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Constitutional education, history, commentary, reform, compliance, and interpretation.

2011/12/11

Foolish call to "end corporate personhood"

Los Angeles Poised To Be The First Major U.S. City To Call For End To Corporate Personhood


The notion that somehow "corporate personhood" is the problem and needs to be abolished is abysmally foolish, ignorant, and stupid. It reflects a profound incomprehension of the fundamentals of law that have been painfully evolved over more than 2000 years.

One more time:

A "PERSON" IS A ROLE, NOT THE ACTOR WHO PLAYS THE ROLE.

Repeat that to yourself 1000 times, reflecting on it each time, until it is burned into your consciousness.

Each individual is not one person, but many. In each of many roles we are a legally distinct person, each with its own rights, powers, and duties, and only a role, not the actor, can appear as a party in a court of law. Anything else would destroy the foundations of law of any meaningful kind. Moreover, it would be a denial of our right to associate to impede us from acting with one another in concert as a single person. That would be tyranny. And people acting in concert is the essence of what a "corporation" is. It means, literally, a "co-operation".

The problem, as complex as it is, is basically the same general problem we have always had: Excessive and unbalanced concentrations of power. That has two main components:

1. Organizations that are too large, and emergent behaviors that function like organizations even if they are not formally organized.
2. Imposition of fiat currency on all of us by statutes that make legal tender of something other than gold, silver, energy, or other physical assets, abetted by us acquiescing in that imposition.

Yes, concentration of excessive power in large corporations is a problem, but that has nothing to do with them being corporations. It would be the same problem if they were sole proprietors or just herds of players all playing the same strategy at the same time. It has largely been that herd behavior that has prevented shareholders of large organizations from reining in their managers and their foolish and dangerous practices. Greed can be good if many players each play a different strategy. When they all make the same moves together the result is disaster. It makes no difference how or whether they are formally organized, because the results are the same.

Thoreau and Gandhi had specific, well-defined objectives. For Thoreau it was to end the war with Mexico. For Gandhi it was to end British rule of India. What do the Occupiers seek? They seem to neither know or care to make the effort to learn.

They are like a dumb animal in distress who utters inarticulate cries of distress. But how can anyone respond to that? A physician might ask an articulate patient questions, or conduct tests, to try to make a diagnosis. But the physician is out, and even if he were in, he doesn't have a clue what to do, because he is part of the malady.

Make no mistake. We are all stupid here. We confront a challenge that requires almost all of us to be vastly more intelligent and knowledgeable than human beings can ever hope to be individually. The only chance we have is to become more intelligent and knowledgeable collectively, but the only institutional framework that might enable that to happen has been largely abandoned: the framework set forth by the Constitution of 1787-91, as originally understood. Either we return to strict compliance with it, and other nations do likewise, or we will descend into a new Dark Age from which civilization may never again emerge.

Corporations as a form of organization are no less accountable as a matter of law than any other form of organization, other than governments (which are also corporations). The difficulty with holding them accountable is that they are large, politically well-connected, and individuals within them are surrounded by henchmen that can make it difficult to prove a case against them. It makes little difference whether the entity is a for-profit manufacturer or distributor, a utility company, a labor union or trade association, a foundation, church, hospital or university, or a crime syndicate. If they can unduly influence public officials it can be difficult to hold them accountable, but the only way that can be done through campaign media still requires voters to buy the advertising messages, and if they are derelict in exercising good judgment about that, it can't be blamed on the source of the funding for the advertising.

The main ways large entities influence politicians is by influencing public opinion, and the responsibility for that rests on the public, not on the entities that provide the funding.

As for lobbying, the main way lobbyists gain influence is not by donating money to campaigns. It is by doing the expert staffwork for legislators that their staffs lack the time or talent to do for themselves. I used to do that kind of thing myself for a couple of years on Capitol Hill. I didn't have money or votes but I gained influence by reviewing and drafting bills and speeches better than the staffers could. The staffload needed by members exceeds by a couple of orders of magnitude what their paid in-house staffers could ever do, even if they had the knowledge, which they mostly don't.

The real threat that no one is adequately addressing is the herd behavior of all these large entities. They are like eusocial insects. Ants and bees are individually stupid, but they are wired to respond in certain ways to inputs that cause them to seem to collectively act intelligently, with no central direction. This is called Swarm intelligence. But it only works for certain kinds of situations for which they have adapted and evolved over millions of years. On the other hand we can see how lemmings can emerge into a mass migration that can lead them to their own destruction. No one lemming makes the decision or provides direction. And none of them can see far enough to avoid large bodies of water they might not be able to swim across. Many attempts have been made to devise regulatory interventions to prevent speculative bubbles, and no one has found a way that does not get overwhelmed by the fervor that infects the political process as much as it does the market.

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