What is a person?
A human being, an entity with certain characteristics, a personality. There are many different ways to define what a ‘person’ is, and I’m sure you’ve all got your own.
I’m guessing one you didn’t think of, however, was corporation. Yeah, you read me right: Corporations, legally, are people. The Supreme Court says so.
In an 1819 case, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations had a right to contract and to have those contracts honored, just as people did. Then, in 1886, the Court ruled that corporations should be recognized as ‘persons’ for purposes of the 14th Amendment, which is probably best-known for granting United States citizenship to African-Americans (keep in mind that when this occurred, all women, all Native Americans and most African-American men still did not have the right to vote).
But, after expanding the definition of the term ‘person,’ corporations also fell under that amendment.
They have what is called “corporate personhood,” which means that corporations have all the constitutional rights of individuals, including the right to due process and compensation before being deprived of property, the right to freedom of speech and the right to lobby the government.
That’s fair, you might say, and I would agree with you.
But that’s where my agreement ends because large corporations have shown time and again that if they are to be considered people, then they should be considered the
If you go down the World Health Organization’s checklist of characteristics of a person with psychopathic tendencies, large corporations certainly do seem to fit the bill. Some of these traits include repeated lying and conning of others for profit, reckless disregard for the safety of others and failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior.
Fox News fired two reporters after they refused to rewrite a story about the harmful effects of rBGH, the synthetic hormone used to increase milk production in cows. It was proven to cause an infection called mastitis, which leached into the milk we drink.
In 1984, there was a massive gas and chemical leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. The local government estimates that 3,000 people died within a few weeks of the disaster, and another 8,000 have died from related causes since. Some survivors are still fighting legal battles with the corporation.
And in 2010, General Electric paid $0 in federal taxes. With a corporate tax rate of 35 percent and a profit of $14.2 billion worldwide, G.E. should have paid $4.9 billion in taxes. Instead, they got a $3.2 billion tax credit.
If a natural person were to exhibit these types of behaviors, he or she would be committed to a mental hospital. But for corporations, they’re simply standard operating procedures. Essentially, corporations are ‘persons’ who can’t die and who can’t be imprisoned for their crimes the way that actual people can. So in effect, they have all the rights of people and then some.
One side effect of regarding corporations as people is that they can make major campaign contributions. This may sound rather innocuous, but politicians who accept major donations from corporations become beholden to them and their goals. They become representatives of the corporations rather than representatives of the people.
It’s a system that is broken and needs to be fixed.
So what can you do about it? Knowledge is the most powerful weapon, and educating people about the truth about corporate personhood is the best way to wield it.
Reclaim Democracy (reclaimdemocracy.org) and Ultimate Civics (www.ultimatecivics.org) both have a multitude of background information on the subject and a list of ways to lend your support to the movement to abolish corporate personhood.
With the help of ‘natural’ people like you, we can reinstate the importance of human rights over corporate rights and take back how we define ourselves as people.