Corporations are not people

Corporations are not people, yet as “juristic persons” they enjoy many of the same protections that our government “of the people, by the people, for the people” grants to people. At the same time, they suffer fewer of the penalties. How do you incarcerate a transgressing corporation? Why are people subject to capital punishment and corporations aren’t?

It’s hard to pick the greatest threat to the American idea right now, but the lopsided power of amoral corporations is certainly on the short list. They profiteer from war, they mute our public discourse, they produce unhealthful things in unhealthful ways and then use corporate Jedi mind tricks to get us to buy them.

People have a time horizon of a generation or two: they want to leave a better world to their children and grandchildren and are willing to sacrifice in the short term to make sure of it. But even conscientious corporations are required to focus only on the next few fiscal quarters. Taking a longer view — not maximizing profits right now — risks a shareholder lawsuit.

On the other hand, there has never been a greater engine of prosperity in human history than the modern corporation. It’s easy to demonize corporations for the evils they cause — but it wouldn’t be so easy without the comforts they also provide.

Here is why John Edwards is my choice for president: he alone is dedicated to standing up to the power of big corporations. He alone has the paper trail to prove it’s not just campaign bluster. He alone has announced a plan to make corporations play fair. Yet he’s a corporate player himself — not a frothing, dogmatic anti-capitalist — who understands their underlying value.