We are so used to corporations, that we seldom think about them. We work for corporations, we buy from corporations, and sell to them without thinking about the nature of the business we are interacting with or how they dominate our lives. Their rise has been slow, but on January 21, 2010, a United States Supreme Court ruling of United Citizens vs. Federal Election Commission may mark the peak of corporate power in a way that may damage our country.
Shortly after the founding of the United States, courts accepted the basic English premise that corporations could act as an fictitious person. This essentially meant that a corporation could open a bank account, enter into contracts, own assets, and do other things related to the business as other individuals could do. It’s important to realize that it is the government that creates the illusion that a corporation is an individual.
At first, most corporations were small, with ownership by one person or a few closely connected people. As a result, most corporations lasted only for the lifetime of the owners. But because of the industrial revolution, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, businesses began to change. Increased use of technology made it more difficult for individuals or small groups to operate the big factories that were being built. So corporations began to look for a wider diversity of investors. At least in part, this is why the courts ruled that corporations had an infinite lifetime. This allowed corporations to raise capital from a wide variety of people who were unknown to each other, all aware that the corporation could last for the rest of their lives and beyond.
This began the first glory days of corporations. The railroads were built throughout the western world. Steel factories that employed thousands were built to provide the rails. Oil was drilled and coal mined so that the trains could run. All these were made possible because corporations were able to easily raise capital because of the infinite life of corporations.
The great wealth produced by the corporations revolutionized business. Industries consolidated until there were monopolies that could raise prices indiscriminately. As a result, corporate power was very strong. Business leaders could easily contact members of Congress and local legislatures to tilt laws in their favor.
The citizens of the country called for change, and in the 1930s, a variety of laws were passed that limited the power of corporations. Monopolies were declared illegal; banks were forced to split into investment banking or depository banks. They were also limited by the successful work of unions to demand a reasonable salary.
After the second World War, corporations seemed to be held in check, and a middle class began to grow. The United States began a growth in wealth of nearly all it’s citizens, and we became the envy of the world. But slowly, over the next several decades, corporations were able to overturn the setbacks of the depression regulations. Unions were demonized and lost their authority. Congress was convinced to overturn most of the prohibitions of the 1930s. The new century open with the power of corporations to operate with no conscience or moral fiber. All actions were defended as only being in the shareholder’s interest.
The coup detat for the corporations was a decision by the Supreme Court of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. Extending the idea that corporations were fictitious persons, the Court ruled that corporations also had free speech, a right of real people. They concluded that free speech for corporations included the right to make unlimited contributions to political causes or candidates. In my opinion, one that is shared by many others, there is absolutely no precedent to this decision, nor is there any evidence that any law passed by Congress even implied this.
Imagine if the citizens of this country decided that they wanted to decrease the power of corporations, just as the people of the 1930s did. In any campaign for legislative candidates or presidential candidates, corporations could freely contribute to the candidates who would oppose the will of the citizens. Currently, the corporations of the world have approximately 2 trillion dollars of cash. That is more than 3.7 billion dollars for each member of the US Congress. There is now no way to prohibit them from using their cash hoard to buy whatever election they wanted to buy. Has any corporation given you the impression they are not willing to do that?
Today they may support the Republican party, but tomorrow they may support the Democratic party. The important thing is that we, the citizens of the United States, should not want our elections determined by corporations. We must drop our partisan concerns and unite to undo at least the effect of the recent Supreme Court decision and perhaps even further limit the ability of corporations to wantonly ignore the well being of each of us. Consider joining with groups like Move to Amend . They are seeking to amend the US Constitution to specify that corporations are not real people and do not have the right to fund elections. Check out their website at www.movetoamend.org.
The right to self governance may be at stake. Please consider carefully the threat that corporations currently are.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Move to Amend except that I am a member of the organization. The ideas expressed in this overview are mine and only mine.