Reviewed by Maya del Mar
Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy ed. by Dean Ritz. Apex Press, New York, 2001. $17.95 pbk.
"Tired of giant corporations running everything? Tired of hearing there is no other way? Tired of politicians doing the bidding of corporate executives? Why not try consent of the governed? This collection of 73 essays, semons, speeches and letters chronicles the work of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy. Here are hidden histories, crisp analyses, and thoughtful responses to corporate apologists and accommodationists. Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy is the tonic for you."
The cover blurb has it right. Usually I dont care much for collections of essays, but in this case each short essay kept me glued to the page. The insightful writers make their points briefly and succintly.
We take corporations for granted. This is it. This is how life is. We let them define our entire culture, including our political scene, without really asking, "Hey, whats going on?"
We also take them for granted as we try to fight themregulation by regulation, harm by harm, in thousands of little battles. And still they grow more powerful. In fact, the first regulatory agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission, was established in 1887 at the behest of the railroads to reduce competition, and staffed by railroad people.
It wasnt this way when the nation was founded. The rebellion against England was, in fact, against corporate charters given by the King to certain companies.
Those who won independence from England hated corporations as much as they hated the King.
The men of property who wrote the Constitution did not want the Kings unfair, oppressive competition. They determined to hold corporations in check. They chartered only a handful of corporations in the decades after independence, and when they did they severely limited a corporations powers, purpose, capitalization, and length of existence.
Here are the kinds of limitations that were once law in nearly every state:
- Corporations were required to have a clear purpose, to be fulfilled, but not exceeded.
- Corporations licenses were revocable by state legislatures for any of a great number of reasons, including doing harm to the common good or general welfare.
- The act of incorporation did not relieve management or stockholders of responsibility or liability for corporate acts.
- As a matter of course, corporation officers, directors, or agents could be held criminally liable for breaking the law.
- State (not federal) courts heard cases where corporations or their agents were accused of breaking the law or harming the public.
- Directors of the corporation were required to come from among the stockholders.
- Corporations had to have their headquarters and meetings in the state where their principal place of business was located.
- Corporation charters were granted for a specific period of time, such as 20 years.
- Corporations were prohibited from owning stock in other corporations.
- Corporations real estate holdings were limited to what was necessary to carry out that specific purpose.
- Corporations were prohibited from making any political contributions, direct or indirect.
- Corporations were prohibited from making charitable or civic donations.
- State legislatures set the rates that corporations could charge for their products or services.
- All corporation records and documents were open to the legislature.
However, gradually, as people forgot the original corporate excesses, the legislatures dropped their vigilance, and corporate power grew and grew, helped in large part by judges educated in the same law schools as were the corporate attorneys.
Many states still have pieces of these laws on the books. However, corporations have established a group of attorneys whose job is to infiltrate states one by one and get these remnants inconspicuously wiped off the recordin the name of "modernizing corporate law statutes."
The coup detat occurred when in 1886 the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that corporations are "persons" under the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling gave corporations almost unprecedented "rights" to question almost any law applied to them and frustrated the ability of the people to direct corporate action in service of the public good. Nearly all of the cases brought under the 14th Amendment are corporate cases, not cases about the equal rights of people!
The question is, "Whos in charge here?" Corporations are only legal fictions, created by law, controllable by law, and dissolvable by law. They have used cunning propaganda to make us forget that. And in the process we have forgotten democracy, and the sovereignty (imperfect as it is) of the people.
This book is part of the authors program to instigate conversations and actions that contest the authority of corporations to define our culture, govern our nation, and plunder the Earth. Their website is www.poclad.org, and their e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy is an extremely illuminating, provocative and helpful book, as well as being easy to read. I strongly recommend that we all read and use it, in our efforts to reclaim democracy.