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Mitt Romney Is Right: Corporations Are [Made Up Of] People

Mitt Romney caused somewhat of a kerfuffle yesterday when, in response to a heckler at the Iowa State Fair, he made the comment that “Corporations are people too.” As James Joyner noted yesterday, Romney’s argument is essentially correct in the sense that Romney was making the comment; namely that raising taxes on corporations ultimately means you’re raising taxes on people. Nonetheless, Romney’s response was slightly inartful, most likely due to the fact that it was made off-the-cuff, and The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shaprio argues that he should have put it just a little bit differently:

Obviously, Romney is not saying that corporations are living, breathing beings with rights to abortion (or not, or depending on the stage of development of the fetal/baby corporations) and marriage, who are subject to Obamacare’s individual mandate (or even Romneycare’s for Massachusetts corporations), can be put to death if they murder someone, and so forth.  He means that corporate money always comes from, flows through, and ends up in human hands.  It cannot be otherwise: we are the only beings/entities/”things” on the planet that deal in money.  Not even the honey badger does that.

I probably would’ve phrased it differently — Democrats and left-wing activists are already having a field day (for example, mixing Romney’s speech with Barbra Streisand’s singing “People”) — but there’s really nothing wrong with Romney’s point.  Indeed, it’s the tax-policy corollary to the legal point I’ve been making ever since Citizens United came down: corporations don’t have constitutional rights because they’re corporations, but because they’re made up of individuals, who don’t lose their rights when they associate (in corporate form or otherwise).

In a previous blog post, that dealt with the aforementioned Citizens United case, Shaprio made this point:

Corporate participation in public discourse has long been a controversial issue, one that was reignited by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010). Much of the criticism of Citizens United stems from the claim that the Constitution does not protect corporations because they are not “real” people. While it’s true that corporations aren’t human beings, that truism is constitutionally irrelevant because corporations are formed by individuals as a means of exercising their constitutionally protected rights. When individuals pool their resources and speak under the legal fiction of a corporation, they do not lose their rights. It cannot be any other way; in a world where corporations are not entitled to constitutional protections, the police would be free to storm office buildings and seize computers or documents. The mayor of New York City could exercise eminent domain over Rockefeller Center by fiat and without compensation if he decides he’d like to move his office there. Moreover, the government would be able to censor all corporate speech, including that of so-called media corporations. In short, rights-bearing individuals do not forfeit those rights when they associate in groups. This essay will demonstrate why the common argument that corporations lack rights because they aren’t people demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both the nature of corporations and the First Amendment.

Or, in other words, and to expand a bit on what Romney said, Corporations are made up of people. When you talk about doing something to a corporation, you are, in the end, talking about doing something to the individuals who own that corporations because, in the end, a corporation is nothing more than an association of individuals for the purpose of pursuing a business objective. Our law has recognized legal personhood for corporations in a variety of circumstances (Citizens United is not one of them) because of the law’s recognition that the interests of the people who work for the corporation as directors and officers may not necessarily coincide with those of the corporation itself. Thus, the law has created fiduciary duties that these officers and directors owe to the corporation (the shareholders)., provided opportunities for shareholders to challenge the decisions, and requires corporations to retain legal counsel separate and distinct from that representing the interests of officers and directors. The law considers the corporation a de jure person for these purposes in order to protect the interests of the individuals who make up the corporation.

Of course, there are some who recognize the ultimate truth of what Romney and Shapiro have said but don’t think it matters because corporations are made up of the wrong kind of people. Ezra Klein is one of the pundits who seems to think this way:

Romney was also making a more specific argument — if the government taxes corporations, those taxes eventually filter down to specific people. That’s true. But which people?

My response to that question is why does it matter? Of course, to Klein it matters because he goes on to make the case that the corporate income tax primarily impacts “the rich.” Even if that’s true, I’m not entirely sure why that’s relevant unless you happen to a redistributionist, and it is their worship at the altar of the redistribution of wealth by the state that makes it impossible for libertarians such as myself to seriously consider supporting Democrats most of the time. In the end, if you’re talking about a policy that will cause harm to people, it shouldn’t matter that those people are members of the evil “rich.”

I’m not much of Mitt Romney fan, but was absolutely right here and those who would make war on the corporation as if it were some soulless entity they can simply siphon tax dollars from are completely wrong.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Yes, corporations are made up of people.

    Which is why they cannot simply opt out of common morality, decency and patriotism — the things we demand of people.

    And yet, golly, conservatives don’t agree with that, do they?

    No, conservatives want corporations to be people when it serves the narrowest self-interest of corporate officers, and not to be be people if it means accepting responsibility.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 4

  2. Andyman says:

    The corrosive effect of corporate personhood is that a corporation, in many cases, explicitly exists solely (or at least primarily) for the enrichment of its shareholders. So there’s a tension between what sort of behavior we expect out of our neighbors- say, not dumping your trash all over the neighborhood- and the sort of behavior that corporations indulge in all the time- in this example, externalizing your costs into the nearest lake.

    When you call the corporation on it, the people responsible will say, hey, we’ve got a fiduciary duty, blah blah blah, and if you’re not a shareholder then your interests don’t (can’t!) matter to us. And so what corporate personhood does is turn legally convenient tax-paying entities into a race of semi-immortal sociopaths that live among us and let us act out our worst impulses for our to be neighborly.

    The fact that corporations are made up of people but are *not* themselves people is a point lost on a lot of conservatives. Which is why it’s troubling that Romney phrased his answer the way he did. It’s unclear if he understands the distinction or not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  3. The job of a corporation is to make a profit within the bounds of the law. The fiduciary duties that bind officers and directors require them to act in the best interests of the shareholders. What you want is completely incompatible with the American legal system and, in the end, largely unenforceable.

    Who decides if a corporation has acted “morally” or “decently” or patriotically”? It’s all silly collectivist nonsense.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 15

  4. hey norm says:

    Even broken clocks are right twice a day.
    Except the one in my ’72 BMW…it’s set to 4:20…so it”s always right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  5. Andyman says:

    @Doug,

    “The job of a corporation is to make a profit within the bounds of the law.”

    The question for Romney is whether he sees that as the jobs of people too. Yes? Yes, but? Yes, and? Or no?

    I’d like leadership that envisions a moral duty for all of us towards our neighbors- you could imagine a bare minimum of, say, stopping a stranger’s kid from running out into traffic after a ball, and build up a ways from there. It’s clear that Romney and a lot of other people think those moral duties stop when you clock in every morning. But how does he feel about people taking those attitudes home with them afterwards? It’s something a values voter might like to know.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  6. Moosebreath says:

    “Even if that’s true, I’m not entirely sure why that’s relevant unless you happen to a redistributionist, and it is their worship at the altar of the redistribution of wealth by the state that makes it impossible for libertarians such as myself to seriously consider supporting Democrats most of the time. In the end, if you’re talking about a policy that will cause harm to people, it shouldn’t matter that those people are members of the evil “rich.””

    Everybody is a redistributionist, because every time government does anything, it redistributes. Libertarian rhetoric can only be explained by a belief in a fantasy land where government actions in favor of the rich somehow don’t count as redistribution.

    In the real world, police services aid the rich more than the poor, the court system aids the rich more than the poor, roads benefit the rich more than the poor, etc. However, asking the rich to pay in proportion to the benefit they receive and thus more than the poor is redistribution and thus anathema to Doug.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  7. Matt says:

    “roads benefit the rich more than the poor”

    Huh?

    It seems like there would be way more cars on the roads owned by poor people than by the rich.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  8. Moosebreath says:

    Matt,

    “It seems like there would be way more cars on the roads owned by poor people than by the rich”

    On the other hand, without the roads, it would be far more difficult to ship goods, which is necessary to make profits on them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  9. john personna says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Who decides if a corporation has acted “morally” or “decently” or patriotically”? It’s all silly collectivist nonsense.

    Actually that’s a stunted opinion. It ignores the “what goes around comes around” aspect to all this.

    Ask any corporation that pissed off the social conscience of a nation how that worked out for them.

    And [you're welcome] for the framing to this article.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  10. Andyman says:

    @Matt,

    If you make $10,000 a year, you make at most (say) $6000 off the roads. But if you make $1M a year, well…

    It’s easy to show that the rich benefit more from just about any public good than the poor. If the poor were benefiting more, they wouldn’t be poor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  11. sam says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    “Who decides if a corporation has acted “morally” or “decently” or patriotically”? It’s all silly collectivist nonsense”.

    However,

    When you talk about doing something to a corporation, you are, in the end, talking about doing something to the individuals who own that corporations because, in the end, a corporation is nothing more than an association of individuals for the purpose of pursuing a business objective.

    You are not arguing, are you, that in no case can an association of individuals act immorally, indecently, or unpatriotically? Really?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  12. An Interested Party says:

    Who decides if a corporation has acted “morally” or “decently” or patriotically”? It’s all silly collectivist nonsense.

    Using that statement and your own logic about corporations, who decides if people have acted “morally” or “decently” or “patriotically”? Silly collectivist nonsense…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  13. john personna says:

    I actually agree “teh liberals” that “corporations should honor shareholders” is not the same as “corporations must be amoral.” Corporations should be what the shareholders ask, including moral. There is a long history of shareholder activism on moral issues. Sometimes this does tie to a recognition that the market has a moral compass. That frequently leads corporations to at least “act moral.”

    The older among us remember the South Africa cycle of corporate conscience.

    More recently we have Apple and Foxconn trying to appear … not too bad.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Who decides if any person has acted morally? The point is that you cannot be a “person” when it suits you and not whenever it doesn’t suit you.

    The notion that a given class of people — corporate officers — can simply declare themselves outside of the moral system is self-serving nonsense. If they can do it, why can’t any other “person?” Right and wrong transcend self-defined roles. Right and wrong precede corporate charters. Morality precedes even the law, let alone policies invented for the purpose of exempting the selfish and the ruthless from all moral culpability.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 5

  15. john personna says:

    (It is actually “beginner libertarianism” that claims business should be amoral.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  16. hey norm says:

    @ Matt…
    Yes, but there are a whole lot of trucks delivering way more goods at way higher profits for the “rich” people.
    And let me go on record as being uncomfortable with the rich/poor dichotomy. Ideologues like Jan use it like lemon juice on an open wound. Like almost all dichotomies it’s a false dichotomy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  17. PD Shaw says:

    michael reynolds, aren’t you incorporated? Is there something we need to know?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  18. john personna says:

    Nike sweatshops is another good example. They addressed it Doug, because they wanted to sell shoes in a moral world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  19. john personna says:

    @PD Shaw:

    michael reynolds, aren’t you incorporated? Is there something we need to know?

    That would reinforce his position, right? He is arguing for moral [in]corporation, he can be moral [in]corporation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  20. WR says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Oh, goodie. Here we have a lawyer lecturing us that following morality “collectivist nonsense.” Sure, it doesn’t matter if they kill a few hundred people dumping toxic waste in streams, as long as they’re able to give enough money to politicians to make sure no one passes a law against it.

    Maybe it’s time to retake that bar exam, Doug. Or try to remember that before you’re a libertarian you’re a human being.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  21. Steve Verdon says:

    When you talk about doing something to a corporation, you are, in the end, talking about doing something to the individuals who own that corporations because, in the end, a corporation is nothing more than an association of individuals for the purpose of pursuing a business objective.

    And the people who work for the company as well, in many cases. And we aren’t just talking about fat cat executives, but also people who work in the mail room, phone centers, administrative staffing, and so forth…people who are middle income in many cases and in some lower income.

    One of the things to keep in mind is that the economy is interconnected. When one business fails it will have an impact on others. The firms remaining in that market might gain market share, see an increase for their goods and services and might be a little better off. Suppliers on the other hand might see business contract. And when a firm goes out of business the workers become unemployed. Something most people consider a bad thing.

    Libertarian rhetoric can only be explained by a belief in a fantasy land where government actions in favor of the rich somehow don’t count as redistribution.

    Must be nice to make up terms to suit your own agenda. Libertarianism is not having government that favors the rich, that is Corporatism, which is not too inapt for what we have in this country. Bailouts for GM, AIG, and Citibank anyone?

    Michael,

    I don’t think any conservative thinks corporations should engage in immoral behavior. Not even the most hard core libertarian. I think applying morality to a collective of any type is problematic. Is the U.S. moral? Was it moral to invade Iraq? If the answer is no, then what share of the blame do you bear? Does it make you immoral? I think you are making the same type of categorical error that others are saying Romney made here.

    AIP,

    Using that statement and your own logic about corporations, who decides if people have acted “morally” or “decently” or “patriotically”? Silly collectivist nonsense…

    I like the attempt at replacing key words in Doug’s comment but it seems to fail, since you want to take it from the collective level down the individual and then pronounce it collectivist nonsense. A for Effort, but final grade D-.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  22. WR says:

    @Moosebreath: And what Romney was specifically talking about was slashing social services to balance the budget — and refusing to raise taxes on corporations because they’re people, as if those who live on SS and Medicare aren’t. But to him — and apparently to Doug — they aren’t. They’re parasites who want to redistribute wealth.

    Of course, ending social programs that are decades old and giving that money to rich people and corporations in the form of tax breaks isn’t redistribution. It’s only redistribution if the money goes down. When it flows up to the wealthy, that’s the glory of the free market in action.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  23. WR says:

    @An Interested Party: If they’re poor or brown, then we can make moral judgments on them. (See: London riots.) If they’re rich or own corporations, we have no right to pass moral judgments on them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  24. PD Shaw says:

    @WR: why do you think it’s not a crime for a corporation to dump toxic waste in streams? Environmental laws define “people” as including corporations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. john personna says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    Was it moral to invade Iraq? If the answer is no, then what share of the blame do you bear? Does it make you immoral?

    That I argued against it mitigates for me somewhat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  26. Steven Donegal says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    And the people who work for the company as well, in many cases. And we aren’t just talking about fat cat executives, but also people who work in the mail room, phone centers, administrative staffing, and so forth…people who are middle income in many cases and in some lower income.

    Which makes Romney’s statement doubly interesting, since he has spent most of his professional life finding ways to eliminate the jobs of those people in the mail room, call centers, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  27. PD Shaw says:

    I guess I’m not understanding or following this complaint about corporate morality. Our laws protect persons (both natural and artificial), not because people are moral. Should people deserve a fair trial because O.J. Simpson was a scumbag?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Moosebreath says:

    Steve Verdon,

    “Libertarianism is not having government that favors the rich, that is Corporatism, which is not too inapt for what we have in this country.”

    True. However, I said libertarian rhetoric (like that of Doug’s I quoted) assumes such a fantasy. There is a difference.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. john personna says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I think Doug just overstated, and then people reacted. Reading this paragraph critically, it’s hard to see any endorsement of moral behavior:

    The job of a corporation is to make a profit within the bounds of the law. The fiduciary duties that bind officers and directors require them to act in the best interests of the shareholders. What you want is completely incompatible with the American legal system and, in the end, largely unenforceable.

    That whole “incompatible” line doubles down. In fact I think folk like Steve have to be reading very generously to see an endorsement in there that “the best interests of shareholders” can in fact be “compatible” with a moral compass.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. WR says:

    @PD Shaw: Well, the Tea Party Republicans are fighting like crazy to eliminate the EPA because regulations like those against dumping toxic waste into streams hurt business. And there certainly was a time when it wasn’t illegal to dump toxic waste into streams — or do you not remember that river in Ohio bursting into flames a few decades back. So it’s hardly a great stretch to think that if the business-friendly Rs took power, they might well eliminate these laws. Or a corporation could simply lobby to have their waste deemed non-toxic, as the coal companies do with the mountaintop removal waste.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  31. Ernieyeball says:

    @john personna: JP sez: “Actually that’s a stunted opinion. It ignores the “what goes around comes around” aspect to all this.”

    Good grief. Isn’t this one of the most lame ass cliches anyone can come up with? Right there with karma and yin and yang. Please tell me the difference between going around and coming around.
    This is just another reason I refuse to be spiritual…whatever the hell that means!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  32. mattb says:

    @PD

    why do you think it’s not a crime for a corporation to dump toxic waste in streams?

    It’s not so much whether or not something is illegal, but rather — especially in the case of conglomerate corporations — the ways in which corporate law allows corporations to often have things “both” ways when they are caught dumping toxic waste.

    The case of Union Carbide in Bhopal is a classic example of that. The Bhopal disaster was found to be the fault of Carbide India, a separate corporate entity held by Union Carbide. The result was that the main corporation was shielded at least in the US via the finding that Carbide India was a “separate entity, owned, managed and operated exclusively by Indian citizens in India.” At the same time, there is a significant amount of evidence that demonstrated that most major decisions — including the design of the plant that exploded — were made by Union Carbide “proper” versus the Indian Company (which functioned far more like a division than an “arms length” entity.

    I don’t have a problem with Corporations — I spent years working for one. But it’s this sort of legal maneuvering that I find extremely problematic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. Ron Beasley says:

    According to this logic the Army would be a person, the Navy, my local police force and in fact my entire city and state.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  34. Vast Variety says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Apparently Doug the Job of some corporations is to only exist for a few months and donate a million dollars to a candidate so that it’s organizers can hide their identity and then disband before said donation is reported.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  35. michael reynolds says:

    @PD Shaw:
    Yes, I am incorporated. And I hold that my corporation has to act morally, same I have to.

    If anything it shows the absurdity of arguing the opposite. Michael the person has to behave decently toward his fellow man, but Michael the corporation — while enjoying identical rights — is free to behave despicably so long as it is within the law?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  36. john personna says:

    @Ernieyeball:

    Further down you see the Nike example. I actually find it reassuring. It’s nice when shareholders and officers act their moral conscience. But we have this other safety net. That is that they fear their customers will have a higher moral standard, and act accordingly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Michael Richards (the actor, stand-up) was probably incorporated, but that did not protect his brand from popular morality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  38. PD Shaw says:

    @michael reynolds: “If anything it shows the absurdity of arguing the opposite. Michael the person has to behave decently toward his fellow man, but Michael the corporation — while enjoying identical rights — is free to behave despicably so long as it is within the law?”

    Yeah, I’m not following this dichotomy. Michael the human does not have to behave decently. Why would he?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  39. michael reynolds says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    I don’t think any conservative thinks corporations should engage in immoral behavior.

    That’s playing a word game with me, Steve. I didn’t say anyone advocated immoral behavior, I said libertarians and conservatives deny that there exists a positive obligation to act morally — the obligation that lies on all of us. Probably you shouldn’t be handing out grades if you’re going to pull such a transparent ploy.

    I think applying morality to a collective of any type is problematic.

    Yes, it is. So is pretending that a corporation is a person, because it applies all of the rights without many of the responsibilities. That’s my point.

    It is convenient for corporations to claim rights of unlimited expenditures on political speech while at the same time denying moral obligation. They’re holding thereby that they — unlike the rest of us — have no obligation to the truth. They’re licensing themselves to lie so long as no law is broken.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  40. john personna says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Ye Gods. To defend that corporations don’t have to be good (are under no obligation), PD says individuals don’t have to be good (are under in no obligation).

    (I know you don’t like being read critically, but jeez, look at yourself.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. michael reynolds says:

    @PD Shaw:
    Seriously? You deny that morality is a thing related to but different from the law? Are you under the impression that all human behavior is sufficiently governed by law?

    Tell me: what’s the law say about telling a woman she’s fat or telling a child he’s stupid or turning away from a crime victim who needs you to call 911?

    Morality and law overlap, they are not identical, and neither survives in the end without the other. Lacking morality we would need to pass many, many more laws in order to keep society functioning. That doesn’t strike me as a good way to go.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  42. ponce says:

    It’s pointless trying to debate a libertarian.

    really.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  43. PD Shaw says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “You deny that morality is a thing related to but different from the law?”

    It depends on what you believe morality is. I would say that we should discuss and consider morality when we enact laws. But ultimately morality is a code of behavior that exists independently from the law. Complying with a law may or may not be moral. Disobeying a law may or may not be immoral. If you disobey a law, you will be punished or fined.

    I just don’t see how you are required to be moral in a way that a corporation is not.

    I’m too tired to look up the stats to be sure, but I think a majority of Americans believe homosexuality is immoral, but a majority also probably feel it should not be illegal. This is an old distinction that goes back hundreds of years in our common law system; there are some duties we owe to the state and others we owe solely to G*d or Aqua Buddha.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  44. Ernieyeball says:

    @john personna: I should have known better than to pose a reasonable question on this post. “Please tell me the difference between going around and coming around.”
    Maybe Dr. Dolittle can help us understand. http://leadershiptoolbox.gapps3.sg/admin/media_store/2/Shared/push_me_pull_you.jpg

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  45. john personna says:

    @Ernieyeball:

    Or maybe Wiktionary:

    “A person’s actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that person.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  46. PD Shaw says:

    michael, if you mean you are required to be moral because other people might think less of you, then I don’t see that corporations are any different.

    If you tell a woman she’s fat, you may invoke anger and hostility from the woman and her supporters. If a corporation offends women, it may invoke anger and hostility from women and their supporters. If anything corporations tend to operate with bigger audiences with potentially graver implications. I don’t see that they are free to avoid the consequences of social judgments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  47. Steve Verdon says:

    @john personna:

    Does it? Did you do enough to try and stop it? Where do we draw the line. Were you moral?

    What about somebody who honestly thought there was a valid reason, only to learn, “No, there wasn’t” and now feels that the invasion was a huge mistake. Moral? Immoral? What?

    Moosebreath,

    True. However, I said libertarian rhetoric (like that of Doug’s I quoted) assumes such a fantasy. There is a difference.

    Is Doug a Republican/conservative or a libertarian? He keeps getting labelled as both. And I don’t see where Doug has said we should have a government that favors the rich or corporations.

    Steve Donegal,

    Which makes Romney’s statement doubly interesting, since he has spent most of his professional life finding ways to eliminate the jobs of those people in the mail room, call centers, etc.

    Well that is what firms always do. Minimize costs while producing a given level of output. Nothing shocking here really, IMO. If the level of output is the profit maximizing level of output then cost minimization is implicit in profit maximization.

    Michael,

    That’s playing a word game with me, Steve. I didn’t say anyone advocated immoral behavior, I said libertarians and conservatives deny that there exists a positive obligation to act morally — the obligation that lies on all of us. Probably you shouldn’t be handing out grades if you’re going to pull such a transparent ploy.

    You said that libertarians/Republicans hold the view it is okay for corporations and the people working for them to not be bound by morals. I took that to mean it is okay to act in an immoral way–i.e. not abide by moral considerations regarding their actions. Or to put it differently, the problem only arises when people and thus firms act in an immoral way, but it is okay so long as they are doing it for a firm. I don’t think anyone is arguing in favor of this.

    Yes, it is. So is pretending that a corporation is a person….

    Now who is playing word games? I don’t think anyone thinks a corporation is a person, even Mitt Romney. The context here is corporation as a collection of people. But nice try at shifting the context of the debate.

    It is convenient for corporations to claim rights of unlimited expenditures on political speech while at the same time denying moral obligation. They’re holding thereby that they — unlike the rest of us — have no obligation to the truth. They’re licensing themselves to lie so long as no law is broken.

    Name a corporation that has denied any moral obligations? Kind of a weird request since corporations are nothing more than a collection of people that have sought and been granted certain legal status. As such a corporation can’t speak anymore than can a collection of rocks. The people who make the decisions at the corporation can, and so I guess my question would be, has any executive claimed that they can ignore all moral considerations when running their business?

    Yeah, I’m not following this dichotomy. Michael the human does not have to behave decently. Why would he?

    Heh, yeah some people behave despicably. Is ordering people killed despicable? Even if they are bad people? I know bad people, can I go kill them and not face any repercussions? Why can our elected leaders get away with it? So, are they despicable?

    JP,

    I know you don’t like being read critically, but jeez, look at yourself.

    Reading him critically? I’m not sure you are doing that. I see him as pointing out that people face these choices, and some choose to be decent others to be despicable, and sometimes both (at different times). Why is the standard any different for corporations (a collection of people)? If a firm, or more accurately people at a firm, chose to be despicable, then they may face the same consequences as an individual.

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  48. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds: The problem we have here is that large corporations are for the most part run by sociopaths and so we shouldn’t be too surprised when they don’t act morally or even violate the law when they think they can get away with it.

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  49. Ernieyeball says:

    @john personna: “Cliche” gets my vote. “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought” Oxford American Dictionary

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  50. john personna says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    Does it? Did you do enough to try and stop it? Where do we draw the line. Were you moral?

    I chose my words carefully when I only claimed “it mitigates for me somewhat.” I did not hold myself blameless.

    Reading him critically? I’m not sure you are doing that. I see him as pointing out that people face these choices, and some choose to be decent others to be despicable, and sometimes both (at different times). Why is the standard any different for corporations (a collection of people)? If a firm, or more accurately people at a firm, chose to be despicable, then they may face the same consequences as an individual.

    Seems like you are (both) coming around to agree with Michael, that he can be “normative” about both people and corporations.

    What was your objection in the beginning? Just that he was right all along and should not have complained?

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  51. john personna says:

    @Ernieyeball:

    So, are you denying the cliche? Did what goes around not come around for Nike or Foxconn?

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  52. Ernieyeball says:

    @john personna: I guess I gotta’ ask again. What is the difference between going around and coming around? Which comes first coming around or going around? What do “going around” and “coming around” even mean?

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  53. Nikki says:

    What do “going around” and “coming around” even mean?

    It means that the evil you do in the dark, will soon come to light.

    Get it?

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  54. Ernieyeball says:

    @Nikki: You are assuming that I do evil in the dark.

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  55. Ernieyeball says:

    @Nikki: How soon is soon? As in “Jesus is coming soon!”

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  56. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    Name a corporation that has denied any moral obligations?

    Exxon, BP, Union Carbide, Massey Energy, UtahAmerican Energy, Inc, …. do I need to name the slave labor corporations?

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  57. Romney is battling communists- it is sad they they are now tolerated in our society, sad and wrong since their ideology has murdered millions more than capitalism ever did.

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  58. ponce says:

    The Communists own some of the biggest, most profitable corporations in the world, con teach.

    http://english.sinopec.com/

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  59. anjin-san says:

    The job of a corporation is to make a profit within the bounds of the law.

    You hear this right wing bromide a lot. Exactly what burning bush was this passed down from?

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  60. Moosebreath says:

    Steve Verdon,

    “Is Doug a Republican/conservative or a libertarian? He keeps getting labelled as both.”

    He identifies himself in the language I originally quoted, as well as many other places, as a libertarian, and gets huffy when people call the Republicans his party (in spite of the fact that he has said he would never vote for a Democrat and regularly votes for Republicans).

    “And I don’t see where Doug has said we should have a government that favors the rich or corporations.”

    Read the language I originally quoted again. It makes clear that people proposing legislation which harms the rich is objectionable to him in a way that people proposing legislation which harms the poor is not.

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  61. jan says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    One of the things to keep in mind is that the economy is interconnected. When one business fails it will have an impact on others. The firms remaining in that market might gain market share, see an increase for their goods and services and might be a little better off. Suppliers on the other hand might see business contract. And when a firm goes out of business the workers become unemployed. Something most people consider a bad thing.

    …but, this kind of collateral damage is not taken under consideration by these progressive ‘thinkers(?)’ The premise is dogmatically always the same —> take out the ‘rich’ people. It’s really akin, though, to cutting off one’s nose to spite their face.Once the ‘nose’ is gone then the same people will raise their voices even louder demanding, ‘Where are the jobs?’ or ‘Why is business just sitting on their investments and not putting money back into the market place?’

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  62. PGlenn says:

    Doug Maconis: it’s refreshing to see such even-handed analysis on this “moderate” (supposedly non-lefist) blogsite – credit where credit is due.

    Michael Reynolds: like Doug mentioned, Romney did not literally mean that corporations = people in legal, metaphysical senses. He meant that corporations are made up of people, which is relevant not just to who pays what taxes: e.g., the people of corporations include many lower and mid-tier employees, subcontractors, etc., who are affected by changes in coporate tax policies.

    Only Gordon Gekko, hard-line Randians (who have their own moral code, I think), and old school social darwinists (if any are still around) believe that corporations can “simply opt out of common morality, decency and patriotism.” No, it’s that most conservatives, right-libertarians, and classical liberals have different conceptions than you and other leftists do concerning how PEOPLE AND/OR CORPORATIONS ought to interpret morals & responsibilities and the proper role of government in imposing them. Many of us happen to believe that leftist people and/or left-aligned organizations (including left-friendly corporations) tend to opt out of common morality, decency, and patriotism. Touche.

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  63. An Interested Party says:

    A for Effort, but final grade D-.

    Thanks for the grades, professor, but if corporations are nothing more than people, how can they not be judged the same way as people are…

    The people who make the decisions at the corporation can, and so I guess my question would be, has any executive claimed that they can ignore all moral considerations when running their business?

    What about the moral consideration when executives ship jobs overseas and lay of employees here for no other reason than to maximize shareholder value…

    Romney is battling communists- it is sad they they are now tolerated in our society, sad and wrong since their ideology has murdered millions more than capitalism ever did.

    Oh my, the Cold War is long over and some people are still playing the Red Scare…

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  64. An Interested Party says:

    Many of us happen to believe that leftist people and/or left-aligned organizations (including left-friendly corporations) tend to opt out of common morality, decency, and patriotism.

    How so?

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  65. michael reynolds says:

    The Supremes no less said that corporations are persons, entitled, for example to endless expenditures in the guise of free speech.

    Simple question then for those defending the corps: is it okay for a company to do the profitable thing and move a factory to India throwing a group of Americans out of work?

    Do we have a right to view that as immoral? How about unpatriotic?

    How about a company that releases a dangerous drug despite having complied with all the regulations?

    How about a company that knowingly lies in political advertising in hopes of electing a candidate they expect will pursue policies likely to increase the corps profitability?

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  66. Ben Wolf says:

    The Supremes no less said that corporations are persons, entitled, for example to endless expenditures in the guise of free speech.

    This is 180 degrees out of phase with what corporations were when the country was founded. In the 18th Century and before:

    1) Corporate activity was restricted to its original charter.

    2) Corporations were dissolved after a set number of years, also included in the charter.

    3) Corporations were strictly banned from involvement in politics. That includes speech, lobbying or donating.

    4) The corporation’s charter could be revoked at any time by the relevant legislature.

    Doug talks about what “the law” does and does not require corporations to do, but laws can obviously change. Our friendly neighborhood conservatives and right libertarians would therefore hwve no problem with rolling back corporate law to its original state, right?

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  67. WR says:

    @jan: Actually, Jan, we’re already saying “where are the jobs?” Because rich corporations are sitting on their cash, with no interest in investing in America. So let’s tax them and at least get the country out of debt.

    Honestly, you can suck up to them all you want. They don’t care, and they ain’t sharing with you. So you might as well look out for your own interests and the country’s.

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  68. WR says:

    @PGlenn: How do you know what Romney “meant”? Do you read minds? Did he tell you afterwards? Or are you just repeating his spin?

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  69. Ben Wolf says:

    @WR: I think Romney meant exactly what he said. Corporations are literally people. Is it really surprising the man is a dumbass?

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  70. PGlenn says:

    WR: in the course of extemporaneous discussions, speakers frequently use shorthand and/or colloguial phrases, which require us to interpolate the underlying, logical meaning of their statements. Romney saying, in shorthand, “corporations are people” is on par with a 1960s antiwar protester saying, “Give peace a chance.” Peace is an abstract concept; one cannot “give” to anything. But we understand what the speaker is really getting at; or at least we try to, if we’re being intellectually open and honest.

    If anything, the folks playing “gotcha” on this are the ones who are asking us to do mental gymnastics. Why would Romney literally argue that a legal arrangement (paper) = people (flesh and blood)?

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  71. Raoul says:

    By definition corporations are fictitious entities. We can pass all kinds of laws to make them as malleable as we want. The point of corporations is to create a system where individuals take chances in investment knowing their losses are limited. The government creates all kinds of fictitious entities to allow the flow of capital. Of course there are individuals behind these entities but they function in a limited manner as proscribed by law. One of the troubling aspects of Citizens United is that certain entities can now can spend money above the line in tax returns- meaning individuals are subsidizing corporate “speech.” The decision made corporate involvement in campaigns cheaper and therefore stronger than individuals.

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  72. Ben Wolf says:

    @Raoul: The problem with the government sponsord entity kniwn as the corporation is that its purpose is to shield owners from their consequences. It is a means of acquiring personal wealth without personal responsibility. That is why governments in the past authorized them only for very high-stakes investments, like colonizing the New World; there was no other way to get the private sector to foot the bill.

    Corporations do not belong in the mix for every day business, that’s all there is to it.

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  73. WR says:

    @PGlenn: But to make this leap, one makes certain assumptions about the speaker. From Romney’s past behavior I see no reason to make the generous assumption that he didn’t mean exactly what he said. He has always prized corporations over people and profits over both. If another Republican had said the same thing, I might be tempted to go along with you. Here I think you are simply wrong.

    As for your other example, that’s ludicrous. When protestors chanted “give peace a chance,” they were saying that peace deserved to be given a gift. “Give a chance to” is a colloquial expression with a precise meaning. In this case it means “Let us take a chance on peace.” It is true that a non-native speaker of the language might find this confusing, but no one else.

    And finally you ask why Romney would say we should treat corporations exactly the same as we do people. I would ask why the Supreme Court says the same thing. Except, of course, for excusing them from responsibility for their actions.

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  74. PGlenn says:

    WR: maybe “give peace a chance” was not a good example and I didn’t help things with my late night (mis)wording. I meant to write, “Peace is an abstract concept; one cannot ‘give’ to [it] anything.”

    More precisely: “corporations are people” and “give peace a chance” are both shorthand phrases that anthromorphize abstract and/or legal contructs – in one case incorporation; in the other case peace. People cannot literally “give peace a chance” because peace is not a thing that can be given a chance or anything else for that matter. The interpolated meaning is, basically: let us give ourselves a chance for peace; or, better yet, let us strive harder to live in peace with our neighbors and all other peoples of the world.

    Literally speaking “give peace a chance,” is nonsensical, but we allow such phrases a certain amount of colloquial and/or poetic license, and our language and discourses are richer for it.

    I have no argument with you perceiving/believing that Romney has “prized corporations over people and profits over both,” based on your reading of his record. That’s your prerogative. Yet, because you are conceding that you might interpret the phrase “corporations are people” differently (maybe not so literally) if it had been voiced by another Republican (or non-Republican), you also conceding: 1). That your views on Romney being a “corporations over people” person were in place before he made the comment and thus the phrasing was irrelevant to you in making determinations about Romney except as a pretext for attacking him; and 2). That the phrase is not to be taken literally unless the literal interpretation confirms what you already believe and hence YOU, TOO are interpreting what he meant, which is ironic since you accused me of doing the same from the opposite direction.

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  75. WR says:

    @PGlenn: We’re probably getting deep into the weeds here, but your description of how the phrase “give peace a chance” works is simply wrong. First of all, in this context “peace” is not an abstract concept. It has a concrete meaning — the end of a very unpopular war. Beyond that, in this construction no one is actually suggesting that peace be given anything. “Give blank a chance” is a colloquial expression that means “let us pause from trying alternative solutions to the problem at hand until we take sufficient time to see if blank will work.” As in: “Don’t take the codeine; give the aspirin a chance to work.” No one here is suggesting that we give anything to the aspirin.

    In that context it’s simply ludicrous to say that “give peace a chance” is nonsensical if taken literally — you merely have to complete the sentence to see that: “This war is not doing anything to make the world a better place; give peace a chance.” If it makes you feel better to insist that everyone making this point say “let us all cease from hostillities until such time as we see if this will accomplish what war will not,” that’s certainly your prerogative. Don’t expect to get a job writing bumper stickers anytime in the near future, though.

    But on to the topic at hand… You say that both “give peace a chance” and “corporations are people” are shorthand phrases that anthropomorphize abstract concepts. I understand — and disagree with — your point about the first phrase. But the two are not comparable at all. Because the Supreme Court has ruled that legally speaking corporations are indeed people. And so there is a literal, concrete meaning to Romney’s phrase, and that is that corporations are literally people, and thus should not be taxed.

    You are certainly free to argue that Romney was not taking the position that because legally corporations are people we must treat them as people in every instance, and that he meant it in the way you say he did. But there is no evidence to support that aside from your belief in the man’s intentions.

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  76. An Interested Party says:

    The decision made corporate involvement in campaigns cheaper and therefore stronger than individuals.

    Bingo…I’m sure some people consider that a feature and not a bug…

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  77. Eric Florack says:

    Ask any corporation that pissed off the social conscience of a nation how that worked out for them.

    But let’s complete the picture, shall we? Ask them why so many jobs are going overseas. You’ll find, of course, that we here in the United States have the highest corporate taxation rate in the world, bar none.

    At what point do the people imposing such tax take responsibility, do you suppose? After all, aren’t legislators people, too?

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  78. Eric Florack says:

    In that context it’s simply ludicrous to say that “give peace a chance” is nonsensical if taken literally — you merely have to complete the sentence to see that: “This war is not doing anything to make the world a better place; give peace a chance.”

    But again we come down to what peace is, and is not. It’s time to face reality on this point:
    Peace, real, lasting peace, is not a product of disavowing war, or thinking peaceful thoughts.
    Nor is it the product of negotiated settlements.
    Peace is the product of winning the war brought against you, with sufficient force to prevent any ideas of trying it again.
    Examples:
    World war II was the direct result of the negotiated settlement imposed following WWI.
    The current Korean troubles are the product of negotiating away our efforts in the original Korean War.
    Consider, on the other hand our victories over Japan and Germany and how decisive they were , and how good and peaceful an ally each has been following that victory.

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  79. An Interested Party says:

    But let’s complete the picture, shall we? Ask them why so many jobs are going overseas. You’ll find, of course, that we here in the United States have the highest corporate taxation rate in the world, bar none.

    That is based on the assumption that all those jobs have left simply because of the corporate tax rate…considering that the corporate tax rate has fluctuated and been at higher levels at various times in the past, your assumption is incorrect…

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  80. Rob in CT says:

    Jobs went overseas because cost of production + shipping costs < cost of production here.

    There are a variety of reasons for that, and corporate taxation is probably a factor, though I'd imagine it's a minor factor. There are billions of people who will work for a tiny fraction of what a US workers can. Add to that the fact that a developing nation will be a lot less likely to take issue with a company dumping toxic waste or treating its employees like crap. If/when the society gets richer and the workers want more (money, enviromental protection, workplace safety, whatever), well, it's time to pick up and go someplace else.

    If shipping costs rise enough, or if enough workers overseas get uppity, it might change things. But right now, for a lot of industries, it just makes too much sense to have the factory in a poor country.

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