Corporate Personhood Now!

We the People, in order to form a more perfect Union, demand corporate personhood.  Vital business pertaining to American business remains unfinished and thus constitutes an affront to our Constitution.  We must rectify this by enshrining into our foundational document the rights bestowed to every American citizen, without prejudice to creed, to every American company, regardless of its greed.

Some may cringe at the notion, but those recognizing that we already live in a corporatocracy, not democracy, will be less exercised.  Big business is the most important unit of organization in our society, long having translated its economic power into political power.  “[Banks] own the place,” Senator Dick Durban said candidly of the power of financial institutions on Capitol Hill.  So they do.  The financial sector and other mighty corporate interests with outsized influence in Washington have reduced their tax load—loopholes are so rife that GE, one of the largest companies in the world, paid no taxes whatsoever in 2010—while simultaneously winning a host of lucrative inducements from toadying lawmakers.

Such “rent-seeking” isn’t news.  Only when it’s too egregious to ignore, like when Washington socializes the multi-billion dollar losses incurred by Wall Street firms, are feathers ruffled.  But even then the outrage is co-opted by the same monied interests that subvert the public interest, guaranteeing that any substantive reform is thwarted.  To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, big business ensures that the business of America is big business.

A Constitutional amendment enshrining corporate personhood, then, would not be a big step.  The Supreme Court already extended to corporations the First Amendment right of actual people to spend unlimited sums in elections in the “Citizens United” decision.  Most corporations are “indistinguishable from the individual who owns them,” Justice Antonin Scalia said during the case’s oral arguments.  The move would even find support across the political spectrum.

Conservatives would rapturously endorse it.  Many subscribe to a neo-feudal worldview, with corporations (and the corporate class) approximating landowners and everyone else similar to serfs.  “Corporations are people,” leading GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney observed, reflecting this business-friendly dogma.  So the right’s minions would doubtlessly applaud the Constitutional fix, correctly seeing it as a way to protect “free enterprise” from unconscionable government meddling in the same way that feminists’ viewed the Equal Rights Amendment as a means to safeguard gender equality.  That the GOP controls a majority of state houses would bode well for the amendment’s ratification, which would require the consent from three-fourths of the legislative bodie

Democrats, for their part, liken themselves to the defenders of the middle class, if not the “99 percent.”  But that’s a perception held by the rank and file, not the reality created by party mandarins who know where their bread is buttered.  Cynical?  Hardly.  The same companies that bankroll the GOP bankroll Democrats.  Consider that five of the six biggest recipients of financial sector contributions between 1989 and 2008 were Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  Hillary Clinton took in the biggest haul, with a cool $31,000,000, just ahead of Barack Obama at nearly $28,000,000.

That both Democrats and Republicans receive the same corporate baksheesh goes a long way to explain their ideological convergence, bringing to mind the joke about a Brit describing America’s two parties.  “One is a lot like the Tories,” he says,“ and so is the other.”  Those whose judgment is clouded by nostalgia may point to the great populist tradition of progressive lions like Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.  But those days are long gone.

Today’s Democratic kingpins are corporate lackeys.  Think Clintonian “Third Way” politics, a euphemism for selling out.  Too often President Obama has followed in this ignoble tradition, hastily checking his already washed-out progressive agenda when accused of being anti-business (even though corporate profits have soared during his tenure).  Typical was his selection of Jeffrey Immelt as chairman of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a demonstration of his obeisance to Corporate America.  Who’s Jeffrey Immelt?  The CEO of that non-tax paying titan, GE.

Not all would be lost for liberals by elevating corporations in the same way that “Personhood Amendments” seek rights for fetuses, however.  If companies were Constitutionally likened to people, terminating one would be akin to murder.  This would make predatory corporate behavior, such as the leveraged buyouts practiced by the likes of Romney’s former employer Bain Capital, which bought companies only to carve them up for cash, a felony.  Closing American corporate subsidiaries on account of outsourcing might even become a capital offense.

Mostly, though, enshrining corporate personhood in the Constitution would be a big win for big business.  But we’re already there.  Corporations rule.  Let’s make it official and ensure that, here in the ‘ole US of A, a society of big business, by big business, for big business, shall not perish from the marketplace!

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