by Jack Bragen
I once attended a small business course that was hosted by the Concord Chamber of Commerce, and asked the high-priced lawyer who gave the seminar whether a corporation wasn’t just some sort of paper chase that didn’t refer to something that actually existed.
This expensive lawyer took offense, and insisted that a corporation is a real entity. I can see part of his point: A corporation can’t be touched, heard, tasted or smelled, but it is an organization in which different people do specific things that affect the real world. For something to be “real,” it doesn’t have to have tangible existence, like a piece of furniture.
Then, about two years ago, when I was getting free produce from the food bank (I qualify because I am low income), a man was near the food bank truck collecting signatures for a petition. He explained to me that he was seeking a constitutional amendment that would say a corporation is not a person and does not have the constitutional protections afforded to a person.
Up until that point, I hadn’t realized that corporations are treated legally as though they were individuals. They receive many of the rights of individuals but don’t have the same responsibilities.
The people who work for corporations in high positions seem to use their corporate status as a firewall behind which they can hide from the repercussions of their actions.
When the Wall Street meltdown occurred toward the end of the Bush administration, most of the executives weren’t punished for irresponsible behavior that gravely damaged our economy and could have caused it to collapse. In fact, many were let go with severance checks in the tens of millions. This was money derived from the government bailout that our president said was necessary so that we could avert a disaster. Average citizens got a stimulus check; mine was three hundred dollars. The Bush administration wasn’t beyond bribery — thinly veiled and purportedly a remedy for the economy.
When the BP Gulf Oil Spill took place in April 2010, British Petroleum Corporation (BP Oil) had to pay over 20 billion dollars in fines, and has a period of 18 years to pay them. However, I recall that the head of BP left President Obama’s office with a smile on his face, according to a news report. Apparently, the punishment given to this company was not appropriate for the scope of the disaster. Manslaughter charges were filed against a couple of people in positions of supervising the oil rig, due to workers being killed in the accident, but not against any of the higher-ups. (These pending charges against mid-level management were recently dropped.)
Yet if you steal an avocado from a supermarket because you are starving, you are soon on the way to the county jail. People who hide behind the corporate cloak appear to be virtually immune to retribution for their crimes.
Corporate America is full of smug, unprincipled people. These are very powerful people who would rather exist in the shadows, cloaked by corporate anonymity. Collectively, as a corporation, they send lobbyists to Congress to get legislation passed that is favorable to them. This skews the playing field in their favor and prevents ordinary citizens from having a fair chance in the democratic process.
Amazon, through sheer size and predatory marketing strategies, has wiped out the bookstores. Now that the small bookstores are gone, they have begun opening their own bookstores, which will become a part of the monopoly. Amazon and Amazon Kindle use domineering and censorious tactics to expand their corporate power, in the eyes of many observers.
Microsoft, attempting to make everyone store all of their precious data on their “cloud” storage, is attempting to gain control over creative individuals. Microsoft periodically forces individuals to get a new operating system by ending support for the previous ones, systems that did the job just fine. With each new successive operating system, Microsoft has an increasing level of control, and we have a decreasing level of flexibility. They make computers simpler to operate, but take control and options out of the hands of the users.
These people, hiding behind their corporate shields, must not continue to have immunity, and must not have the ability to control everyone through their sheer size and power. Yet most ordinary people are simply concerned with daily survival, and may feel powerless to mount an effective campaign to reclaim their rights in a corporate-dominated economy.