Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

Citizens United – You must be kidding

Posted Oct 9, 2010 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 10 Comments

It is hard to escape the irony that the Supreme Count’s decision on the Citizens United case has only united citizens against their decision. Whether corporations should be treated as persons, however, is not the real question. The question is whether they should be treated as citizens.

Corporations have had the legal status of persons for a long time. That allows them to make contracts, to be subject to law suits, as well as engage in other legal processes. Legal personhood, however, does not give them the status of citizens, and only citizens or groups that represent citizens should be involved in elections, or at least that makes sense to me.

Churches, of course, are also legal persons, but no one has been speaking of church citizen the way many speak of corporate citizen. Why not? Because churches are not citizens, they do not vote, and they represent people who share religious beliefs, but not necessarily the same civic beliefs. Also, the long history of the separation of church and state has preserved not only the integrity of religion, but also the integrity of the public sphere. We need a similar doctrine of the separation of corporation and state.

Corporations cannot vote. They do not represent citizens, even though in the Supreme Court’r opinion, corporations were called an “assembly of citizens in corporate form. They may be an assembly of citizens (workers, managers, investors, and so on) but corporate speech does not represent these groups, nor are the corporate speakers elected by the assembly. So they are clearly not citizens, and the whole business of using the phrase of “corporate citizen” as a way of speaking about a corporation’s responsibilities has simply become dangerous. Corporations are no more citizens than churches are, and they should be as separate from politics as churches are.

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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 workingethics.com for more information.

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