Last year a film titled The Corporation was released. The movie was based upon a book written earlier by Joel Bakan. The fundamental argument made is that the Corporation in it’s current form is a psychopath:

What you have is a legally created person who is legally required always to act in its own self interest and the idea is that if a human person was only able to act in its own self interests we’d generally diagnose that person as a psychopath.

It always amazes people when they discover that the law sees the Corporation as a person with the protection of the Constitution just like you and I. Central to the rise of the corporation is this notion of corporate personality. Corporate personality is a cop out, an unfair get out of jail free card, that grants wealth the rights and privileges of citizenship, but none of the responsibility. Bhopal, Unocal, Coke running death squads.  Corporations are literally getting away with murder, so much for a culture of life.

Corporations rarely if ever pay the legal tax rate , and in 2004 Citizens for Tax Justice released a report showing that 82 large US companies paid no tax in one or more years of the Bush presidency:

Eighty-two of America’s largest and most profitable corporations paid no federal income tax in at least one year during the first three years of the George W. Bush administration — a period when federal corporate tax collections fell to their lowest sustained level in six decades. This is one of the many troubling findings of a major new report on corporate tax avoidance by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). The report covered 275 profitable Fortune 500 corporations, with total U.S. profits of $1.1 trillion over the three-year period.

“The sharp increase in the number of tax-avoiding companies reflects the results of aggressive corporate lobbying and a White House and a Congress eager to do the lobbyists’ bidding,” said Robert S. McIntyre, director of CTJ and co-author of the report with T.D. Coo Nguyen of ITEP.

Agressive lobbying,  I wonder who or what that might be a reference to?

All the while capital gains tax rate cuts have ensured the work is taxed more heavily than wealth. Those who work for a living are expected to bear the the burden for a wealthy class of individuals who see privilege as their birthright.  Historically “noble” classes have granted themselves immunity from taxation while pressing the burden upon peasants.   This is the irony of Grover Norquist and the rise of the “libertarian” wing of the Republican party.  They may talk Christ and compassion, but in their dark little hearts it’s all about the Benjamins.  They talk about freedom, but their ideology places a heavy burden on working people.  Grover talks about drowning government, but the corpses in New Orleans still waiting for a decent burial are the true victims of the lust for money.

Everyday working people go to their jobs trying to make a living, and they bear the burden so that psychopathic corporations can make an extra dime or two off their labor.  Bush and Norquist want to turn back the clocks to an American where the social solidarity of the New Deal had not yet tempered American capitalism, and the elite that Bush claims as his base where in undisputed power living like parasites off the labor of others. Life wasn’t good for the working man those days.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt.

Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go;

I owe my soul to the company store…

Recent events in West Virginia show that the Bush Adminstration’s desire to turn back the clock has suceeded, and has allowed  mining companies to get away with manslaughter by not enforcing the law. The corporate psychopath is a threat to society, now it’s the time for an execution (put down the kitchen knife I’m speaking figuratively.)

The answer is abolish corporate personality.

During the Spanish Inquisition where burned at the stake. Why?

Because priests were forbidden to shed blood, and the flames where meant to mimic the hellfire from whence the heretics were presumed to have come.

The obsessions of the “government drowners” of the Right presents the opportunity for similar irony.  We give them what they want, and it will be the end of the power.

In 2002, Norquist and the ATR were promoting a bill that would eliminate the “double taxation” of dividends. It was apparently lost upon Norquist and the bunch that the notion of corporate personality blows a very large hole in the notion that the taxation of corporate profits is double taxation. By his logic when I pay income taxes, I’m being taxed twice as well, after all my employer already paid taxes on this once, and the consumer on the products they bought from my company.

Grover’s attack on “double taxation” assumes the corporation has no legal personality, let’s make that happen. Let’s abolish the corporation and as a consequence abolish the corporate income tax, the limitation of liability to capital stock, and the immunity corporate personality grants to corporate management and the board of directors.

Oh my god, we’ve killed the corporation. How are we going to make this stick. I don’t buy the arguement that immunity created by government fiat is the only way to limit liability and allow for widespead participationon capital markets To replace limited liability of the corporation all corporations over a certain size should be required pay for the limited liablity they currently enjoy at society’s expense this can be accomplished through a quasi governmental body like the FDIC. Small business should be permitted to buy coverage at discounted rates, while large corporations should have to assume reponsbility for the liability created by their actions.  We all have to buy car insurance to cover the liability above and beyond what can reasonably be expected to cver out of pocket.  Why have corporations been getting this for free? And why do economists dismiss these costs as externalities whenever they are discussed as evidence of market failures? If it’s good enough for my car and yours, it’s good enough for GM.

And should the actions of the corporation be determined to be criminal, we’ve now got live bodies to throw in jail, or under it as it may be.  When Coke runs death squads in, or the Bush campaign

sells sweatshirts made in Burma in violation of a law President Bush signed, there should be criminal consequence.  Criminal actions should yield criminal consequences, and the institution of the corporation can be saved by putting people before profits.

Having killed the corporate person, it no longer has the rights of a person to stand in defiance of the law.   I also believe that members of the board and of management should be forced to sign documents assuming for illegal actions that fall under their aegis. CEO’s won’t break the law so lightly if they know they will go to prision as a result of their actions.  And this criminals should go to the same prisons as the other criminals.  The first time one of the smartest guys in the room gets gang raped in the showers and infected with AIDS, the rest of Corporate America will gain a whole new understanding of the personal liability of their actions.

And finally by dethroning the shareholder owned Corporation, we can bring stakeholders into the game by mandating employee representation on corporate boards as is the case in Germany. And we can consider whether alternate forms allowing capital and labor to perform economic functions, like worker cooperatives should be encouraged.  Worker cooperatives are not destined to be confined to corner boutiques. One of Spain’s biggest companies is the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation a company that started as a self help organization founded by a Basque priest in the 1940’s. Perhaps at least some of the progressive energy at Daily Kos could be channeled into challenging the conventional wisdom the corrupt capitalism is a forgone conclusion.

 At the heart of the matter is whether the market exists to serve people, or for people to serve the market.  It’s give and take, but the current state of affairs begs for reform, the first and most important being confronting the monster created in the corporate person.

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