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Dylan Brody

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When Does Corporate Personhood Begin and Other Questions

Posted: 06/27/2012 5:43 pm

This week the Supreme Court said that Montana cannot limit the power of corporations to act as if they were people. And by "act as if they were people," I mean throw their weight around for their own benefit.

A friend of mine is a Republican and when I mentioned that I thought the idea that corporations are people was absurd, he said that corporations are made up of people and should therefore be treated as people. I wouldn't have a problem with that if -- you know -- it made any sense at all. A lot of things are made up of people. Chess clubs are made up of people. The Ku Klux Klan is made up of people. Soylent Green is people. It's people! I don't think anyone is arguing that the Society for Creative Anachronism should have a say in the workings of our national government just because it is made up of people.

If corporations are people, all groups of people should be treated as people, and yet the same judiciary and legislative organizations that wish to give personhood to corporations are perfectly willing to disenfranchise groups that are less likely be valuable allies in elections. Forgive me for seeking consistency in our definitions. But wait. If corporations have personhood, does that personhood begin at the moment that a corporation is conceived? Can the abortion of a business plan that seems unprofitable be seen as murder or does it not become murder until the corporation is fully funded? Wouldn't personhood of corporations make Bain Capital a serial murderer and, as such, subject to incarceration? Or are corporate people subject to different laws from corporeal people?

Ultimately, the question of personhood is a clever misdirection when it comes to Citizens United. The real point of the ruling is that money equals speech. The unspoken but dangerous corollary to this idea is this: Poverty is silence. Corporations are very, very wealthy. They have great resources at their command and therefore they can buy a place at the table. Individuals who do not have deep coffers should shut up and mind their own business, which, obviously, they don't do very well or they would have bigger businesses to mind and therefore be prepared to buy a voice. Who would have thought the trick to free speech would be the ability to afford it?

Maybe I don't understand what free means.

 
 
 

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