Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Should Corporations Be Considered People?

Before oral arguments in the Supreme Court for the 1886 case Santa Clara County v. The Pacific Railroad Company, Chief Justice Morrison Waite famously said,

"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 to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does."
And so it has been that corporations are considered as artificial individuals.

One can argue that the corporation is an entity distinct from those who make it up. Bill Gates leaves and it's still Microsoft. One can argue that it is the locus of decision making, decisions that might not be identical to anyone within the company. For example, consider a board of directors who are split between three candidates, half love A and hate B, but a re fine but unenthused about candidate C. The other half sees A as a non-started, desperately wants B, but could live with C. In this case, the board might unanimously select a CEO who nobody championed. The board's "mind" is not the same as the members' and it is this board mind that made the decision and therefore is responsible for it. One could argue that corporations act in ways that influence our world. Anything that has a mind and intentionally chooses behaviors that impact others should be thought of as an individual of some sort and have the rights, responsibilities, and protections of an individual.

But do they really? They pay taxes. But they don't have a body. They don't act, it is the people within them who do. They are at best metaphorical individuals and we don't want to grant real rights to metaphorical beings.

So, should corporations be considered people?