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Welcome to project Worldview's
Worldview Watch

periodic commentary and analysis on news items from a worldview perspective

 previous issue                              issue #29  posted 1 / 29 / 2013              archive of all  issues

 Corporate Personhood, Responsible Corporate Behavior  

in the news:  "Opponents of Corporate Personhood Eye U.S. Constitution" headlines a news report posted today about a "growing national movement to establish a 28th amendment to the constitution of the United States to address the issue of unlimited corporate spending in elections"  While the concept of corporate personhood has a long legal history in the United States, the Citizens United case has brought it back into the national spotlight.  

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, project Worldview, With its Citizens United 2010 verdict, the US Supreme Court seemingly granted corporations the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.  During the fall 2012 USA election campaign, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was quoted as saying "Corporations are people too."  Ignoring all the legal, economic, and other complexities, one can simplistically depict the American economic and political landscape with two quite different stories. 

The first, generally advanced by those on the right, is built around "Economic Individualism" (theme #19A).  America's economy  is described as one in which workers, employers, producers, consumers, buyers, sellers, etc. pursue their self interest and engage in healthy competition.  When big corporations are alluded to, their behavior is described as responsible. Featured in this narrative is the role of individual good guys' small businesses, operating in what could be a free market except for when the bad guys intervene--big government and its fans. The story charges many of the latter--in contrast to hard working rugged individualist types--with living off the labor of others, free lunches, and handouts that damper the incentives competition otherwise provides to work. Instead of coddling those who seek assistance, government social policies should be non-existent--the Libertarian (theme #50A) view-- or generally built on Tough Love (theme #39B) , the authors of this story say.  Government should get out of the way, they add, and allow business to develop the natural environment to create jobs and serve people--Anthropocentrism (theme #25)--without being burdened by cumbersome regulations. When they aren't Scapegoating (theme #39B) big government, many of them go on to blame poor people and those who can't make it on their own. 

The second, generally advanced by those on the left, is built around an unflattering view of "Corporate Capitalism" (theme #19B).  This story describes America's economic and political landscape as one dominated by 1) impersonal  multinational corporations whose decision making is driven profits and whose behavior is often criminal, 2) greedy billionaires who, in their Seeking Wealth and Power (theme #43) long ago quit compassionately caring about the unfortunate poor--those Struggling With a Basic Need: Sustenance (theme #24) , and 3) the corporate state (government and big corporations) who control the media. The narrative now gets heavy with Cynicism (theme #36A). It argues that a) the system is rigged against common folks, b) democratic and economic free choice is a joke-- the corporate state tells people who to vote for, what to think, what to buy. etc, and c) the unwillingness of the power elite to acknowledge there are limits as they pursue economic growth --Expansionism (theme #22A)--is destroying the planet's environment.  Our economic system needs to put the needs of ordinary people--especially the poor  first,  the authors of this story say. In the short-term, it needs more Social Welfare Statism (theme #49A) and Environmental Economics (theme #40) they say, when they aren't blaming big corporations and their lapdogs in government.  Eventually we need to move toward Socialism (theme #49B)and Sustainability (theme #23A), they add. 

The two stories both blame the leviathan corporate state: the first its big government aspects, the second its big corporations. In terms of pointing a finger at irresponsible behavior, one goes after the poor, the other targets the rich. Both stories, I'd say, while containing elements of truth and expressing valid concerns, each paint a too simplistic picture in black and white of a complex reality. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle. As for corporations, certainly there are corporate good guys and bad guys--just as there are billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who have made an incredible effort to use their wealth to help the world's poor and greatly value Service to Others (theme #21B), and those who selfishly squander it on conspicuous consumption and self indulgent  Hedonism (theme #28A) or try to buy political influence/elections.   

Moving away from extremes, I think that many in the center of the American political spectrum would agree on two things with respect to corporate behavior.  First, I think those who value Education for Democracy (theme #31) are appalled by the big money that the Citizens United decision unleashes to corrupt the democratic process.  Short of a constitutional amendment, one (idealistic!) solution would be for big corporations and extremely wealthy individuals to voluntarily agree to responsibly exercise their free speech and prohibit or limit their financial involvement in political campaign. Alternatively, progressive corporations or ethically responsible wealthy individuals could serve the public by funding educational efforts that responsibly and fairly present both sides of complex issues that voters are being asked to decide. This brings me to a second area of potential agreement: many of us would like to see more large corporations (in the words of theme #19B) "pursue enlightened self interest" and be "sensitive to the needs of, not just shareholders, but all stakeholders: workers, the community at large, the environment, etc." and  practice corporate social responsibility. 

Additional Comment: 'Global Educator' writes 'In the words of Chris Hedges, "In America we have undergone a corporate coup d’état."  He sees the Citizens United 2010 verdict as the final straw and describes Occupy Wall Street as a movement that sprung up in reaction to these realities.'

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