Goldman Sachs is going a-courting today. It is trying to hang onto its die-hard lovers who are faithful to its profligate behavior, while soothing and reassuring past devotees who feel spurned and embarrassed by its selfish and destructive indulgences. The news tonight will be fun to watch.
But I am emboldened by today’s meeting to post a piece I wrote in the wake of the disastrous Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to contribute to political campaigns, based on the legal premise that corporations are “persons”.
Here it is:
The Supreme Court carved yet another notch in the suspenders that hold up the corporate world’s questionable but codified status as legal person. The problem with this designation is not only the false leap of imagination that allows a clutch of loosely affiliated people interested only in the value of their stocks to act as one huge Goliath, but that the persons these corporations behave like are so awful.
In a fascinating, frightening exercise, the behavior of the corporate “person” was measured against the seven behaviors that, in clusters of three or more, define a psychopathic personality. These behaviors are:
➢ Failure to conform to social norms
➢ Impulsivity (failing to plan ahead)
➢ Aggressiveness (repeatedly being a party to a fight)
➢ Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
➢ Consistent irresponsibility
➢ Lack of remorse
Any three of these confer the diagnosis of psychopath. By contemporary standards, then, the corporation is a dysfunctional, destructive and dangerous person. Not even by accident, but by design. They should be restrained, given appropriate medication and a course of therapy. Instead, we have given them the keys to the ballot box.
We could argue that the best remedy is to reverse this long-standing legal ruling. But I don’t believe that such a reversal is likely to happen. Even if it were, rescinding personhood status only affects the corporation’s legal standing, not their culture. Their impulse to behave badly will press on.
What if, instead, we went the other way? What if we allowed, even demanded, that the idea of corporate personhood be fully, energetically, embraced? What if we took this status seriously and demanded that corporations, as persons, be held to the same lofty and noble standards of civility and goodness, generosity and neighborliness, as the rest of us? Their personhood status then would not only be a matter of regulations or laws. It would also be a matter of heart, morality and soul.
Corporations would then be expected to act according to the best of human impulses, in the best interests of society over the long term, and not according to their narrow, selfish interests over the next quarter. Even more, they would be judged on such behavior, by the rating companies, third-party certifiers and in the court of public opinion.
Corporations would have to live by the Golden Rule. They would have to do to others just as they would like others to do to them.
Deceptively enticing others to consume more than they need, make purchases beyond what they can afford, get into debt they cannot crawl out from under; betting against these consumers even as they encourage them to borrow more; mistreating those who work for them; and trashing the environment we all live and work in, might not look so good if measured in this way.
It is time for corporations to acknowledge that they are one of us; that their security and welfare are anchored in the security and welfare of both the human and natural worlds of which they are a part. It is time for them to acknowledge that they are the direct beneficiaries of our collective well-being; that neither we nor nature are chumps put here to maximize their profit without regard for our well-being. When people and nature are threatened, the corporation’s health is threatened.
Corporations don’t need to be altruistic. But they do need to be decent. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.