Even so, I would imagine the majority of us in the modern world see what business has become, and think “it’s all bad”. And yet, I am inclined to say that this is the result of a fallen nature, not so much the underpinnings of business itself. I don’t think this somewhat negative, and problematic, origin forces a negative view of the free enterprise system necessarily. Clearly, it has done much good and much bad in the world. As a thing in itself, it is valueless; it’s more in the implementation of those concepts that we can see whether they are helpful or not. In our case, we need a quick look at the problems of American corporate law, since corporations are, really, the primary model of power in our day and age.
Let us, as they say, dispel some myths about how this thing really works, specifically in America. I mean specifically that issue often pointed out as the number one problem people have with businesses, especially big corporations…
Much as we all think it strange that corporations are persons under United States law, reading the history behind it gives it a less absurd quality. The case that continues the precedent in the US legal system, if not necessarily setting it, was Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania – 125 U.S. 181 (1888). Within this case, the Supreme Court affirmed the doctrine of corporate personhood, stating,
Under the designation of ‘person’ there is no doubt that a private corporation is included [in the Fourteenth Amendment]. Such corporations are merely associations of individuals united for a special purpose and permitted to do business under a particular name and have a succession of members without dissolution.
A corporation, for all legal intents and purpose, is merely the collected will of many individuals uniting together for profit (or non-profit, as the case may be). They are not just the big scary Boogeyman who takes your money! It was thought for generations that corporations violated the natural chain of being, and that people should not organize independently under a single banner to contest God’s established authority. Romans 13 was often used to justify such things, and to prevent democracy from taking root. The same arguments that allowed the United States to create a republic based upon democratic procesesses also allowed for the creation of free enterprise and business.
Corporations, then, “double-down” on laws which already exist for people and applies them to larger groups of people. I imagine people in the past merely saw it as a natural fit, and such protections would both prevent government intrusion into business (as had been the case in the preceding centuries) as well as allowing companies to operate privately – hence the personhood distinction. If not, I imagine they would need to add an entirely separate corporate law to the books, and that would take many, many years of trial and error. Why bother when many of the provisions already exist in the already-existing law? Persons should not be limited in their rights just because they choose to incorporate. It also means there’s a single entity to tax, sue, regulate transactions that would otherwise include thousands of people, and just simplify the legal strain overall. Simple is not necessarily better, but it is one of the best systems so far employed to let corporations operate freely.
Of course, this does not mean corporations have all rights given to persons; that’s a misnomer for sure. The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, for example, does not apply to corporations even as it still actively applies against persons. Within the case United States v. Sourapas and Crest Beverage Company,
[a]ppellants [suggested] the use of the word ‘taxpayer’ several times in the regulations requires the fifth-amendment self-incrimination warning be given to a corporation.
The appellate court did not agree with such a right for corporations, arguing that a corporation cannot prevent its own self-incrimination by the production of documents or evidence.
Money, Power, Influence
But, I imagine what we specifically mean in this case is the money, influence, and power of corporations in modern American life. People want to specifically abolish that, but you cannot just eliminate corporate personhood; after all, it’s both precedent AND isn’t mention at all in the Constitution (so what, exactly, would you be amending?). Rather, a better move would be to make provisions and exceptions in corporate personhood specifically, ones to which we universally agree. If they are too powerful, then there must be steps taken to reduce that power, but none of that should involve depriving them of the right to use their money as they see fit (barring illegal activity). There’s a case to be made for higher taxes on them, as well as closing tax loopholes and the ability to cheat the government out of corporate money. That, I think, should be a priority; we can encourage them to incorporate here without letting them run willy-nilly, right? If they need to keep their costs down, corporations also need some incentive to come to America and not just by fiat. Hitting that careful balance and nuance is what we often lack here, having a political affiliation towards one side or the other of the debate (or, say, even having a personal stake).
Perpetual personhood may be one of the provisions we do need to change. People do not live forever; neither should corporations. Then again, they often buy each other and kill each other off like ravenous animals looking for brand names, so technically that isn’t a big problem. However, their ability to exist in perpetuity does keep power in the same hands for far too long; perhaps they just need to incorporate as a new entity (which is entirely possible), but would that really prevent anything either? It just shakes things up; it doesn’t fix the essential problems of human nature to abuse power in that way.
Long story short: there should be some changes, specifically in their perpetual existence and possible statutes to limit their rights and also limit their ability to accrue power. But, given the way the American legal system does work, you can’t really prevent them from using that money for political purposes as a form of free speech. You can, though, prevent them from breaking the rules!
Even so, this is the current system in which we live, and I cannot see it changing for a long time. Video games and corporations are, for better or worse, interlinked; the same corporations that caused huge technological advances in the past are one in the same with the ones who crafted your childhood tastes, imagined the technology necessary for the Internet’s widespread dominance of social interaction, and eventually provided the ease-of-use for indie developers to craft their experiences. We’re all in this together on some level!