The Story of Citizens United v FEC :: Why Democracy Only Works When People Are in Charge” explores the history of the American corporation and corporate political spending, the appropriate roles of citizens and for-profit corporations in a democracy and the toxic impact the Citizens United decision is already having on our political process. It ends with a call to amend the U.S. constitution to confirm that people—not corporations—make the decisions in a democracy.
Noam Chomsky on Corporate Personhood: 2011
The following is essay one in a two part series about the relationship between corporations and government.
In his short dispatch entitled “Invaders from Mars,” British author Charlie Stross develops an “admittedly whimsical” working hypothesis to address why people feel so politically powerless in the UK, US, and elsewhere, and why they have such widespread and general distrust of government. He begins by synthesizing this popular sentiment with the quaint phrase, “Voting doesn’t change anything – the politicians always win,” and proceeds to highlight what he believes to be the root cause of disfunctional democracy and government. For Stross, corporate personhood lies at the heart of these disfunctional systems and his piece raises some crucial questions about corporate persons, namely where did they come from, in whose interest do they serve, and, perhaps most importantly, who controls them. At the foundation of the problem, he claims, is the establishment of this doctrine. “The rot set in back in the 19th century, when the US legal system began recognizing corporations as de facto people,” he says. He continues by addressing the second crucial question I mentioned (in whose interests do corporate persons serve?):
Corporations do not share our priorities. They are hive organisms constructed out of teeming workers who join or leave the collective: those who participate within it subordinate their goals to that of the collective, which pursues the three corporate objectives of growth, profitability, and pain avoidance. (The sources of pain a corporate organism seeks to avoid are lawsuits, prosecution, and a drop in shareholder value.) … Corporations, not being human, lack patriotic loyalty; with a free trade regime in place they are free to move wherever taxes and wages are low and profits are high. We have seen this recently in Ireland where, despite a brutal austerity budget, corporation tax is not to be raised lest multinationals desert for warmer climates.
And finally, Stross concludes that it is not humans, but the corporate person itself which makes decisions:
We are now living in a global state that has been structured for the benefit of non-human entities with non-human goals. They have enormous media reach, which they use to distract attention from threats to their own survival. They also have an enormous ability to support litigation against public participation, except in the very limited circumstances where such action is forbidden. Individual atomized humans are thus either co-opted by these entities (you can live very nicely as a CEO or a politician, as long as you don’t bite the feeding hand) or steamrollered if they try to resist. In short, we are living in the aftermath of an alien invasion.