Corporations are entities formed to exploit the physical and human resources of a community. They provide a means of attracting large amounts of capital to finance large projects. Some are beneficial and some are a detriment to the society that hosts them, but it is not easy to tell which is which because of the myths surrounding their operations. Not the least of these myths is the Supreme Court’s decision that corporations are persons.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the court “gave birth to corporations as persons” and that “There could be an argument made that that was the court’s error to start with … [imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics.”
In looking for sense in the modern world, we must not overlook the fact that, whatever the judicial rationale supporting the decision that corporations are persons, corporations are not human. There is no limiting factor to prevent them from perpetuating themselves. They have no natural life-cycle of birth, adolescence, maturity, and death. They have no morality except that of pursuing their own interest and no concept of a future beyond their own existence. They have no sense of right and wrong, so the adverse effects of devouring resources at a prodigious rate and polluting the environment have no meaning for them. For corporations, the ability to suppress immediate gratification for the future benefit of others, particularly when the welfare is of generations yet unborn, and the threat to their welfare is based on reason rather than experience, is non-existent.
The law may consider them ‘persons’, but we humans must provide their moral compass.
We can say that those who direct the operations of corporations are human and SHOULD want to avoid using up resources and polluting the environment, but when those worries are set against the almost incalculable benefits of power and recompense corporate executives reap, such concerns are miniscule.
Probably the most difficult thing to accept is that these executives are not vile persons. Most of us would act as they do, however much we would like to believe otherwise. The pursuit of self-interest is universal. The ability to suppress immediate gratification for future welfare, particularly when the threat is based on reason rather than experience and the welfare is of generations yet unborn, is not abundant. It exists in sufficient quantity to benefit humanity, but is widely dispersed. We’ve yet to devise a means of aggregating it and applying it to the bodies of corporate persons.