Monday, January 17, 2011

"Property is intended to serve life" - notes on the fact that corporations are not people.

"Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man." 
Martin Luther King, Jr. 

As a financial advisor, I advise people on their property - and much of that property exists in shares of corporations.

What is a corporation, more than simple property that are collectively owned and operated by human beings?

Oddly enough, however, somewhere in our legal code over the last 150 years such property was given the same rights and voice in our democracy as human beings. Most recently the supreme court has granted business interests unlimited spending in campaigns - thus granting corporations the rights of human beings in the democratic process of governing our society. There is an excellent article on the entire issue called "Wal-Mart is Not a Person" which gives a comprehensive overview of the topic, which excerpts Justice John Stevens of the supreme court:

"It might be added that corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their “personhood” often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for  whom our Constitution was established."
And most interestingly - if we really look at the point of view that holds that corporations are actually persons - then the question which human beings are actually represented by such corporations?

Stevens addresses this here:

"It is an interesting question “who” is even speaking when  a business corporation places an advertisement that endorses or attacks a particular candidate. Presumably it is not the customers or employees, who typically have no say in such matters. It cannot realistically be said to be the shareholders, who tend to be far removed from the day-to-day decisions of the firm and whose political preferences may be opaque to management. Perhaps the officers or directors of the corporation have the best claim to be the ones speaking, except their fiduciary duties generally prohibit them from using corporate funds for personal ends. Some individuals associated with the corporation must make the decision to place the ad, but the idea that these individuals are thereby fostering their self-expression or cultivating their critical faculties is fanciful."

Not all businesses are corrupt, yet when it comes to the simple process of human beings coming together to design ways to serve life, the people that founded this country intended that actual people engaged in democracy. Thus it is imperative that we only grant constitutional rights to actual human beings, not property.

There are a number of movements afoot to amend the constitution, among them is which states:
"We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:
* Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
* Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our vote and participation count.
* Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate "preemption" actions by global, national, and state governments.
The Supreme Court is misguided in principle, and wrong on the law. In a democracy, the people rule."
The simple thought here to take away is that as citizens in this world to we must continuously refine our discernment of the true motive, and the consequences, of decisions, laws, candidates, proposals, and political movements. And to discern whether such laws actually serve the quality of life of human beings.

1 comment:

Terry Mock said...

Great post Greg. This gets to the point of the original restrictions on corporations which dictated a limited lifespan and a requirement to benefit the people.

What if corporations had to demonstrate a balanced People, Planet & Profit philosophy?

Sustainable Land Development Initiative