Corporation’s Usurpation of Democracy is as US American as Apple Pie

April 24, 2015

The first authors who alerted me to the nature and problems of corporations were Morton J. Horowitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860 (Harvard University Press, 1977); and Edwin Sutherland’s White Collar Crime (Dryden Press, 1949), which edition conveniently omitted the explosive list of criminal corporations and their list of violations. The UNCUT version was published posthumously in 1983 by Yale University Press, 34 years after the Dryden edition, 33 years after Sutherland’s death.

Horowitz‘ book describes development of U.S. corporations from the municipality (1700s) carrying out public functions, to the business corporation in the 1800s organized to pursue private ends for individual gain. The Dartmouth College Case (Sup Ct, 1819) held that a corporate charter was a private contractPolitical and economic power had shifted from precommercial and antidevelopmental common law values, to merchant and entrepreneurial ones, a radical transformation accomplished a decade before the Civil War. The rise of legal formalism subordinated natural laws and custom to disproportionate economic concentration in individuals or corporations, with the latter allowed to “contract out” pre-existing legal obligations. Law was no longer paternalistic or protective of the moral sense of the community at-large, but a device to facilitate individual and corporate desires for achieving economic and political power. It was the legal transfer of power from workers, farmers, and local consumers to the mostly White men of commerce and industry. Thus, was witnessed the active redistribution of wealth waged against the “weakest” groups in society who did not sufficiently revolt against the increasing stratification that was becoming entrenched in the political-economic structure of the Republic itself. This was unfolding before the 1886 Supreme Court case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, that in some cases personhood includes corporations, apparently due to a clerk’s fraudulent (mis)interpretation of the Justice’s decision in that case. However, as can be seen, the idea of corporate personhood was already a happening policy in practice.

This was consistent with the theme of the Constitution as a document with one fundamental purpose to create a national political system to preserve commercial and financial interests. It created a system of checks and balances that strengthen private power with a Bill of Rights that protects monied interests and individuals in their pursuit of property while failing to guarantee genuine freedom of fair participation and liberty.  Jefferson had described the new republic as an ”empire of liberty” while Madison described it as an “imperial republic.”

Edwin Sutherland, one of the leading criminologists of the 20th century, gave his presidential address before the American Sociological Society in 1939 that shook up the professional “crime control” community. His presentation, entitled, “The White Collar Criminal,” altered the study of crime in fundamental ways by focusing on lawbreaking by persons in positions of power. He talked about the collusion between businessmen and politicians, and suggested the root causes of crime lie within the values of the social system itself and its corresponding structures. He spent the next 10 years extensively researching this subject of “White Collar Crime,” published ultimately by Dryden Press in 1949, but not before it demanded that Sutherland write a final chapter on theory of crime, AND that the chapter on naming criminal corporations be deleted from the book.

He concluded that White Collar crimes are very frequent and, therefore, that “crime” cannot be attributed to poverty and its related pathologies. Only the type of “crime” could be generally associated with socio-economic class, but the damage to society became more severe as one examined the heretofore exempted crimes of the wealthy.

In 1983, Yale University subsequently published his 1949 book without the deletions of criminal corporations/organizations. This explosive chapter summarized 980 decisions of courts and administrative bodies made against serious unlawful behaviors of the 70 largest manufacturing, mining, and mercantile corporations in the U.S., discovering an average of 14 formal decisions of unlawful or criminal behavior per corporation over their average life span of 45 years. A separate chapter examined the crimes and unlawful behavior during time of War of those 70 corporations. This revealed substantial padding of the costs to reduce reported profits, the systematic juggling of financial data, illegally selling munitions to enemy nations, etc. Thus proved beyond doubt that profits are way more important than patriotism. Sutherland quoted Eugene Grace, the president of Bethlehem Steel: “Patriotism is a very beautiful thing, but it must not be permitted to interfere with business” (White Collar, p. 190). And he quoted Pierre DuPont, president of his family gunpowder company: We cannot assent to allowing our patriotism to interfere with our duties as trustees (White Collar, p. 190). This latter quote is taken from the U.S. Senator (R-WI) Nye Committee Report (1934-36) examining the role played by U.S. businessmen inducing the nation’s entrance into WWI through various violations of State department policies.

Ah, yes, the trustees must preserve their profits, while we accept public decay and deterioration. Bring on the revolt, revive the central role of the human in our evolutionary journey, and pray that we shall soon understand our need to cease any further the politics of our obedience to voluntary servitude.

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