By Chet Yarbrough
We the Corporations (How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights)
By Adam Winkler
Narrated by: William Hughes
Adam Winkler (Author, Connell Professor of Law at UCLA.)
If only minorities could have kept pace with corporations’ pursuit of and success for civil rights, American society may have become more equal.
However, American corporations had wealth, minorities did not.
It may be a surprise to many that corporate pursuit of civil rights dates to the early beginnings of American history. The first battle for corporate civil rights began with Alexander Hamilton’s drive to create the first American bank. His major political opponent is Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson opposes a national bank because he believes it diminishes State’s rights by ceding too much control to the national government. Winkler notes the irony of Jefferson’s objection in that Jefferson relies on national bank loans to subsidize his profligate lifestyle.
Winkler notes some level of civil rights for corporations is needed to protect the public from exploitation. If a corporation is not recognized as a singular public body, individual Americans could not sue for redress. Harm from unfair or harmful practices of corporations could not be tried in a court of law. However, Winkler explains an underlying concern is the gain of personhood for corporations. By being recognized as a person, corporations gain political influence beyond any individual person’s rights.
To many Americans, a 21st century Supreme Court decision on corporate civil rights is a step too far.
With the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court allows unlimited corporate donations to Americans running for political office.
Money is power, particularly in a capitalist economy. Elected officials become beholding to corporations rather than private citizens when running for office.
A prime example is the pharmaceutical and gun lobbies that have dominated both Democratic and Republican parties.
The rights of these corporate enterprises distort the benefits and dangers of both drugs and guns in American society. Over prescribed drugs and opiates advertised to the public by the pharmaceutical industry are more widely spread than ever before. If elected officials were not so beholding to gun lobbies, national background checks and red flag laws would not be so difficult for Congress to pass.
The opiate epidemic and the 5.25.22 Uvalde murder of 19 children and 2 adults is evidence of the harm done by granting too many civil rights to corporations.
Winkler’s book about corporate pursuit of personhood is burdened by legal explanations for non-lawyer listeners. However, his history gives one a deep appreciation of how civil rights can bring both good and harm to American society.