Corporate Personhood: This is… Insane
I have to say something about the latest Supreme Court ruling upholding “corporate personhood”, declaring that corporations and unions (when was their “personhood” established?) can contribute as much money to political campaigns they like in the name of free speech.
I am not a judicial scholar, but this argument looks absolutely rotten to the core. News articles tell me that Republicans are actually happy about this decision, mouthing the words “this is a victory for free speech”, and apparently believing them too.
Because of my limitless capacity for self-doubt, I suppose I can always leave the door open slightly ajar to the possibility that there really is some moral and social good or benefit to allowing multinational corporations and Mafia-infested labor unions to ride roughshod over the American electoral process.
However, because of my sanity, which normally tells me that “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law” (to quote dissenting Justice Stevens, quoting John Marshall) isn’t a real person, I think this decision is one of the most anti-democratic, nakedly plutocratic I have ever heard of. Arguments for corporate personhood, and the freedom of speech that follows, ultimately give one a sense of what it is like to live in Oceania in Orwell’s 1984 and hold the revolutionary thought that 2+2 might actually equal 4, even when Big Brother says it equals 5. War is peace, slavery is freedom, and the freedom to buy politicians and elections is “freedom of speech.” Insanity is sane!
It is also rather ironic given my recent defense of pragmatic libertarianism that I am reminded of a familiar dispute I would have with them. Socialists and libertarians argue endlessly over where the real source of corruption lies – in the state disrupting the market, or in the market disrupting the state. In other words, is the problem really that the state interferes in the free market and creates conditions for monopolies to arise, or is the problem that massive corporations, having won the economic competition and consolidated their economic power, are then able to purchase the state?
The problem is that both of these narratives are true, though one or the other is more pronounced at a given moment in history. In this case I see them working together in a rather disgusting harmony: the state is creating the conditions by which the corporations will be able to use their profits to influence the political process in a more direct way than ever before.
But there is something even more sickening about the phenomenon of corporate/union personhood – the fact that this convoluted, philosophically dubious proposition can be consistently upheld while the personhood of the unborn human being can be left undefined, and there by eliminated de facto in the eyes of the law. The decision of the Blackmum court in Roe v. Wade made airily stupid evasions about society’s inability to agree on what counts as personhood for a human being. In that immortal decision, the following words were written:
We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
When was the consensus among doctors, philosophers, and theologians reached on the personhood of an abstract, non-human, non-living legal construct!?
Whatever arguments one wishes to make in favor of corporate personhood, this compare and contrast highlights how radically corrupt this government’s priorities are. At the very least the question of personhood should be resolved for human beings before moving into (or rather, reaffirming) still yet more complicated, abstract philosophical terrain!
I want less powerful corporations for the same reason I have come to want smaller government – so that the local level can thrive. How subsidiarity is suppose to work under these conditions is beyond me. Aside from the fact that I think it is a bad idea in general to give corporations and unions such influence over the political process, the question also arises: to what extent will foreigners now have a greater impact on the American political process than Americans themselves? Will this not allow other countries, even strategic rivals, by proxy, to gain a stake in the American political system?
What further fascinates me are the legal conditions under which corporations are considered US citizens – as opposed to philosophical “persons.” Section 50501 of the U.S. Code declares that “a corporation, partnership, or association is deemed to be a citizen of the United States only if the controlling interest is owned by citizens of the United States.” The code further stipulates that “if the corporation, partnership, or association is operating a vessel in the coastwise trade, at least 75 percent of the interest must be owned by citizens of the United States.”
How many corporations operating out of the United States would fail to meet these conditions today? Why do I get the feeling that the citizenship status of these corporations will scarcely be raised when considering questions of campaign finance? What we may be facing here is a situation where non-citizens, that is, corporations that do not have a controlling interest owned by US citizens, will nonetheless be able to exercise the rights of citizens because they are also “persons.”
Once again, a chorus of tens of millions of murdered unborn children must somewhere be raising an agonizing cry of protest. Part of the rationalization, after all, for the dehumanization of the unborn is that they are not yet “citizens”, that they only become such after they are born and have a birth certificate.
To my right-leaning friends who might actually agree with the decision of the courts, in part or in full, I mean you no offense. But I would really appreciate a justification for what appears to be the most crude sophistry in the interests of a dangerous expansion of power and potential for massive corruption.