No, Mitt Romney, they're not really. They're completely unlike people in almost every way. They may, however, involve people, real people, at some stage in the process. But this doesn't mean the corporation simply is the people who work there. That would be, er, communism or socialism. In a recent add, Romney says:
At just over the halfway mark, Romney declares: "Businesses are comprised of people. I'm talking about repair shops, and gas stations, and beauty salons, and restaurants. I'm talking about Apple computer, and Facebook, and Microsoft. I'm talking about businesses that employ people. It's really astonishing to me that the Obama folks would try and argue that businesses aren't people. What do they think they are? Little men from Mars? But when they tax business, they tax people."
Well, this is different from "corporations are people." But it's still equally wrong. It's wrong now because repair shops and gas stations really don't belong in the same category as Microsoft, etc.. More to the point, the problem with this new formulation is positively Clintonian–it depends on what the meaning of "is" is. Corporations involve people; sometimes lots of people, transnationally. But they are certainly not identical with them in the narrow sense of identity Romney seems to suggest. Anyway.
On this same point, here is an epic Iron Man (by a liberal commentator, of course–it's a disease they have) of Romney's argument:
Matthew Zeitlin has a nice New Republic post on the Romney “corporations are people” clip and the very real “hack gap” between Democratic and Republican parties.
The title of my own comment on this imbroglio, Separating the wheat from the gaffe, telegraphs my view. What Romney said is obviously true, and everyone who thinks seriously about economic policy understands it. Taxes on corporations fall on the owners of corporations and on other stakeholders. On the specifics, this particular attack on Romney is devoid of substance.
So the taxes fall on their "owners" (who sometimes aren't even actual people), but this doesn't mean corporations are people too. It means, at some level, they involve people. No one denies that. They object to the way they involve those people.
4 thoughts on “Corporations are people”
I suspect that, having made the initial statement, Romney was in an uncomfortable position: He could either take the approach you find unsatisfactory, trying to explain "what I really meant" as being that corporations are comprised of people, or he could state what I expect that he actually believes: that corporations are fictitious persons for legal purposes and that he supports the expansive interpretation of corporate personhood described in cases like Citizens United vs. FEC., with corporations being entitled to virtually all of the rights of living, breathing individuals (short of literally casting a ballot for a political candidate), but without a similar level of individual responsibility.
The notion that corporations are people is not a fallacy, even though it seems ludicrous to even think that way.
In the book Globalization and America (ISBN-13: 978-0-7425-6075-8) on page 222, the author identifies that very thing:
“Whose rights does the U.S. Constitution protect? In an 1886 case, Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad, Chief Justice Waite asserted in an oral argument that ‘the court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to those of corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.’ And what is the precedent for this? In an earlier case that same year, Southern Pacific Railroad (118 U.S. 294), a court stenographer had made an error in transcription, giving Southern Pacific the rights of a person: immunity from state authority. When the error was discovered by a newspaper reporter, it was flashed to many newspapers via telegraph. Whatever their reason, the justices did not revoke the error and embraced it as their own.” (Endnote 5)
Endnote 5 (page 229)
“The 1886 case of Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railway became the key precedent for subsequent decisions. With that, corporations became legal persons in the United States and gained the ability to challenge regulatory actions. In 1893, corporations won a major victory in the case of Nohle v. Union River Logging, which gave them Fifth Amendment due process rights against the federal government as well as state governments. The Fourth Amendment right against search and seizure has been used by corporations from having to open up their books. Fourth Amendment protections require inspectors from [OSHA] to produce a warrant in advance of an inspection, giving companies an opportunity to whisk irregularities out of sight. Many First Amendment free speech protections apply to corporations. See Reclaim Democracy (http://www.reclaimdemocracy.org).”
Addendum to previous post:
Hattery, Angela, David G. Embrick, and Earl Smith. "Part 4: Introduction to the Intersection between Global and Local Human Rights." Globalization and America: Race, Human Rights, and Inequality. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. 219-230. Print.
Advancing the notion that corporations are people in the living, breathing sense is quite obviously fallacious.
Advancing the legal fiction of corporate personhood, necessary to give corporations standing to litigate in court, pay taxes, enter contracts, buy, hold and sell real estate, be held responsible for torts and crimes, etc., is not fallacious. But it doesn't make them actual people.
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