It is perhaps characteristic of modern times to gather large groups of people who share the same perpetual quest for what is called freedom of expression and action within a free world, to make use of it with every single opportunity they might have. As such, and also due to the possibilities of assembly offered by the Internet, there arises the “popular” attitude that seeks righteousness and pretends a just and fair treatment from each of its components and especially from the big players on the world-wide stage. Over the last few decades, an antagonistic reaction has been artificially maintained against this borderless notion of “the People” and its supposed deadly foe that is conspiring against it – “the Corporation”.
The reemergence of socialist ideals has brought about the idea that a future revolutionary generation has to fight against the “greed” and “evil” of those economic entities that are in a constant expansion from a physical, financial and social point of view. The corporate “prairie animal” stands against a greater will than that which is the will to (financial) power which somehow is foreign to the “pure” thirst of a certain majority (which in fact is a noisy minority) for fairness and liberty. It is important to say that the “dissidents” who do not wish to belong to these revolutionary armies united against what they call “the corporate peril” are looked down upon as suspicious and told that they kiss the boot which kicks them.
Without further ado, it would be better to intrude into the field of accusations that is thrown upon corporations. First of all, one of the most prominent slogans chanted by revolted masses is that the rich (also known as the top 1%) are getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer. In fact, the rich have gotten richer in the same measure that the poor have also gotten richer. This is not to be demonstrated only by pointing out the undeniable statistics that present the evolution of Western society (longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, more access to resources such as and education), but also by recalling the difficulties which those of only a few generations ago had to overcome – wars, famines, diseases, poverty. Although the comparison between the past issues and the “21st century problems” might not be fair in one’s eyes, it could be said that what really matters is your actual standard of living compared to your initial situation, not to that of the others. If progress has taken place and one is better off than before, then things have been going pretty well. Moreover, keeping on the same track, not only selected individuals benefiting from accidents of birth or with extraordinary endowments of talent, but almost everybody could notice that they are better off than his or her parents or grandparents were at their birth.
Wealth does not reside solely into a restrained and fixed number of goods and commodities that are taken over by corporations, but works out in an ever-going process of discovery, expansion and renewal. This is made possible by the same innovative spirit that has always brought to reality the creation of new inventions and answers to the mysteries which seemed to be without answer. Today, workplace coercion has been replaced by freedom of movement and contract entry. Due to a more entrepreneurial world than ever before, people not only can enter into a contract or agreement as employees, workers or manufacturers, but also as respectable employers, who have to pay their real “fair share” by paying wages and market prices for their inputs.
One of the most comprehensive analysis of the so-called corporate devil has been realized by the producers of the documentary “The Corporation”, which has won over 25 awards and prestigious prizes. Here, the Corporation is seen as a completely detached entity which develops a psychosis provided by its alleged intrinsic pathology of making endless amounts of money – “Profit is never sufficient for corporations”. The central idea can be concentrated around the fact that “in many respects, (a) corporation of that sort is the prototypical psychopath”. The documentary makes use of emotionally-charged footage and arguments such as that of adults and children working in “sweatshops” in underdeveloped countries, run by multinationals which opened their factories there. However, there is no list of viable solutions next to this list of accusations. One may ask whether the “exploitation” in these factories (mostly in the garment industry) is anywhere close to other alternatives that these people have, such as working in agriculture where the conditions and the injury risk are much tougher, or having to cede to prostitution. Moreover, Naom Chomsky asserts that “When you look at the corporation, (it is) just like when you look at the slave owner”. Another aspect worth noting is the complaint about the average sweatshop worker producing a clothing article which sells for a sum that is “astronomically higher” than that sum of the capital of the employing company allocated for producing that particular produce. Therefore, the worker should benefit from a significant part of his labor transposed into higher salaries and better working conditions. Past experiences have demonstrated that only by going through the whole process of economic development can an industry reach the state of wealth that could provide these better conditions for workers, the “sweatshop phase” included.
It is said that the corporate form is “a machine of externalities” that would undoubtedly do great harm onto society. These “hidden” harms are not, in fact, higher in degree than the actual gains derived by millions of people who choose to work for international organizations such as corporations. Finding a company guilty of firing people and closing its plants is comparable to blaming a person for dismissing a certain opportunity provided it was not beneficial enough; since no one has employed economic entities into taking care of the welfare of each member of the society, but only into respecting the contract between such an entity and the person who works for it.
It is from there that we can allude to the equivalence between a corporation and a person – “Are corporations people?” Thus, in a mere perceptual sense, neither the anatomy nor the common social skills specific to humans are to be found in the corporation itself. What is true is that private and distinct people are behind corporations. It is mostly for the easy use of language that we use the names of different corporations when talking about actions and decisions of the board of directors of a company, just like we do with governments, football teams or NGOs. When a country adheres to, say, an international organization, it is not the detached statist entity which goes beyond its citizens that does so, but those people who are part of the government of that country, which theoretically represents the will of the people. In the same sense, a corporation may not be (only) a person, but persons, for it is an expression of a multitude of people united by a common interest who share their knowledge and capital in order to achieve their goals and make a profit. It is in this respect that we might say that corporations are people. However, corporations pay taxes, borrow money, hire individuals, enter into contracts and sue or are sued just like any other person.
The circumspection of the people should be acknowledged and it has been demonstrated on various occasions. Notwithstanding political considerations, many people have called it a political suicide when in 2011 presidential candidate Mitt Romney replied “Corporations are people, my friend”, when being addressed the issue about the financing of the American medical system (precisely the health insurances), thus angering his audience and hecklers. The Pope himself makes appeal to a humanitarian common sense from the rich and talks about “economic solidarity”. With the belief that “the poor increase around us”, His Holiness proposes a socialization of the top 50 richest people’s wealth and says they could improve the society “through taxes, philanthropic initiatives or both”. Taxing the rich (out of existence) is in general a much-debated issue of our days and certainly has a positive reception from a significant part of the population, as the political scene heated up once with second candidacy of the (democratic) socialist Bernie Sanders for in the primaries of the Democratic Party for the Presidential elections.
The case for corporate personhood goes back to the previous centuries. It has attracted significant attention only since the corporation has expanded beyond its initial meaning – a perpetual organization that outlives its founders and serves a certain role, usually related to municipal administration or trade. It was only when corporations could turn into a “brand” and become extremely moneyed that their authority and availability against the law was questioned: “But it wasn’t until the 1886 case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Rail Road that the Court appeared to grant a corporation the same rights as an individual under the 14th Amendment. The case is remembered less for the decision itself – the state had improperly assessed taxes to the railroad company – than for a headnote added to it by the court reporter at the time, which quoted Chief Justice Morrison Waite as saying: ‘The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which forbids a state to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does’”. As can be observed, this judgment is validated by the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution – no one is allowed to “strip a person of life, freedom and prosperity… equality before the law”.
Charity and philanthropy are to be done quietly and far from the public eye. Those who are gifted enough to build and run such a complex machine as a corporation are often attracted to the possibility of giving something back to the society which made them. The well-known steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie believed that in the last third of their life people should spend their time giving away their money to valuable and noble causes. Once again, not in paying taxes to the government resides the “fair share” to the other people, but in making sure that the millions of households around the world which work hard for and depend on the jobs offered by an employer receive their wages. It is not only in this way that the bright minds behind what now are recognized to be “mega-corporations” have also set an example as devout citizens, witty individuals, multilateral people and symbols of rebirth, innovation and success – and so have the likes of Harlan Sanders, or Henry Ford, or Andrew Carnegie demonstrated to the entire world.
Various arguments have so far been exposed for defending the right of corporate existence. Recent events have made it worth noticing how corporations are subjected to rightful criticism as well, not just to favorable views. Therefore, we could observe how the unfortunate advertisement of the Scandinavian Airlines Company (SAS) has stirred up frustration and anger among people all over the world. “What Is Truly Scandinavian” (Answer: “absolutely nothing… there is no such thing, everything is copied”) is a 2 minutes and 43 seconds video which supposedly wants to demonstrate the fact that cultures have influenced each other since the oldest times by pointing out how nothing that is thought of as specific to the Scandinavian region is of pure Scandinavian origin – the Swedish meatballs are Turkish, democracy is Greek, the idea of parental leave is Swiss, Scandinavian windmills were first designed by the Persians etc. After a few hours, the video was taken down by SAS (thumbed down by 51000 people and up by only 2500), the same video was reposted a little bit later (with an even more significant like-dislike ratio), the comment section disabled, given that the first 100 comments I could read under the first video were condemning the psychological warfare behind the video. Basically, “(we are nothing better) than our Viking ancestors”, as the man of color in the video confirms. Other judgments of this kind have been analyzed in other articles than this one, but what I want to notice is that many people have called for the boycott of the company and promised they would never use its services again. On the same note, Gillette cut by 8 billion dollars losses after their #metoo campaign ad that was denouncing “toxic masculinity”, although there is no clear evidence (only) this ad was the main cause of this reported loss. One may also remember about the “coolest monkey in the jungle” hoodie presented by a black child for the H&M as another disastrous decision taken by a big company. It has been acknowledged how reasons other than condemning “corporate greed” and the related notions might lay behind such attitudes, for it is clear that more and more people are denying and neglecting such ideas and think of big corporations as “sellouts” to political interests that are trying to push their agendas.
In conclusion, the Corporation is not inherently a frightening creature that harms the working people of a nation, as some have said, but acts and behaves very similar to an individual, since the ones behind corporations are individuals themselves, with all of the capacity for accomplishment, but also the frailties inherent in the human condition.
Pruitt S., (2018), “How the 14th Amendment Made Corporations Into ‘People’”, [Online]. Available at: https://www.history.com/news/14th-amendment-corporate-personhood-made-corporations-into-people
Ernst, D., (2019), “Gillette’s ‘toxic masculinity’ ad haunts P&G as shaving giant takes $8B writedown”, [Online]. Available at: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/jul/31/gillettes-toxic-masculinity-ad-haunts-pg-as-shavin/
Father Doyle, K., (2015), “Pope Francis on Corporations”, [Online]. Available at: https://www.thebostonpilot.com/opinion/article.asp?ID=175486