Friday, March 25, 2011

History of Corporations

* Exerpted from the introduction and conclusion of The History of the Corporation by Bruce Brown (2003) with my notes and links.

The main human attribute that corporations lack is a soul, as Roger Manwood, chief baron of the Exchequer, noted as early as 1592. Since the corporations themselves, and not their souls, were immortal, they were not held accountable to the moral standards that applied to individual people.

"Corporations cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed, for they have no soul." wrote the great English legalist Edward Coke. Or as English lawyer Howel Walsh put it, "a corporation cannot blush." Thus the corporations' moral inadequacy amounted to a significant legal advantage, one of many they have accrued.

In fact, special dispensations, exemptions, and privileges of every kind imaginable are the life's blood of the corporation. Corporate members enjoyed various privileges during Roman times, such as curial immunity, and organizational privileges are evident as early as 628 A.D. in the ecclesiastic orders of the Catholic Church, the first great corporations of the post-Roman era. Modern English and French law traces the secular corporation to the concept of "franchise," which is the French Norman word for privilege.

Over the centuries, these privileges have been nurtured, entrenched, and expanded. You can get some idea of this corporate favoritism when you realize that no American corporation was indicted -- let alone convicted -- for murder until 1978. Criminal law is really a sidelight, though.

The place where corporations enjoy their biggest advantage is tax law. During the height of the Reagan era, 50 of the largest business corporations in America avoided paying any federal income tax. In many ways, modern corporations are analogous to the aristocracy of the ancient regimes.

The Catholic religious orders were never terribly good at incorporating the Christian God, but they were remarkably successful in other areas, notably acquiring wealth, mastering their human attendants, carrying out complex tasks, and perpetuating their own undying, incorporal existence.

Humanity threw off the yoke of corporate rule during the Age of Revolution, smashing many of the powerful old corporations and asserting the cause of human rights throughout the sphere of European cultural and political influence. The United States had virtually no chartered corporations at the time of Independence and the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

America proved an exceptionally fruitful ground for the corporation, though. Within 200 years, a slicked-back new breed of American for-profit corporations multiplied until they numbered in the millions and controlled the physical wealth of not just the United States, the wealthiest nation on the globe, but most of the human species.

Today – during the Second Dominion of the Corporation – our corporate lords make no pretense to serving a higher good. They wear no artfully hung drapery. The great secular corporations of the Second Dominion like Wal-Mart and Microsoft do not strive to incorporate the spirit of God, but rather the spirit of mammon, which is to say unbounded greed and the free-floating will to dominate.

Click here for Chapter One

Last year our Supreme Court ruled that multi-national corporations (who may have foreign interests) can contribute unlimited funds as campaign contributions to influence America's political elections. Do corporations have Constitutional Rights? I say reign in, and then dismantle, these evil conglomerates, who only siphon the life blood from our economy and hurt ordinary people.

From the New York Times: American corporation's use of so many tax shelters amounts to corporate welfare, allowing them not just to avoid taxes on profitable overseas lending but also to amass tax credits and write-offs that can be used to reduce taxes on billions of dollars of profit from domestic manufacturing. They say that the assertive tax avoidance of multinationals like G.E. not only shortchanges the Treasury, but also harms the economy by discouraging investment and hiring in the United States.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this article. Corporations are in fact equal to natural persons and legally entitled to human rights.

    "(10) "Person" includes a natural person (including an individual Indian), a corporation, a partnership, an
    unincorporated association, a trust, or an estate, or any other
    public or private entity, including a State or local govern mentor an Indian tribe."

    from US Code @

    When employees/executives/directors a forced to take responsibility for the results of their "profit at any cost" decisions, we will see a change in the way business operates.