Corporations are people. Contradict with legalese — or even with common sense — to no avail. A corporation is a person, just as surely as money is speech.
That person — the corporation — has all the rights and perquisites of you and me; more, no doubt, which we might appreciate if we were privy to and could hope to understand the fine print in laws and findings and rulings. But we can’t, you and I, can’t quite figure out what it all means. That guy over there, the corperson, it knows. It knows, because it paid good money to insure its will would be incorporated into those laws and findings, etc.
But I digress, almost. My purpose was to point out one very real, and to me, absolutely fascinating difference between us and that corperson over there.
Suppose you were convicted of a serious felony. You swindled an old lady out of home and money, left her destitute, begging in the street for food. A compassionate jury would find you guilty; an upright judge would require that you repay what you stole and spend five to eight years in prison as well.
Now then, what happens if that other person, that corperson we’re looking at, the one over there with the crafty smile, what happens if it swindles old ladies? Or burns down a small town with a renegade tank car full of oil? Or kills a few hundred people who were unlucky enough to live where a chemical plant would be built? Or simply ruins a few hundred miles of coastline when one of its oil wells blows up?
You know what happens. What happened. Public outrage and legal action. Eventually, corperson was found guilty in court and ordered to pay a bazillion and a half dollars in fines.
Corperson does not have to do any hard time, does not have to do any time at all. Not even a couple weekends in county jail or a month at that minimum security rest home in the hills. Corperson agrees to pay the fine, and walks. And begins a week later filing petitions and appeals, and requests for delay of payment, and investigations to prove the victims’ complicity in their own misfortune.
Ignore, for a moment, the remote chance that the entire 1.5 bazillion will actually be paid out, and that it will come from the personal wealth of corperson rather than at the expense of customers, employees, and — should things get that bad — stock holders.
I suspect that such fines would be categorized by corperson’s accountant as a legitimate business expense, and therefore a tax exemption. Which means that you and I, unsophisticated tax payers, would have to pay just a bit more. Which adds you and me to the list of stooges actually footing the bill.
My question is, why not put corperson in the slammer?
Can’t be done, you say.
Can be done, I say.
Confiscate assets. Shut down plants. Cancel contracts. Disconnect utilities. Cordon offices. Lock down storage facilities.
Corperson need not file for bankruptcy. It can resume business as soon as that seven-year sentence has been served. Going to be hard, perhaps, getting back into the swing of things. Picking up where it left off, recapturing market share, reassuring stockholders. But hey, that’s what flesh and blood people have to do. No reason I can see not to make artificial people do the same.
But then, I still can’t see how a corporation is a person in the first place.