Posts tagged Dworkin

Column on Are Corporations People?

Are Corporations People?

Tibor R. Machan

Much fussing is in evidence from certain circles–some heavy hitters, like Professor Ronald Dworkin–about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that protects corporations against government intervention when they make political contributions. The common complaint appears to be that corporations are not, after all, people.

When I run across this I always run through a thought experiment or two. I think of a corporation and ask myself, what am I thinking of. Do I think of buildings? Trucks? Limos? Parking lots? The plants that adorn the entry ways to the buildings where the corporation is housed?

None of the above, I conclude. It is people, that’s who. They are the ones I am thinking of, a bunch of human beings engaged in various activities, mostly in offices, sometimes in mail or conference rooms. And I think what else is familiar to me that fits this analysis? Well, universities, colleges, orchestras, choirs, sororities, fraternities, families, and the like–they are all made up of people and without the people they wouldn’t be what they are. Yet they can all act in unison, as well, as “one body,” so to speak, provided those who belong to them see eye to eye.

So then why all the fuss about the court’s ruling that acknowledges that business and other corporations are indeed people? Well, probably because many of the people who make up corporations disagree with the politics of those who deny them their humanity, the folks who keep insisting that corporations are something impersonal and heartless. One way to demean such folks is to write them off as something other than human beings–big faceless entities of some kind, yet with consciousness and the capacity to make good and bad choices and also capable of being sued in a court of law.

The bottom line seems clearly to be that those who make up a business corporation are people engaged in profit making endeavors, something that many folks around the country and the globe deem to be unseemly. In the Soviet Union these people were considered profiteers and accordingly taken to be criminals, given that the USSR was committed to the Marxist communist ideal that wealth may not be pursued by individuals but must be shared among all. Not that most Soviet citizens bought into this but the official ideology adhered to the idea.

What business corporations are, by my common sense understanding, is organizations established by a bunch of human beings for the purpose of conducting commerce and reaping economic benefits from this. The organization usually employs some managers and the like who are responsible to guide it toward economic success. If they fail, they are usually let go but if they succeed, they often get very well paid–after all, they helped a lot of people, shareholders and stockholders, to reap profits.

So what is the fuss all about? Why is a symphony orchestra accepted as comprised of human beings but not a business corporation? Well, I think maybe it is the widespread prejudice among intellectuals against wealth care. This is why public enterprises like PBS, NPR and most educational institutions are deemed by them holier than all get out but private enterprises are besmirched routinely. As if those involved in public undertakings were all morally superior, while those seeking profit must all be cads.

But as public choice theory has so well demonstrated, those standing up for the public interest are by no means without the temptation to pursue their own agendas instead of the public interest, something that hardly anyone knows enough about to actually serve conscientiously.

Let’s stop this business bashing that is, especially now, so damaging to society, what with everyone needing business to forge ahead and succeed so that we can all make a decent living from the employment their profit pursuits make possible. It is utterly bizarre that this kind of an attitude toward business corporations can be in place when those corporations are so necessary for us all to recover economic well being.

So the answer to the question about corporations being people or not is that they definitely are although they may not be the sort of people the critics admire or want to have around much of the time.

Column on What “We Cherish As Americans”?

What Do We Cherish “as Americans”?

Tibor R. Machan

In a recent talk, responding to the Arizona law that’s said to be aimed at containing illegal immigration, President Barrack Obama stated that this piece of legislation “threatens to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans….” I am not enough of a student of the Arizona law to pass judgment on it now but I am definitely skeptical about the claim that Americans as such cherish “basic notions of fairness”.

To start with, there is nothing in any basic American political document that mandates fairness across the land. Neither the Declaration of Independence, nor the Bill of Rights (or the U. S. Constitution) insists that Americans be fair. And a good thing that is, since such a demand cannot be met. Fairness is a fantasy, a dream, one that has been widely shown to be impossible, not only throughout recent human political history but also in some of the most politically astute literature. It barely works at the level of family life, let alone in a huge country.

As to the former, the attempt to institute a system of total fairness across a major society went miserably astray in the former Soviet Union and its colonies. It is a failure in all remaining socialist systems such as those in North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela, each of which has leaders that stick to the rhetoric of fairness and equality as they keep their countries in a perpetual state of underdevelopment and act like fascist dictators (which certainly doesn’t follow egalitarian principles).

As to the latter, George Orwell’s masterful novella, Animal Farm, amounts to, among other things, a fierce indictment of the effort to politically engineer a society to be equal. Ayn Rand’s novella, Anthem, is no less a superb fictional work that shows the viciousness of such an effort. And Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron is a fine presentation of both the pros and the cons of a completely egalitarian world in which even good looks must be eliminated so as not to leave some folks disadvantaged.

Among the classic political economic works defending egalitarianism one will find that Rousseau’s Social Contract, Karl Marx and Frederick Engel’s The Communist Manifesto, R. H. Tawney’s Equality, and Ronald Dworkin’s Sovereign Virtue are some of the most prominently published and widely embraced in political philosophical circles. Not each lays out the same position and, Marx and Engels, especially, present a somewhat nuanced type of equality as the social norm. But they all champion equality above individual liberty as the prime principle of social organization.

Today the dream of egalitarianism is with us in full force via Hollywood’s political culture–the movie Avatar, for example, presents a idyllic society of species of near-humans who behave as one might imagine those in a society wherein everyone is equal, and indeed uniform, akin to all the bees in a bee hive.

What is so off about President Obama’s remark is that America is precisely the country which is distinctive among most others for placing individual liberty as the first political principle that must be implemented and which government must secure. The equality Americans prize is “equality under the law,” manifest, most evidently, in how before a court no one accused of a crime is supposed to be treated either favorably or unfavorably because of his or her race, sex, place of birth, and so forth–what in jurisprudence is referred to procedural equality, not the substantial type fantasized by egalitarians.

Rightly or wrongly, Americans as Americans do not cherish equality but individual liberty–that is what comes closest to being the official political philosophy of the nation. If Mr. Obama finds this misguided, he should state it instead of lying about the matter, which is what it amounts to saying that Americans as Americans cherish basic notions of fairness that. It is especially bizarre to make such an allegation in connection with the criticism of the Arizona law since immigrants to this country, be these legal or illegal, do not in the main cherish equality but liberty. The great majority of them come here because their liberty is routinely curtailed in their native countries and they hope that they will be able to live as free men and women and choose to pursue their happiness according to their own, not their government’s, lights.