By Gus Bouchard
My six-year-old daughter asked me that question yesterday. The one that makes every parent cringe with awkward uncertainty:
“Daddy, where do corporations come from?”
I always try to be honest. “Well, when two or more people truly love money very much, they engage in a special kind of hug, only it’s not so much a hug as it is a signing of papers in a lawyer’s office. But it probably feels like a hug to them.”
“Daddy, I’m confused.”
“Me, too. Go ask your mother.”
Since the 2008 Supreme Court decision Rich Guys In Suits v. Incompetent Federal Bureaucracy declared that corporations can spend money on politics with impunity, the national debate over whether corporations should have the same constitutional rights as “natural persons” rages on.
As the increasingly-popular bumper sticker says, “I refuse to believe corporations are people until Texas executes one.”
Grassroots momentum is building for a constitutional amendment that would restrict constitutional rights to “natural persons;” i.e. individual human beings.
Now I’m all for heaping pitchforks full of hate onto money-grubbing, soulless entities like Wal-Mart or Apple or Bank of America or Mitt Romney — faceless monsters that exist only on paper, governed by grim men in grim suits driven only by profit, with no sense of social accountability.
But we need a little good ol’ fashioned context before we go around demanding constitutional amendments up in here.
The fact is, corporations have always had Constitutional rights, as Huffington Post legal columnist Kent Greenfield points out.
That’s why the FBI can’t seize Google’s servers without a warrant.
It’s why Barack Obama can’t shut down Fox News, or why a private university can’t be forced to start its classes with (or without) a prayer.
From a legal perspective, a corporation is just a group of people – no different from a church, a labor union, or the ACLU.
As Greenfield says, “If the New York Times had no constitutional rights of its own, it could be prohibited from printing or distributing its newspapers. Its website could be shut off. Its printing presses could be seized…. The fact that individual reporters would still have rights to distribute homemade handbills or orate from a soapbox would mean little.”
So the question is not whether or not corporations are people.
The question is: if corporations are people, why don’t they have to wait until they turn 18 to get all their rights?
Individual human citizens have limited constitutional protections of their own until they reach adulthood. In the meantime, we go through a rigorous government training program (school) that attempts to indoctrinate us with all the appropriate beliefs and behaviors of good citizenship and productivity.
Only when we graduate from high school are we given the ability to participate fully in our democracy.
I say let’s put every corporation through 18 years of school. Make them participate in sports to get them ready for real-world competition.
Make them go on awkward dates with other adolescent corporations so they can learn how to do a merger without regretting it later.
Condition them to expect punishment for cheating. Have them dissect lesser organisms so they gain an appreciation for how they work.
Make them prove that they can be responsible citizens before you allow them to influence the democratic process.
Only then will we live in a world where all people, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, religion, or literal existence, will enjoy peace and equality.