Corporate free speech? Huh?
Amid all the talk of a “do not call” list, little thought is being given to sexually inadequate balding people in need of a mortgage but not quite aware of it yet. Not to mention wannabe coin collectors who may just be itching for “famous canaries of 19th century coal pits (“tweety,” “snooks” and more!) in a blue velvet case. Their future happiness is threatened.
If corporate freedom of speech can be kicked off our phone lines, how long before spam and junk mail are removed from our computers and mailboxes? Whoopee!
I’ve never understood why a corporation is treated like a person in the first place with all the assorted constitutional rights. There are some pretty obvious differences. People die, need a healthy environment, can go to jail, have internal morals and a conscience (the fear of going to jail?). Corporations suffer few of these limitations. They live forever, individual morals get lost in the anonymity of a huge organization whose behavior responds only to regulations and market forces, not counting the mission statement, of course.
Corporate boosters also act ambiguously at times. In some of these recent scandals, executives often treated the corporate bank account as an extension of their own, unable to see the corporation as a distinct entity – “it’s my company!”
Next, all this yipeing about double taxation on dividends. Either the corporation is separate from the shareholders or it’s not. It pays taxes on its earnings (profits), and the shareholder pays taxes on his earnings (dividends). Shareholders have no responsibility for the misdeeds (fraud-pollution, etc.) of the corporation they own; no one can ask them for their dividends back to cover the company’s mistakes.
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If you’re going to eliminate a tax, it would make more sense to eliminate the corporate tax rather than the dividend, then companies could keep their offices here and avoid all those accounting schemes. Taxing Social Security deductions is a true double tax that affects many more Americans than dividend taxation. The tax “task force” who coincidentally own a lot of shares preferred to focus on the dividend tax.
The founders of the United States viewed corporations as a threat to democracy. They’d seen enough of the British trading companies’ power and arrogance (the Boston Tea Party celebrates an attack on the East India Co.) to want strict state charters. One provision explicitly prohibits lobbying or political campaigning.
Jefferson saw them as “artificial aristocracies” and wanted an amendment written into the Constitution limiting their power.
Industrialization and Civil War contracts gave corporations more profits and power. Abraham Lincoln, shocked by war profiteers, wrote: “As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety than ever before, even in the midst of war.”
The era of the Robber Barons followed and in 1886, corporations claimed a court case gave them the same rights as people. In the book “Unequal Protection,” by Thom Hartman, this is exposed as not a judgment (the judge took care to avoid the constitutional issue of personhood) but the headnote of a court reporter’s incorrect summarizing of the case.
As persons, they can give millions to lobby for favorable laws and buy elections. The candidate with the most money usually wins – so much for democracy. The 4th Amendment provides protection from surprise inspections by officials wishing to inspect factories or books, and some are using free speech to argue for the right to call you at home, among other things.
When a human rights advocate sued Nike over false claims regarding sweat shops and labor practices, Nike denied it but claimed that even if they did lie it didn’t matter since free speech allows falsehoods. This has been settled out of court, a shame as it looked to set a precedent on corporate free speech.
If people’s right to privacy is more important than telesales free speech, I’m hoping the Internet and post office will follow. Then amid all the joy of eating an undisturbed and hot meal or going away for a week and returning to find your mailboxes still empty, spare a thought for the telesales staff, spam makers, junk printers and manufactures of rubbish. What will they do?
Several unemployed actor friends regularly descended to the telesales lifeline. A few got sucked in to a telesales cult and disappeared, at least from my life.
I have less sympathy for the manufacturers who use this sales force but somewhere a conveyer belt of plates (8-inch with gilt) commemorating Civil War footwear in Christmas colors will sputter to a halt as we block off a small avenue of consumerism.
Of course, an exotic animal may live in its forest for a few more days as our appetite for the resources it calls home suffers a hiccup or two. Regulation of the free market again.
Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes weekly for the Daily.