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William Masters

September 20, 2011

'Corporations are not people; they are tools that entrepreneurs use'

"Corporations are people, my friend," quipped Mitt Romney, in rebuttal to a crowd shouting that corporations should be a source of revenue instead of taxing people.

He argued "that everything that corporations earn ultimately goes to the people."

How Republicans love to speak for the American people, without saying much about which people. Corporations are not people. They are tools that entrepreneurs use.

Incorporation provides limited liability and reinforces long-term organizational identity, which does not die like we do.

Much of our material prosperity in the last century sprang from the strength and productive efficiency of corporations manufacturing goods, often at increasingly lower prices. We became strong, and rich, and corporations became multinational entities larger than many nations.

There are growing pressures to constrain such big business from forgetting the broader economic, social and environmental impacts their expanded roles now have on us, the real people.

Corporations are like machines. A corporation is essentially a well-oiled hierarchical organization headed by a supervisory board and executive managers.

In Germany, half of a supervisory board is made up by representatives of the employees, resulting in an orientation that builds up the entire nation.

In our case, corporate policy has undercut and undermined the social and economic structure of America by exporting jobs and markets, as shortcuts to maximizing profits and minimizing costs.

They have created a society burdened by an economic crisis affecting real people, underpaid or unemployed real people, who are now unfunded consumers.

The bulk of our wealth is concentrated in the uncaring hands of a tiny fraction of us who are astronomically rich. Those few are now free to lavish money to con us and to influence who will be in Congress.

Talk about the redistribution of wealth. Romney took his cue from the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court, which forbade the government to regulate political spending formerly banned by the McCain-Feingold Act.

Corporations buying political ads will supposedly not lead to corruption, the court said, because money would not go directly to or be controlled by the candidates themselves!

Now there's a fiction spun on top of an absurdity. It is not right, and it is not democratic. The corporate model has allowed for the socialization of costs, and the capitalization of earnings, i.e. the accumulation and centralization of wealth.

Because the individual stockholders are many, the costs of raising initial capital is spread to society in general. Stockholders and wage earners traditionally got return, but lately CEOs have grabbed outlandish portions, and the expertise of their leadership has increasingly focused on the short term, almost unrelated to their performance.

Unfortunately, there is another form of socializing cost _ that is to externalize it, to ignore the responsibility to clean up the environment after themselves, thereby defaulting such expense to consumers and citizenry.

The U.N. has been studying the cost of the environmental damage left by harmful industries that are often subsidized or spared by loopholes they have paid to have carved out of the relevant regulations.

The current trends, also "bought" by the influence of corporate wealth, of privatization and laissez-faire deregulation, show the close connection between maximizing profit while minimizing costs.

The mantra of conservatism is "keep it like it is," dedicated to the interests of the haves. It is no wonder that they deny the whole range of scientific warnings about global warming. They cannot allow themselves to see the horrific long-term change that is on its way.

Nor are they willing to acknowledge the large-scale increase in poverty and the destruction of our middle-class dreams in which children are blessed by economic improvement.

That is gone, and to maintain their false sense of moral worthiness, they blame the poor and the unemployed as lazy, prone to be dependent, and forming unions to protect themselves from responsibility.

What blatant hogwash!

The same mentality fuels the success of Walmart, which offers cheap products to the impoverished unemployed or under-employed, who desperately use credit for necessities now made in China.

We need the massive change of creating new, green industries. China is already doing this, while conservatives veto any government leadership to develop and support such an effort here. But that is what would bring manufacturing jobs back home.

Meanwhile, poverty is insidiously damaging the future potential of up to 40 percent of our children. These children are people. The corporations are but inhumane machines, selfishly run by an elite who insulate themselves from the social conditions and economic consequences they are fomenting.

William Masters can be reached at wmasters@thedailystar.com.

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