January 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
Corporations have constraints. Supposedly, those constraints would limit most abuses such as low wages, environmental disasters, monopolistic Muhhahahaaa!-I’m-conquering-the-world plots, and such expressions of self interest at the expense of others and contexts. There are exceptions, but overall it works.
The recent information released through Wikileaks and other such sites, seem to indicate these exceptions are the general case.
Since the mid-19th century, “corporate personhood” (“artificial entities”) has become increasingly controversial in the US, as courts have extended other rights to corporations beyond those necessary to ensure their liability for debts.
Some little further research reveals “legal personality” is a part of legal fiction and controversy all over the world.
Classify and assign
In an increasingly globalising world I think the whole idea of legal fiction would be to classify an entity and assign “universal” rights:
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
There is no mention of “artificial entities” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And there is no universal declaration for artificial entities. The rights of artificial entities are all arranged in amendments and dealt with individually per country.
There are limitations to the legal recognition of legal persons. Legal entities cannot marry, they usually cannot vote or hold public office, and in most jurisdictions there are certain positions which they cannot occupy. The extent to which a legal entity can commit a crime varies from country to country. Certain countries prohibit a legal entity from holding human rights; other countries permit artificial persons to enjoy certain protections from the state that are traditionally described as human rights.
Legal entities don’t have the vote, meaning natural persons should have more power in a real democracy. And even if they would have a vote, by there being more natural persons than artificial entities, natural persons would still have more power. Unless, of course, corporations could influence the power balance in other ways.
Other ways of influencing are hand-in-glove partnerships with governments. Corporations gain political clout for self-interest, and governments can solidify power over its own people and wage war on others. Police and military power often side with governmental power, if only because that is the hand that feeds the military machine. And in some cases, like how Shell operates in Nigeria, police and military power ends up in the service of the economic powers of industry.
The cable dated Oct. 20, 2009, quotes Shell’s Ann Pickard. Pickard allegedly said that the Nigerian government “had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries.” ~ Wikileaks: Shell Infiltrates Nigerian Ministries
And that in a country where, despite billions of dollars in oil revenue, 70% of people live below the poverty line. That gives to think!
Allowing legal entities to contribute monies to campaigning and political positioning changes the balance of power, giving more (and more) power to large corporates with lots of resources. An “advantage” that allows an entity to get stuck in a self-gratification cycle making civilians powerless to do something about it while it is gobbling up all resources, I’d label a CODE RED loop.
Reinforcing loops are one of the simplest structures and seldom ever occur in isolation from additional influences. Nothing grows forever so there are extensions of this systems thinking structure that might be recognised. Some extensions of the reinforcing structure can be found in Limits to Growth, Success to the Successful, and Accidental Adversaries.
“According to a new report by our friends at Public Citizen, spending by outside groups during the 2010 midterm elections in the United States jumped to $294.2 million, up from just $68.9 million in the 2006 cycle. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone spent $31.2 million to influence election outcomes. ~ I know you are but who am I?“
If someone works for a non-profit or for government, or is a single mom or dad, he or she doesn’t have a whole lot to give away in terms of monies. Time, thought, and energy are already given, (partly) without reward and recognition. There is simply no room left for contributing monies to socially progressive entities or advocating political goals.
There are some more possible complicating factors to take into account when one chooses to work for socially progressive organisations. In some cases someone takes on a “representative job” to gain political clout to be converted to monetary gain in their “professional job”.
Maybe a recent case emerged in Colorado, where a Sate Secretary claims to not be able to live off the salary in that role, and “moonlighting” as a result, or so he claims. Or the Dutch first chamber that was in the news recently with its members having up to 18 positions with “third parties”, and stalling a proposal to limit the amount of third party positions to 5.
I have no proof these cases are intentional, but shadows of doubt are definitely cast by “conflicts of interest” at the heart of “democracy”. Elections must be “impeccable”, and first chamber members “incorruptable”, for a democratic government to be trusted by its natural constituents.
Distinct and incompatible world views
“Liberal” politicians want to spend collective money, not their own. They want a structured solution to make contributions to “society” a matter of the commons. Efficiently. We all pay for it through taxes. And taxes are a way of making the system more “fair” by a balancing act.
We are all in this together, so let’s all pitch in and help make the system become more balanced and efficient.
Meanwhile, “conservative” politicians want to turn contributions to society into a private, individual matter. They do not want the “group mind” to pick where it goes, but want to pick for themselves who or what they support, and want to pay less taxes.
Your liberty ends where mine begins. I won’t tell you how to spend your money, and you leave my money alone.
In its extremes the first can lead to “Everyone must give up everything as a sacrifice to the “greater good”” and the latter to “I can do whatever I want, regardless of how it affects others or environments”.
Marriage Made in Hell
This Accidental Adversaries instantiation, named the Marriage Made in Hell, consists of two groups, Corporations (sales) and Government (service), which working together have tremendous potential, but not unlimited. Growth is Limited. And if operating from their own myopic unenlightened self-perspective, over time they defeat each other’s, and eventually their own, success.
Thank goodness artificial entities are not allowed to get married, not even with governments naively inviting them in by saying “we’re all in it together” and by “bailing them out”, to the detriment of civilians.
- Corporations and governments need to determine whether it is really better to be partners in creating a future or competitors, and do one or the other, not both. At present corporations and governments are neither as they undermine each others success to promote their own. Sounds like enemies to me.
- Alternatively, we could alter the structure in such a way that government activity toward corporations and corporative activity toward governments didn’t promote the individual success of governments and corporations. Usually this strategy requires a higher authority to have the notion even investigated, but likely neither God nor Universal Declarations of Human Rights will be accepted by both parties to play that part.
- Graham Oakes proposes some sort of matching funds to level the playing field a little for the natural humans:
“Give as much as you like to any political campaign, so long as you’re open about it and put an equal amount into this ‘citizens fund’. Then individual citizens and community groups can bid for money from this fund to support advocacy for positions they care about.”
For solutions like Graham’s to work we “civilians” need the necessary information from all entities involved, and to question all “words” used. Reality depends on who believes a “word”, while truth doesn’t care who believes it.
The transition from feudalism to capitalism involved a struggle to impose value relations, but after the transition, value appears to have been seen (and used) by many as a stable form of social relations and domination, and as part of the laws which determine the reproduction of society.
And things or established facts like commodities, value, monies, natural and artificial beings, governmental entities, law, regulations, amendments, you name it, can also be perceived as “ecological/evolutionary processes”.
The forms come to life and the boxes can be opened. Go on opening the next boxes, and the next, until you meet natural beings. The content that appears is struggle. Raging, bloody battlefields. Entities are always constituting and constituted by relations with others.
- Shell reveals Nigeria’s secrets to US – Wikileaks (vanguardngr.com)
- What’s in a word: Does ‘personal privacy’ extend to corporations? (cnn.com)
- Joseph Stiglitz Interview Transcript, Oct. 20, 2010 (dailyfinance.com)
- Shell Refuses To Pay For Nigeria Oil Spill Pollution (huffingtonpost.com)
- Parental rights are not inalianable (endhereditaryreligion.com)
- EU freezes Ivory Coast port and bank assets (reuters.com)