Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why I support corporate personhood

Imagine a caveman wakes up in the modern world, sees a television for the first time and smashes it with the first object he can lay hands on. He doesn't know anything about it, but assumes it's a threat and feels compelled to destroy it.

That sums up the young lefts view of corporate personhood. People with no understanding of business law have taken it upon themselves to edit the constitution to strike at firms they see as their enemies, but don't realize how savage their actions really are.

The point of a corporation is to create a legal entity that can own property, has its own debts and can spend its resources. It is, in essence, a stand-in for a group of people. It is not, as critics like to remind us, an actual person, but that doesn't mean corporations don't deserve rights.

From a 2011 Cato Institute paper by Iila Shapiro and Caitlyn W. McCarthy:

...If corporations had no Fourth Amendment rights, the police could storm corporate offices and cart off computers and files for any or no reason. If corporations had no Fifth Amendment rights, the mayor of New York could exercise eminent domain over Rockefeller Center by fiat and without compensation if he decides he’d like to move his office there.

...When rights-bearing individuals associate to better engage in a whole host of constitutionally protected activity, their constitutional rights remain fully intact. These individuals do not lose their right to speak or act simply because they chose to exercise those rights by pooling their resources in a corporate form.
The targeted constitutional right that activists want to take away from corporations is freedom of speech, following last year's Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.

As retired ACLU executive director Ira Glasser carefully explained, the case did not allow corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions like the left claims. Instead, it ended a stupid censorship ban that protected politicians from being criticized by corporations or unions around elections. This was a victory over censorship.

Glasser addressed another issue the left likes to make, that the wealth corporations command could allow them to drown out all other speech, so the government needs to cap what they can say. He wrote:
The inequities of speech that flow from the inequities of wealth are certainly a big and distorting problem for a democracy, and have always been so, and not just during elections. No one knows how to remedy that, short of fundamental re-distributions of wealth. But I'll tell you what isn't a remedy: granting the government the power to decide who should speak, and how much speech is enough. Nothing but disaster flows from that approach, and that was what was at stake in this case.
This idea of leveling the playing field for speech belongs in Harrison Bergeron's dystopia. If an entity's speech is too persuasive because of its reach, scope or volume, why not censor speakers who are skilled at attracting large audiences or making compelling arguments? Free speech does not need government oversight, and the ACLU has consistently supported corporate speech rights, despite left-wing campaigns that try to pressure them into switching sides.

Without free speech, corporations would be handicapped in trying to defend themselves in the public arena. Suppose a large group of naturalists starts a campaign that Acme widgets cause cancer, and have no scientific basis for this claim. What happens now? The activists get in the press, they talk to other people and they may be allowed to pass out their literature in classrooms.

But the corporation isn't a real person, so it needs to spend money in its own defense to speak. Perhaps science-based speakers will call the activists on their nonsense, but should Acme have to wait around hoping for good Samaritans? Why prevent it from launching a similar campaign to correct the lie using its own resources?

As my fellow defenders have been quick to point out, many groups the left loves are corporations who enjoy free speech. There's the ACLU, Media Matters, the Daily KOS, MSNBC, NORML and the transparently-named Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Once again, members of the American left are on the wrong side of a freedom of speech issue. Censorship harms the potential listener, not just the thwarted speaker, and adults don't need a moderator to decide who they can listen to.


  1. "I'll beleive corporations are people when Texas puts one to death"

    Yeah man! Power to the people!

    What they don't realize is that since corporations are simply groups of people, Texas likely puts small pieces of corporations to death all the time. I have a nice illustration of the real problem here:

  2. Ahhhh, much easier to comment now.

    You're a great American, conservative Michael.

  3. Speech seems to be the one overriding thing that no large political group can get right.

  4. "If corporations had no Fourth Amendment rights, the police could storm corporate offices and cart off computers and files for any or no reason. If corporations had no Fifth Amendment rights, the mayor of New York could exercise eminent domain over Rockefeller Center by fiat and without compensation if he decides he’d like to move his office there."

    Ah, because we can't have individual property rights, we HAVE to have corporate personhood. We can't oppose eminent domain, storming of corporate offices, and seizure of computers and files on the grounds that a certain individual owns those things, NO NO NO we must create fictional legal entities in order to ensure that these bad things don't happen.

    1. Anonymous, so brave.

      Anyway, I don't see what you are arguing against. No individual does own those things, that is kind of the issue. If you are doing business in your own name, you have no reason to incorporate, it's clear you own all of those things.

      My mother and I are equal shareholders in our business, it isn't clear who owns what since we both own half of everything. Incorporation takes care of that by forming a new entity which can own property and have the most of the same rights we do as individuals in a far simpler way that you are proposing on purely ideological grounds. Why don't you:

      1. Go see the wizard and get some courage and post in your own name.

      2. Learn what you are talking about and spend more time than it takes you to do a line of blow thinking about the issue.

    2. Maybe not brave but not stupid, you should be more careful, if I wanted to I could easily track down all your information and send loads of pizzas to your house thanks to you revealing your real name online (look up doxxing and shut your pie hole).

      But thanks for exposing the fact that corporations are fictions which can own nothing, once the collapse of unsustainable capitalism happens and the curtain of statism is unraveled people are going to have a blast with the remnants of your business.

  5. I understand the importance of corporations in that it protects the the business owners from being sued by outsiders. Hence, the company would be sued, not the person themselves. The problem with this though is that giant corporations that commit terrible crimes against humanity are also protected. They might be fined a couple million dollars, but to them, that's just pocket change. How could you effectively stop chemical companies like Monsanto, DuPont and DOW from contaminating our soils and water with their chemicals? You can only hold the company responsible, not the people who run it. That's the tricky part. I'm all for corporate personhood, but there needs to be harsher punishments for their crimes.

    1. That isn't really true. Corporations protect owners from being sued for the behavior of their company, essentially that I can't usually be sued if one of my employees does something.

      The rest of your comment is mostly bilge.

  6. Many of the largest impacts of the Citizen’s United case were a result of the new SCOTUS precedents being applied to cases decided afterward. You are correct above that the CU case in and of itself didn’t allow unlimited political donations by corporations. The SuperPAC vehicles that allow such contributions were created when the CU precedents were applied to the vs. FEC case that was decided in March of 2010. (an aside – as you seem like a smart guy, it’s disingenuous to quickly dismiss the corporate contributions claim like you did above without mentioning the SpeechNow case considering that this post is from November of 2011 – when we all knew the outcome of the SpeechNow case)

    The CU precedents have also been used to overturn state laws. In June of 2011, the CU precedent stating that it is not up to the legislatures or courts to create “fairness” in political speech was applied to a pair of consolidated cases in Arizona. (Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC vs. Bennett, and McComish vs. Bennett) The decision overturned an Arizona state law that provided extra funds for candidates for office who were outspent by privately-funded opponents on grounds that the law restricted the freedom of speech for the funders of the privately-funded candidate. Given that Arizona is a conservative state, (and not “Harrison Bergeron’s dystopia” that you joke about above) how do you think that voters that supported the law that was overturned feel?

    Ultimately, it is the consequences of the CU case that appeared later that are changing our political system for the worst. Both this post and Mr. Glasser’s explanation that you cite view the CU case in a narrow vacuum of what the original case was before Justice Kennedy of SCOTUS expanded the scope of the court’s decision far beyond what the court was originally petitioned to review. This view isn’t based in reality.

    You define a corporation above as “a legal entity that can own property, has its own debts and can spend its resources.” I would add “to conduct business” to the end of that definition. Your statement that a corporation is “in essence, a stand-in for a group of people” is far too broad. Corporations are important, and using that organizational form allows unique benefits to a group of individuals that help them conduct a business. Each individual director or owner of the corporation is free to express their political beliefs individually. Not allowing this group of owners/directors to use the unique benefits of the corporation to amplify the expression of their unique political beliefs does not hinder each of their individual rights in any way compared to others who are not members of the group.