Are “Big Corporations” People? And Can Everything Be Blamed on Them? February 4, 2010
The recent decision that corporations and unions are free to make independent expenditures and public commentary on elections frightened a lot of people. It did not empower these organizations to contribute directly to campaigns in unlimited qualities, only to engage in “independent expenditures” and advocacy, as individuals can. People being frightened of the large size of some corporations compared to individuals, some commentators made the point that corporations exist by grace of the state and should not have all the same rights of human beings when it comes to property, political participation, etc., etc. I have a few things to say about this.
First, most corporations are not “big corporations.” Most corporations are small ones, set up by small business people for the liability and tax benefits that they have.
Second, for corporations, especially larger ones, “they have their reward already,” as Jesus tells us. They may dissolve some day, but there is no Judgment Day for a corporation, no rewards in Heaven from a Father in Heaven, no “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” awaiting them. Therefore they have no reason not to blow trumpets in the street when they make their charitable gifts, and in politics to think of their own interest only rather than any clear philosophy, and to be concerned in both philanthropy and politics about their “image” in the eyes of the “world” above all things, rather than true effective generosity. Because they are so dominated by the need to conserve an “image,” in some ways large corporations can be controlled more easily by the politically correct cultural elites than smaller or more entrepreneurial businesses or individuals. That is what scares me about “big corporations” most of all. It is not that entrepreneurs are entirely off the hook. Someone who becomes a successful entrepreneur, but does not have much of a base of religious and moral education, may desire to accompany his new wealth with acceptance in “society,” and may end up pursuing the same political correctness as the big corporations do. Or if one’s business involves primarily selling to, and thereby building “relationships” with, other business people, one may find oneself playing a lot of golf, and then recruited to the politically correct causes of that particular community. Actually, I’m nervous about anyone who wants to climb in “society,” period, for just these reasons.
Third, partly because they are so controllable “big corporations,” along with the “rich,” have taken over a sort of messianic-demonic dual role in our society. They are blamed for all our social troubles, and yet whenever we need someone to support a big social project our first words are “how do we get corporate support, or corporate sponsorships?” I remember the disaster of the California Sesquicentennial in 2000. (Through the blood of Jesus I offer forgiveness to Supervisor Moorlach for dragging me into that thing.) The biggest event that these Pete Wilson appointees could think of was this Tall Ship race down the coast, the race to be sponsored by – voila– corporations. Except no corporations stepped forward. Levi’s was nervous about getting involved in celebrating the potentially oppressive history of such a diverse state – there were an awful lot of white Anglos involved in the Conquest, the Gold Rush, etc. Finally they went hat in hand to Dayton Hudson Corporation, headquartered in freakin Minneapolis. Really. A corporation in Minnesota gets to decide whether the most populous, diverse, and innovative state in the USA gets to have its bicentennial. When I remember this, I think I am less surprised by the current low estate of the state of California. I thought, the left may do a lousy job of governing, but they do a hell of a lot better job organizing festivals, and should have been called on to do that one.
John 6:15 tells us that after Jesus fed the five thousand, “Perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to be their king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (ESV) and that right after that He had to walk over the waters of Lake Tiberias to rejoin His disciples. I suppose it is somewhat of a compliment to the corporations, and the productivity and high material standards they have helped to give us, that so many would like to take the corporations by force to make them our kings and saviors. In fact, Michael Barone has declared that the real meaning of “the rich” in a political context is “not me.” If he is right, then the desire to tax the “rich” and “big corporations” without imposing parallel burdens on the rest of us is not so much due to the sin of envy, but the sin of fantasy, of wanting a deus ex machina or a magic prince to save us and take all of our burdens.
And “the corporations” do get a lot of undeserved blame for our social malaise. A friend of mine acquainted me with the work of one Douglas Rushkoff who has written against the dominance of the corporate mentality. In one of his videos (see video below) he tells how he was mugged on Christmas Eve and posted the news and the exact spot on a neighborhood parents site. Well, two people were furious at him for disclosing the exact site of the mugging because it might lower their “property values.” It is quite true that for a lot of people in our culture protecting “property values” supersedes most of our other rights and freedoms, not only those of use of property, but in this case even freedom of speech! But I don’t think that corporations can be blamed for this mentality. It proceeds from what the late Francis Schaeffer called “the two ultimate values of personal peace and affluence,” which trump all others in large parts of our culture, especially among what they used to call 30 years ago the “Silent Majority.” And did corporations encourage and pander to that mentality? Surely, by advertising. Are they responsible for causing it? I rather doubt it.