At this season Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is often viewed and read. As most know, Ebenezer Scrooge is a man of business who is obsessed with accumulating profits. Why does he have this obsession? Certainly he is not accumulating profits to give his family a nicer house or vacation; he has no family. Nor is he accumulating profits to make his life more plush; he eats moldy food and endures cold temperatures to save money. Clearly, the only reason he is accumulating profits is for the sake of accumulating profits.
His desire for profits is so strong that he feels that if the poor do not want to go to the prisons or workhouses they should die "and decrease the surplus population." Scrooge's comment about the "surplus population" echoes the notable English economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) who said if society does not want a person's labor he has "no claim of right to the smallest portion of food" and should die.
Scrooge becomes a changed man when he is forced to consider the long term consequences of his obsession on his employee's son Tiny Tim. Scrooge is warned Tiny Tim might not be around next Christmas if he does not get better care. As Scrooge contemplates his own death and considers the big picture he has an epiphany and stops viewing other just as a means to make profits.
Many of our corporations have a tendency to behave as the early Scrooge did. (I realize many small family business have incorporated for tax purposes, and there are churches and non profit corporations that behave differently than BP and our large financial firms do.)
In 1886 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad that corporations are actually "persons" entitled to the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The DVD, The Corporation, by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, and Joel Bakan explores what kind of "persons" corporations are. It argues that corporations are "persons" with no conscience. They have "no soul to save and no body to incarcerate." The only motive that guides them is the "bottom line" or profits. This pressures them to externalize or impose on others outside the corporation as many costs as possible.
Corporations can never have enough.
Because of this nature corporations have incentives to show the following traits:
1. A callous lack of concern for the feelings of others.
2. An incapacity to maintain enduring relationships.
3. A reckless disregard for the safety of others.
4. Deceitfulness by repeated lying and conning others.
5. An incapacity to experience guilt.
6. A failure to conform with social norms.
The film argues the above traits define a psychopath. So the dominant institution of our society is created in the image of a psychopath!
In defense of corporations, they must have narrow interests: they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to maximize profits.
Corporations force good people to view others as the early Scrooge did: without a particle of empathy or concern for them or the common good. They are having that effect not only on their employees but on our politicians.
Exactly one century ago Teddy Roosevelt, concerned about that effect, said we must "prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes." Concerned that ruin for our nation would be "inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than the swollen fortunes for the few," he felt we should allow fortunes "to be gained only so long as the gaining represents a benefit for the community."
Editorial writers of the day labeled him as "frankly socialistic." Those desiring limits on corporate power are still being labeled "socialist."
Helped by the activist John Roberts court's decision in Citizens United, corporations spent unprecedented amounts in the recent election.
They won the political fund-raising contest, of fighting money with money, hands down and the election results followed the money.
Our new Congress will be more responsive to corporations and moneyed interests.
The Tea Party is quick to propose Constitutional Amendments to national problems. Some have proposed repealing the Fourteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Amendments.
Since the spirit of the Thirteenth Amendment implies that one person can't own another and yet many people own corporations, why not have a Constitutional Amendment that would say corporations are not persons?
Jones has taught economics. He lives in West Haven.