Simple question – has there ever been a political theory of government which incorporated corporations into its models and structures, as opposed to merely deciding how people should be organised and governed? The only explicit example I could think of was Italian Fascism and it’s attempts to subsume corporations into the aims of the state in a very confused manner.
Second question, how is the Corporation defined in our current political system?
I mean, the USA, and the UK (and I presume other legal systems) recognise the corporation as a person by virtue of being comprised of people (and therefore by extension it is their personhood which is being recognised), but none as far as I know recognise corporations as person in, and of, themselves.
The reason I ask these questions in the first place is twofold.
Firstly, it is clear the corporation is de facto modern capitalism (using the Braudeliandistinction of capitalism and catallaxy). Any neocameralist style governmental system will need to resolve the status and position of corporations in society (and would likely in my view need to give them free run with minimal, if not zero, taxation).
Secondly, I would like to discern the manner in which current legal and governmental systems would approach the issue of artificial intelligence and robotics. My thinking is that to get an idea of how this would unfold, it would be useful to review the manner in which our current system has dealt with an artificial entity already – the corporation.
Fortunately, I have quickly stumbled onto a quite fascinating piece of work by a think tank called the Constitutional Accountability Center, which has saved me a lot of reading. They have produced a number of historical narratives of court interpretations of the US constitution. The one of interest is A Capitalist Joker, The strange origins, disturbing past and uncertain future of corporate personhood in American law.
The document itself does not pretend to be unbiased. The ‘about us’ page of the CAC actually states the following –
“Through Constitutional Progressives, a coalition of leaders, organizations and individuals, we seek to wrest the Constitution from tea partiers’ control and restore our Nation’s Charter as a document that unifies and inspires all Americans, rather than divides us across ideological lines.”
The entire narrative is one long progressive howl of righteousness that’s so in your face it is embarrassing, however, this makes the document extremely useful as it has laid out the progressive attack against the corporation in stark clarity.
I have culled a number of the choicest quotes, however, I would recommend anyone interested in either the manner in which AI would be received by liberal progressive democracy, or the position of corporations in society, to read it.
“Two social movements – the Populist in the 1880s and 1890s and the Progressive in the 1900s and 1910s – made the power of corporations a prime issue, leading to two constitutional amendments both motivated by worries about excessive corporate power.”
“That very same year, the states ratified the Seventeenth Amendment, ending the power of state legislatures to appoint Senators. In providing that members of the U.S. Senate would be elected “by the people,” Congress and the states sought to eliminate corporate domination of the electoral process. Direct election of Senators, in their view, “would result in cleaner, less corrupt government, and would counter the undue effects of large corporations, monopolies, trusts, and other special-interest groups in the Senate election process.” Together, the amendments changed the makeup and powers of the federal government and helped pave the way for a whole host of modern financial, economic, and civil rights legislation aimed at corporations and other businesses.
The Populists and Progressives had strong views on the meaning of the Constitution and equal rights (which they believed were being violated by the special privileges granted to corporations), and through decades of political mobilization they changed the Constitution the hard (and most appropriate) way: through the amendment process set out in Article V. Corporations and their allies have never once seriously proposed an amendment to protect corporations for a reason that is painfully obvious: at no time in American history would such an amendment have had a chance of passing. Rather, corporations have relied upon business-friendly Presidents, who have nominated business-friendly Justices to the Supreme Court, who have invented concepts such as corporate personhood and equal corporate constitutional rights. That is precisely what happened during the Lochner era, now universally condemned as among the darkest periods in Supreme Court history.”
“A corporation, however stood on very different footing, “being a creature of the state . . . incorporated for the benefit of the public. It receives certain special privileges and franchises and holds them subject to the laws of the state and the limitations of its charter. Its right to act as a corporation are only preserved so long as it obeys the laws of its creation.”
“In a pair of decisions released in 1906 and 1907, the Court, speaking through Justice Harlan, affirmed the fundamental constitutional difference between corporations and citizens and other living persons residing in the country, holding that the “liberty referred to in the [Fourteenth] Amendment is the liberty of natural, not artificial, persons” and that “a corporation cannot be deemed a citizen within the meaning of the clause of the Constitution. . . which protects the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States against being abridged or impaired by the law of a state.” Under these cases, corporations do not share in the substantive fundamental rights of liberty that belong to all Americans; in the words of another famous case of the era, Northern Securities Co. v. United States, they are “artificial person[s], created and existing only for the convenient transaction of business,” and, as such, “not endowed with the inalienable rights of . . .natural person[s].” While corporations would be protected in their property rights, fundamental rights of liberty were for the living”
“Justice Holmes and Justice Brandeis wrote stinging dissents, taking the majority to task for making equal treatment of corporations and living persons a constitutional mandate. Justice Holmes argued that it was perfectly lawful to single out corporations for taxes “to discourage this form of activity in corporate form,” while Justice Brandeis emphasized that states could impose heavier taxes on corporations “for the privilege of doing business in the corporate form” and in recognition of “the advantages inherent in corporate organization.”
“And Brandeis observed that (1) at the nation’s founding, “there was a sense of some insidious menace inherent in large aggregations of capital, particularly when held by corporations,”
“He [Roosevelt] recognized how corporations “had become great uncontrolled and irresponsible units of power within the State” and how “the growing corporation, like the feudal baron of old, . . . threaten[ed] the economic freedoms of individuals to earn a living.”
Corporations had become “the despot of the twentieth century, on whom great masses of individuals relied for their safety and their livelihood, and whose irresponsibility and greed (if they were not controlled) would reduce them to starvation and penury.” In the face of their great concentrations of wealth, “equality of opportunity as we have known it no longer exists.” The answer to this “economic oligarchy” was not to rid the nation of corporations but to embrace the federal power of “modifying and controlling” corporations, recognizing that “private economic power” is “a public trust . . . .” Corporations would still dominate the economy, but they would be strictly regulated.”
“The 1970s saw a second wave of federal regulation of corporations and other economic actors – the Clean Air Act, the Federal Pollution Control Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, to name but a few – designed to protect the environment, worker health and safety, and consumers. These new regulations hit corporate bank accounts hard, imposing compliance costs that, by some estimates, were as high as $200 billion per year.”
“Powell’s audience-based analysis succeeded in explaining why corporations had a claim to limited First Amendment protection, but begged a number of key questions. If corporations had a right to engage in political speech because of the rights of listeners, why wouldn’t the protection of the speech of corporate CEOs as individuals be sufficient to ensure all points of view were heard? Why did the First Amendment rights of the audience give corporate directors a constitutional right to spend shareholders’ money on political matters – such as the individual income tax amendment – that did not concern the corporations’ business or property? As one corporate scholar put it, “A’s rights to receive information does not require the state to permit B to steal from C the funds that alone will enable B to make the communication.”
“In 2003, in McConnell v. FEC, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that Austin got the Constitution right in recognizing that governments have broad authority to regulate corporate election spending to ensure that corporations do not exploit their special privileges to corrupt our democratic political system.”
“Indeed, this constitutional text and history has the greatest force when it comes to elections, since corporations are not citizens, cannot vote or run for office, and have never been considered part of our political community.”
“The Court’s ruling in Citizens United is startlingly activist and a sharp departure from constitutional text and history.”
“The inalienable, fundamental rights with which individuals are endowed by virtue of their humanity are of an entirely different nature than the state-conferred privileges and protections given to corporations to enhance their chances of economic success and business growth.”
Now putting aside the outrageous levels of hypocrisy, general incoherence and outright ridiculousness of the judgements, as well as the clear warping of the issue supplied by the pointlessness of the constitution, I think this entire sorry story demonstrates that the liberal progressives would not allow AI to come into being.
Even if AI came into being in the current democratic paradigm (obviously with a level of intelligence pegged bellow that of humans so as not to upset equality), then the issue of rights would play out incessantly for centuries – if the corporation example is an applicable guide.
Another point that hit me whilst reading this narrative is this – I do not think the corporation would have been allowed to come into being if it had been invented in the current liberal progressive system.
This does not bode well.