it have and where should those rights come from? Corporations can engage in speech, they put out literature and by ads, for example. But is that speech equivalent to the speech of actual persons, as covered by the first amendment? Should legal ideas from the Bill of Rights be imported over to cover corporate behavior where there's some sort of resemblance? I don't think so. It would be better to evolve a different set of rules for what rights these entities do and don't have, and how they manifest.

Yet, for the most part, this is not what the folks talking about corporate personhood are advocating. Instead, they want to invoke corporate charter rights, and strip corporations of legal identity as a whole. If you read the second page of the article the link points to, the author waxes poetic about corporations' immortality, their ability to merge, the idea of people owned pieces of them, etc..., not seeming to realize that by whatever name you call these things 'corporation' or not, under the current system we have this stuff has to exist. Unless you're talking about doing away with companies existing indefinitely, buying each other, and being sold publicly, yes, there have to be legal fictions.

It's for this reason that the corporate personhood argument is likely never to get mainstream, or else when it does get somewhat mainstream to be viciously demolished by people who have a much better understanding of the issues involved....because they're the corporate lawyers who run the system.

Besides, what folks in a boutique state like Vermont do isn't going to make much difference. Not to throw mud on the state, but we're talking about a place where most of the original (non-indigenous) population has left looking for work elsewhere, and where it's been replaced by hippies moving into the abandoned towns from all over New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. The progressiveness of Vermont is only possible because its economy died and all the people who grew up there left.

I'm sure it's a nice place, but like many other nice places, it's probably quite a nice bubble to live in, and most of the world realizes that.

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