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Argument: Corps focus on profits, not eligible for rights

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Tom Stites. "How corporations became persons." UU World: "Democracy expresses the collective consciences of citizens. However noble or flawed its message, this is how our nation's moral voice is heard. [...] Corporations express the collective investment goals of shareholders. The legal stricture known as fiduciary responsibility confines all but closely held corporations to this singular goal. By shutting off other values to focus solely on pursuit of profit in inherently amoral economic competition, corporations are by their nature amoral as well. Despite image-enhancing claims of corporate citizenship, they have no consciences to express, only earnings per share. They differ from people not only in form and size but, most importantly, in their fundamental character: People including corporate executives, employees, and shareholders—have inherent worth and dignity; corporations in and of themselves do not.

[...] At the personal level, as we face our duty as citizens and religious people our consciences are challenged by a fundamental question: Which is more important, our prosperity or our democracy?

In balancing prosperity and democracy, conscience is the fulcrum. Consider the Fifth Principle of Unitarian Universalism, which affirms and promotes "the right of conscience and use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large." The right of conscience is the essence of freedom. Even more fundamentally, it is the essence of what it means to be human. No other creatures are known to have consciences; corporations certainly do not. To the extent that we are forced to act against our consciences, we are not free. In the spiritual realm, this means our humanity is diminished. In the political realm, it means we are less citizens and more like subjects.

People have complex concerns. We have families with children and grandchildren to raise, so we tend to worry over the health of our culture and what will become of our communities and the environment. We save and invest for the future. We go to church and worry over questions of conscience. In the words of the author Robert Wright, humans are the "moral animal." In each person is a spark of the divine.

Corporations have but one concern: profits. They come to exist not through the miracle of life but through laws that people create through their governments. Corporations often take care to behave in ways that enhance their images in the marketplace—think of the Philip Morris ads extolling its charitable activities, with the aim at perfuming its reputation as a purveyor of tobacco. For image purposes, corporations may advertise themselves as "corporate citizens." But they are not and cannot be citizens. Only people can be citizens.

In twenty-first-century America, when tens of millions of good people draw their paychecks from amoral corporations, the structure of our interwoven economy, laws, and culture makes it a challenge for us to find ways to be responsible citizens and thus add strength to our nation's moral voice. Happily, many of us manage, including legions of responsible executives who don't make headlines for corrupt dealings. And understanding of the challenge is spreading and deepening."


"The rights of corporations." New York Times Editorial. September 21, 2009: "In an exchange this month with Chief Justice Roberts, the solicitor general, Elena Kagan, argued against expanding that narrowly defined personhood. “Few of us are only our economic interests,” she said. “We have beliefs. We have convictions.” Corporations, “engage the political process in an entirely different way, and this is what makes them so much more damaging,” she said."


"Corporate Freedom of Speech." Mirror of Justice. January 25, 2010: "Corporate political speech, it seems to me, can do nothing other than bring the corporation’s over-riding telos—maximization of self-interested self-satisfaction—to the state, eventually crowding out traditional conceptions of the true goods of democratic politics articulated long ago by thoughtful citizens who, like Pericles, sought authentic human fulfillment in their public lives."


Jim Sleeper. "Corporate free speech? Since when?" Boston Globe. September 5, 2009 "She’s right, because a publicly traded business corporation, driven to maximize profits by market competition and its own charter, can’t rise above that mission any more than it can dance nude. Corporations aren’t “voluntary associations’’ with republican intentions, as Justice Antonin Scalia claims; in a civic sense, they’re mindless, because their shareholders change with every stock-price fluctuation.

Even a “nonprofit’’ corporation like Citizens United doesn’t deliberate openly with Americans as fellow citizens; it exists only to advance a business agenda in politics and is closed to persuasion.

Not that a business agenda is bad. Maximizing profits is how corporations generate wealth and opportunity. They do it by selling things people want. But that doesn’t provide all a society needs. Yet if corporate employees do anything “socially responsible’’ that doesn’t maximize returns, they quickly lose shareholders and their own jobs. That’s why citizens (including capitalists, as individuals) must sometimes rise above markets and other private interests to achieve public goals - a sustainable environment, universal health care."

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