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Corporations aren't People

November 3, 2009 – You know, it has only lately occurred to me that Americans aren’t
the greedy ne’er-do-well’s we are sometimes portrayed. It is not American citizens who
are using 25% of the earth’s natural resources. It can’t be – not when we’re told that by
making various changes in our personal lives, only a very small, single-digit percentage change will have been made in the resources we consume. Finally it dawns upon me: it is the corporate citizens of the United States who use and use and use, with utter abandon. I have read reams of information on the subjects of birds, conservation, and climate change, but it has only just sunk in.
Corporations are not people, no matter what the law says. Why in heaven’s name
has no one sued to have their personhood revoked? ( It’s my understanding that the granting of this status was a clerical error, anyway.) Because they provide us with livelihood’s, that’s why. Except, of course, that lately, they don’t. Corporate loyalties seem not to reside any particular place, as Americans have learned to their confused disbelief. Patriotism be damned, and the American people and the environment along with it. Corporations have made it crystal clear: they expect to be allowed to behave in whatever manner they deem profitable.
Shouldn’t the American government sue, on behalf of the American people? We are, as near as I can recall, the government, so it makes perfect sense. Corporations are simply entities, engendered for the purpose of making available to the American people goods and services. At one time it was economical to mass produce, which is why companies became so big. Those economies have long since been supplanted, based upon the thoroughly American belief that the well never runs dry. Whatever it is – water, timber, ore – there will always be enough of it. Just look out the window! Oh, all right, so the trees right outside that window are gone. There are always more to be had!!
Economies of scale have encountered their nemesis, and nobody has bothered to figure out what to do about it. Their nemesis? Too many people having been taught to want too many things by too much advertising. The ensuing haste to meet demand creates waste. Just as communism carried the seeds of its own destruction, so too does capitalism. Communism imagined that people could be taught to worry about the welfare of others as much as they worry about their own welfare. Capitalism imagines that infinite growth is a realistic expectation. While nature can at least offer us isolated instances of the former, it offers us none of the latter.
So our modern way of life is a failed experiment, at least in its current, corporatized form. Perhaps the lawsuit idea is a day late and a dollar short. Businesses will continue to move to offshore tax havens, belch smoke and waste water, and do whatever else they pretend is beneficial until the day arrives when they are physically
unable to engage in those activities any longer. I still think they should be sued. Speaking truth to power can never be a waste of time, even if it changes nothing. I know I breathe a bit more freely when the truth has been both spoken and acknowledged.
(With thanks to E.F. Schumacher, author of Small is Beautiful, for helping me to start thinking along these lines.)


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