Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On the Bogus and Absurd Idea that "Corporations Are Not People"

The Citizens United case has been coming up in the news again, and I felt I just had to write this:

If a corporation has no right to free speech because it is not a person, then, since it is not a human being, it also cannot hold political opinions. An impersonal entity cannot decide to support a political candidate. It also should not have property rights, and certainly cannot make decisions about how its monies will be spent. And yet somehow, “corporations” do support candidates, do make decisions, do spend money--well, that’s very mysterious--Oh, wait, I get it now--there are people running the corporation! Aha--it’s not the “corporation” that wants to say something about politics--it’s the human beings who control the corporation. Well, that explains a lot. And do the people controlling corporations who want to run political ads have a right to freedom of speech? Damn right they do.

Do progressives really believe that a corporation is a soulless, faceless, inhuman, yet intelligent entity--perhaps a sophisticated computer programmed to maximize profits without regard for human life? I doubt it. I think if progressives really stopped and thought about it, they would realize they’re not trying to limit free speech of non-human entities; they’re trying to censor wealthy businesspersons whom they assume to be conscienceless cut-throats, motivated by greedy self-interest.

The idea that corporations have no right to free speech "because they are not persons” is bogus and absurd. Limiting corporate speech means limiting the speech of the persons who control the corporation.

On the other hand, it is indeed disturbing that people with buckets and buckets of money at their disposal can presumably influence elections in a way that the average citizen cannot. I do think we should be concerned about the influence of big money on elections (and that’s not limited to Fortune 500 companies--unions, police and fire departments, special interests groups, etc. do the same thing).

But the real problem seems to be that we don’t trust the American public to educate themselves enough to make an informed choice when voting--we think of the voters as ignorant sheep, easily swayed by whatever fool thing they see on t.v. If that is true, it is disgraceful and unfortunate, but curtailing other people’s constitutional rights is not a realistic nor a just solution to that problem.

There is no easy or simple fix for this (as mentioned here), but a step in the right direction is to increase or maintain (not decrease) protections for freedom of speech--particularly on the internet, where one can publish for free and creativity can actually speak louder than money. If we are concerned that only some voices (those of the wealthy) are being heard, while others (the voices of the poor) are not, the solution* is not to silence the wealthy, but to give voice to the poor.

Another step forward would be for the average apathetic voter to start taking more civic responsibility (and I really should write another post about that sometime)--also, to fix public education so that people learn how to think ...

*I guess I should say, “the solution that is in accordance with the First Amendment of our Constitution”--since some people don’t seem to mind a solution that violates the First Amendment.

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