South Suburban MoveOn Council on Corporate Personhood

March 19, 2012
Ron Kurowski

In a recent New York Times story during a discussion on the unemployment problem in the U. S., an Apple executive flatly stated, “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

This statement drew the ire of former Reagan administration trade negotiator, Clyde Prestowitz, who in a posting on the Foreign Policy website explained how Steve Jobs and other Apple executives had the funny notion that the U.S. Government had an obligation to help them get a foot-hold in the Asian market. “We did all we could and in doing so came to learn that virtually everything Apple had for sale, from the memory chips to the cute pointer mouse, had its origins in some program wholly or partially supported by U.S. government money.”

Prestowitz also explained how Apple relies on the U. S. government to protect their intellectual property rights and to protect the shipping lanes used to ship their products, which still have a large U.S. government R&D content, round the world.

The arrogance of multi-national corporations such as Apple in disavowing any responsibility for the public good is even more appalling in light of the genesis of corporations in this country. The founding fathers did not deem corporations worthy of constitutional rights. They left the responsibility of chartering and regulating corporations to the states. Initially charters were granted selectively, for a limited time and with many restrictive provisions. Corporations often were prohibited from owning stock in other corporations or owning property not specified in their charters. And spending money to influence law makers was prohibited. States even required corporations to show how they would add to the common good before granting them a charter.

The concept that corporations have a responsibility to promote the commonweal eroded as quickly as did other restrictive prohibitions as the nexus of money and political power grew during the nineteenth century. Ironically, it was the Fourteenth Amendment, written to guarantee freed slaves due process of law, which allowed corporations, using the mantle of corporate personhood given to them in the Santa v. Southern Pacific 1886 Supreme Court case, to claim constitutional rights originally specified only for natural persons.

The contrived construct of corporate personhood has facilitated the morphing of corporations from simple human artifacts void of any rights inherent to natural persons into colossal, multi-national entities that float above the public sphere, eschewing any obligation to the public good while unashamedly feeding at the public trough whenever it suits their needs. And with the latest court ruling in the Citizens United case that equated money with free speech, the power and dominance of multi-national corporations may not be anywhere near its apex.

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