There are two types of persons recognized by the US government that are given all the rights, protections, and parlance offered to American citizens by the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and our body of written law. The first type have much in common with you and me, being that they are made of flesh and blood, live and die within the alloted years as nature, god or luck might have it.
Then there are persons made of nothing more than paper, contract, and pooled resources. These persons were first recognized and granted the rights of the individual by the judiciary branch in 1886, in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (or somehow the court reporter fabricated the ruling). Shortly after the 14th ammendment was passed into law and made all men equal before it in theory, the Supreme Court passed the same protections, rights, and liberties on to immortal, paper and ink collections of capital in practice. Namely, they formally recognized corporations as full US citizens. This ruling overturned a large body of local, state and federal laws that defined corporate contracts according to the desires of the public and their elected officials. Since then the allowances and power of the corporation have increased, and fought back all challengers to an immenent position of dominance over human life. These new persons were immortal, and so long as profit is generated continue to exist without regard to the lifespans of those who originally agreed to the contract, or with regard to the long term interests and health of the public body.
One immutable difference between a wholly disembodied corporation and the physical being of an individual is that you cannot enforce the responsibilities of citizenship upon a stack of papers. While you can take a contract to Washington for your day in court, you cannot send a contract to a jail, or sentence a contract to rehabilitation programs, exile, give them a wedgie, or otherwise force upon them what is known as a conscience. Most likely you also, unlike the stack of papers, cannot afford the judge. You might end the contract, or attempt to fine the assets of the agreement before they are embezzelled by the management, but there is little liability cast upon those who entered into the contract. This happens to encourage investment, while at the same time having the somewhat negative effect of creating institutions driven by insane motives. As stacks of paper begin to hold great deals of stock in other stacks of paper these defects become more pronounced. During times of liability stacks of paper can disolve themselves at little cost to themselves, which is to say a thinking, feeling entity does not cease to exist when a corporation ends its existence. In this manner the corporate entity may excuse itself of all responsibility.
This difference leads to a multitude of problems. The structure of the corporation is such that the only moral code by which the corporation persists is for the profit of the stock holder. The responsibility of the corporation is to generate a shared profit among the collection of individuals who hold shares of it but do not "own" it in the usual sense, but pass the responsibilities of ownership onto management, who thus, as their own existence derives from this cubist defraction of responsibility, seek to assure both shareholder interest as well as the entity's perpetuity. Furthmore the responsibility to seek profit is enforced quarterly, when management reports profits to stock holders - thus those who put scotch on the table by keeping stock holders satisfied require an inordinately short attention span. With vast distances and no collective bond between "owners" beyond the profit motive there is no collective sense of responsibility for the actions of the corporation, for how it treats those who work within it, for how it affects the environment or for its interactions with other businesses or its behavior regarding the public. Not only are these fellow persons immortal and unaccountable, but amoral to boot.
Keep in mind that these entities exist at the behest of government - in fact they wouldn't even exist were it not for government protection of the contract from public justice. Flesh and blood, as well the better part of economic activity that serves it, exists with or without a government mandate.
Compare this to the private individual. The private individual is limited in his economic, social and political power not only by his mortality, but by his own moral fiber, his accountability, hopes and fears, and so forth until we approach the conscience - should one exist. Now place that individual within a corporation; suddenly his personal volition is replaced by that of the corporate hierarchy, lest he be removed from his position for not upholding the moral code by which the corporation continues to exist. If corporations are the predominate form of economic organization then the individual who wishes to live will likely live within a corporation, or face the possibility of hunger, homelessness, and untreated disease. Those whose values correspond closest with the values of the corporation rise into management, while the others are cajoled daily with the virtues of the Profit of the Company.
Thus we have the present day. The top 200 corporations are responsible for 24% of global GDP and employ only .78% of the global workforce. Some 75% of global trade is controlled by the 500 largest corporations, or what is called trade: close to half of such transactions referred to as "trade" involve the internal movements of capital, manufacturing centers and the like, to different parts of the globe in search of cheaper labor or unspoiled environmental resources, having left merely affordable labor and spoiled environmental resources behind. 90% of international capital trade is financial speculation, rather than investment. The ratio of speculative to invested trade has flipped since 1970: much of what is called trade amounts to stacks of papers rearranging their living rooms, and yet this seemingly innocuous activity has the capacity to destroy whole economies, to level currencies, to wipe out past investment and accumulated private and public capital. When not wholly destructive it rarely succeeds in providing any benefit to recieving nations and much to hurt workers from investing nations, nevermind the environmental havoc released when the protections people fought long and hard for in industrialized nations do not exist. But this is all good for profits, and thus corporate persons will fight with all their moral fiber to keep it this way.
At the same time there remain few economic activities not primarily controlled - indirectly or directly - by corporate interests. All land that a mortal man may work upon he holds in a public trust to future generations, for a man if he is not a sociopath feels a duty to provide for his family's or his nation's future, or some constructive prerogative through religion or philosophy or even his own mortal legacy. The Company holds land in trust only for the profit of its financiers, and feels no duty to the financiers of tomorrow.
When we talk about destruction of the American family and way of life we look to all varieties of social influence: people attack the liberal tolerance of homosexuality and foreigners; the conservative intolerance of social reform and tolerance of ethnic and religious hatreds; people attack Hollywood for the violence and sex on TV; people attack drugs that have been around for 100s of years and the drugs created to replace them after the attack; people attack the rich for being rich; people attack the poor for being poor; people attack Democrats for supporting a debilitating sense dependence; people attack Republicans for supporting debilitating wars and poverty; people attack eachother for their differences.
But there are spirits conjured up from dotted lines, summoned from signed stacks of paper, and they move among us, and they profit from the problems in our country and our world. They pay for the elections of our representatives, and in turn they elect our officials. They are unique by very definition and thus form unto themselves a selfinterested and well organized class interest and identity group who share the same values and the same boilerplate. Corporations own and manage the media and report favorably on those individuals running for office that recieve the backing of other corporations. By extension the few individuals who will run successfully for office are those who are willing to recieve corporate backing. Having formed such a union to maintain their political power the government that created them then supports the corporations that support it. The politicians no longer remain flesh and blood individuals but flesh and ink extensions of corporate interests.
There's a significant chunk of the problem right there - the rest just has to do with people being what they are and problems that one has a difficult time seeing any end to - but trade can be taken out of the hands of irresponsible agents and organized on realistic human terms. It doesn't have to be built on the worst aspects of human character. Drive out the demons of corporate culture, and burn the stacks of paper that replace blood with red ink. Half-human corporate ghouls can't see normal people. To them it's almost as if the sweat and blood weren't there.
They can't even make it through a game of golf honestly.
--josh buermann ©2002