The Corporate Person
We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.
The financial and political power of corporations exploded over these years and they were able to establish a world with rules that suited them. They became supranational, outgrowing any strictures of the nations they grew from. They started to become wholly new entities in human history, that sovereign governments must bow to and accommodate, and progressively shift wealth and power from the people to corporate persons.
This is a really useful site, Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy
We’ve actually only recently comprehended what a corporation actually is. And talking about it with others about it now, we find others are also astonished to discover quite what incorporation actually means. It's just always been there, we haven't thought about it before at all.
Corporation is from the Latin corpus meaning a body; a corporation is an independent body, a person.
Corporations actually are a legal personality, with human rights. The corporate personality is solely responsible for what it does, and the people behind the corporate veil who control its actions bear no responsibility for its actions.
The corporate person can set up subsidiaries, who have their own legal identity and rights, and who are entirely responsible for their actions and no responsibility at all is borne by the parent corporation. In fact, increasingly, it can be impossible to know if there’s even any connection at all between a corporate person and its subsidiary corporate persons.
It seems absurd to rail against something that’s been established for 300 years, but incorporation, corporate personhood, is surely an absurd notion. Surely, a legislator who was serving the public interest wouldn’t knowingly conceive this idea. So, it was no surprise that its origins lie in fraud.
Imagine being a person and having the properties that corporate personhood bestows. If you want to go and dump your rubbish in someone’s garden, you can suddenly begat another corporate person and send him to go and do it. If there’s an outcry, it’s nothing to do with you at all, nobody would know that this other person was anything to do with you. You can close this subsidiary down so the corporate person who did this doesn’t exist anymore. What if natural people could act like corporate persons and take on multiple anonymous personalities on a whim? There would be chaos. And, of course, there is chaos in the world.
Staneb find it a bizarre idea that there can be corporate personhood, that an entity can have human rights, but with very few of the responsibilities and with powers of invisibility not available to human persons.
How did this come to be accepted? How was this crazy idea come let loose on the world? One more mad design from the Pandora’s box of bad civilizational ideas that the world has been plagued with.
It’s in late medieval England that we find the ancestor of the corporate person. Going back a long way now, to the 16th century, the concept of incorporation in England was solely for things like charities and hospitals, schools and churches, non-profit organisations which essentially worked for public benefit. There are clear advantages in being a corporation over other forms of business, so this served to protect not-for-profits and simplify their existence, this being clearly to the public’s benefit all round.
The companies conducting business for profit at this time were partnerships, with each partner bearing risk and responsibility. In those days, the state, crown, could liquidate a company if it was not acting in the public’s benefit. Things are quite different now, more in the way of companies being able to terminate a government if it’s not acting in the corporate persons’ benefit.
British imperial power was expanding around the globe, and corporation was granted to various trade associations to facilitate the opening trade opportunities. These were, legally, not-for-profit organisations, but were sneakily making huge profits in the global trade/plunder to be had.
It’s telling that, as William Dalrymple points out, one of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the word loot.
This was the flag of the Honourable East India Company, out of Deptford:
The Honourable East India Company also known as John Company, was set up as such an incorporated trade association in 1600 by Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I, among other such associations around this time. Partnerships from the business world would join it as members and were so licensed to carry out trade to, but mostly from, the Indies. The not-for-profit Company started to make vast profits, no one objected.
By the end of the 17th century, the members of the Honourable East India Company had consolidated their stock and become one entity. All the stock they held was transferred to the ownership of the Corporation, and the members then exchanged their shared ownership of the company’s stock for a share of the joint stock of the Corporation. The Corporation then merrily traded this stock as itself, and distributed the profits among what had now become its shareholders.
The Corporation, operating for profit, was born, and no one batted an eyelid, or, at least, no one debated whether allowing a business to be incorporated was a good idea. No one seemed to ever much challenge that the incorporated East India Company had blatantly acted beyond its corporate constitution and had been creaming enormous profits for a century.
The East India Company just insinuated itself into being the world’s first for-profit Corporation over this period, just as the rise in corporate power has risen largely unnoticed ever since, accelerating in recent decades.
Starting out from its warehouse in Deptford, the Honourable East India Company would go on to subjugate India and rule it for a century, vacuuming up its riches; while the VOC, the Dutch East India Company did the same in Indonesia and the lands that would become the Dutch East Indies. These were the first and ultimate multinational corporations, with larger armed forces than their host nations.
In 1720, the South Sea Bubble crisis interrupted the development of corporations for a while. By the late 18th and into the 19th Century, the British Parliament were setting up corporations for specific infrastructure projects, but these Statutory Corporations were strictly defined by the state. Generally, business was still conducted by partnerships and non-corporate forms of association.
In 1844 came the Joint Stock Companies Act, and corporations could now be created just by turning up and registering. This Registered Corporation is still with us now.
Since a court judgment in 1819, companies have been recognised in the USA as having the rights of natural persons.
These events set off the relentless work of corporate lobbyists and corporate lawyers ever since, bringing lawsuits, using any opening to pick at and gradually snip away any remaining governmental oversight or legal restrictions on their actions. The corporate persons’ long legal journey had begun, a mission to take over the world.
The corporate person can’t vote, (except in the City of London) but if you can buy politicians, that’s much more effective. They would eventually become the main focus of politics, which now largely exists to serve their interests. Corporations now seek to establish legal safeguards on their right to do whatever they want to do, in the name of free trade and their personal rights. Corporations seek to establish the primacy of their legal rights, and more about this later.
A fuller disturbing story of the development of corporate personhood and the difference between a conservative and corporatist is here in an article from Jeffrey Clements, author of Corporations Are Not People, who notes of a certain period of development of corporate personhood in the USA, that:
Corporations and corporate executives funded a wave of new “legal foundations” in the 1970s. These legal foundations were intended to drive into every court and public body in the land the same radical message, repeated over and over again, until the bizarre began to sound normal: corporations are persons with constitutional rights against which the laws of the people must fall.