Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

BP is not a bad citizen

Posted Jul 13, 2010 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 5 Comments

BP is not a bad corporate citizen; because it is not a citizen at all.  This idea of a “corporate citizen “is just a bad idea.  It doesn’t show much understanding of either corporations or citizens.  In Civilizing the Economy, I outline four aspects of a corporation or four ways we can think about them: as property, as a human community designed to produce goods and services, as an agent, and as a provider.

Let’s look at the idea that a corporation is a property first.  Obviously it is.  We can buy and sell them.  Milton Friedman’s famous essay that the only social responsibility of corporations is to make a profit treats corporations this way.  Friedman is not really talking about the obligations of corporations in this essay, but of the corporate executives who exist in an agent-principle relationship with the owners.  Corporations are the property of the owners, and the executive has an obligation to the owners.  Executives are essentially property managers.

It seems strange to see property itself as having rights, or to be protected by the constitution.  (Property owners have rights, not the property itself.)  In fact, when the Constitution was written, one form of property that did have something to say were slaves, but of course, they were not protected by the Constitution.  States that had slaves, however, were given extra representation in the House of Representatives.  Each slave was counted as 3/5th of a person in terms of the number of representatives each state would have in the House.  Since the state of Delaware has most of the corporate charters of US corporations, one could think about Delaware increasing its number of representatives in the house, if we were to count corporations as the writers of the constitution counted slaves.  This would not make corporations “citizens,” however, any more than it made slaves citizens.   So seeing corporations as property doesn’t seem to permit any idea of a corporate citizen.  The same is true for the other three aspects of a corporation, which will be presented in following entries.

5 Responses to “BP is not a bad citizen”

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  5. Nichole says:

    August 25, 2010 at 1:28 am

    Youre so right! Good blog and I really dont think anyones put it that way before! You must be an expert on this because you just made it so easy to understand, made me want to learn more about it! Do you, like, study this subject because you seem to be so in tune with the issue? Keep it up, man. Youve got a great mind for it!

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Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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