Corporations

Personhood for Profit

ARE CORPORATIONS “persons”? Legally, they are. They have the right to own property, to enter into contracts, to sue for defamation. Thanks to Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, they also have “free speech” rights. Voting is the only right corporations lack—and the tsunami of political money unleashed by that Supreme Court decision makes that limit irrelevant.

“Person” is an important word for Christianity. We speak of the three divine persons of the Trinity, and of the human person made in the image of God. What are we to make of “corporate personhood?” It’s tempting to invoke idolatry and the golden calf of Exodus. However, corporate persons are akin more to the “golem” of Jewish folklore—a human creation that fulfills our immediate goals, but brings about unforeseen destructive consequences.

Mitt Romney’s campaign gaffe “Corporations are people, my friend” points to the problem. He wasn’t arguing that corporations are literal people, but that they are made up of people working together. But what matters is the nature of these shared projects: The corporation insulates its anonymous stockholders from liability and works solely to maximize the value of their investments.

Indeed, the “corporate person” is the perfect homo economicus. A human owner of a firm, no matter how hard-eyed, will still have moral qualms and live in a community that judges his or her character. In contrast, the corporate person has no interior life. These abstract “persons” are served by trustees with the responsibility to do everything legally possible to maximize profits. They may regret abandoning devoted workers in order to seek cheap labor, but if they refuse, they fail in their fiduciary duty to the corporate person’s one-dimensional interests.

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Welfare for (Very Rich) Oil Companies

Of the many gifts that the 99 percent award to the 1 percent—the various tax breaks and tributes that have helped push inequality in America to record levels—none are quite as annoying as the subsidies awarded the fossil fuel industry.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill this spring that would trim $20 billion a year from those payouts to coal and oil and gas companies. Barack Obama, modest almost to a fault, has identified $5 billion in handouts that he’d like taken away before this year’s budget is finalized. Whatever the number, the principle is crucial. Because if we can’t agree not to subsidize the fossil fuel industry, I’d submit we pretty much can’t agree about anything.

For environmentalists, few things could be more important. Worldwide, it’s estimated that global warming emissions could be cut in half if all governments stopped subsidizing fossil fuel—something that won’t happen unless the U.S. takes the lead.

But let’s say for the moment that you don’t care about climate change. Let’s say you agree with Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma that global warming is impossible because it says in Genesis “that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there,” Inhofe said. “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” (I can’t help myself: This is an exceedingly dumb theology. God allows war but prevents carbon emission from heating the atmosphere?) Even if you thought that way, you’d still want to keep the federal government from paying Exxon bonuses every year.

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'And God Created ... Corporations'

Corporations are people, the Supreme Court insists, and hence have the right to dominate our democracy with their money. Which means that the Supreme Court has decided it’s really, really Supreme—it doesn’t get much more Godlike than manufacturing new people. In fact, this may be the first attempt since Adam’s rib surgery.

Before pronouncing, in Genesis-like rumbling tones, that this new creature too is “very good,” I think it’s worth taking a look at what sets people apart from corporations, and deciding if those things matter. If we think about the large forces in our life, sex is clearly high on the list. As we understood long before Darwin, we do many of the things we do out of the desire for it—it can turn us foolish, brave, gross, noble. Corporations do merge and divide, but it looks more like mitosis than sex; it’s more about the bottom line, and less about the line of the bottom.

But sex isn’t the only force in our lives. There’s also been, way back into prehistory, religion. And religion is a complicating factor. At least as far back as the Buddha it has emphasized moderation, the idea that we become most fully ourselves when we put other things at the center of our lives. It’s a way to help us rein ourselves in, nowhere put more powerfully than in the Sermon on the Mount. We’re to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, not store up treasure here on earth, stop fretting about whether we’ll have enough. We’re enjoined to serve God, not money.

All these things—and similar injunctions at the core of other faith traditions—act as drags. They slow us down, complicate our thinking. Because there’s a part of us that really, really wants to store up a lot of treasure here on earth, not to mention smite the hell out of our enemies. That is to say, the gospel is wonderfully inefficient; trying to follow it makes us more complicated than we would otherwise be.

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Fighting Back Against Harmful Cuts

Yesterday, Congress passed the 2012 Agricultural Appropriations Bill or “minibus” as it has come to be called. The good news is that cuts to both national and international nutrition programs were not as severe as originally expected. The bad news is, poverty is still at record levels and there is still more we can do to help those in need.

Over the past few weeks, Sojourners activists have sent thousands of emails to Congress urging them not to cut poverty focused foreign aid. While that fight continues, the passage of this bill -- without any major cuts to vital programs for poor and hungry people -- is an important step.

NEWS: Quick Links 2

FoxNews shuns pro-immigrant voices. How do we repair souls returning from the war? Does Christianity translate into public policy? Lobbyists role in 2012 fundraising. Oakland mayor promises "minimal police presence" at OWS protests. Cain says he doesn't need to know foreign policy details. And only 40 percent of Americans correctly identify Romney as Mormon.

#OccupyWallStreet: Without a Vision, the People Will Perish

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After an hour or so of echoing statements of faith, prayers and petitions aloud and in unison, when the hundreds-strong crowd began to disperse, I caught up with one of the event's organizers -- the Rev. Michael Ellick of New York City's Judson Memorial Church.

Standing at the top of a flight of stone stairs at the west end of the park, looking down on the massive crowd as it moved through the rabbit warren of tarpaulins, lean-tos and the occasional portable sukkah (it is Sukkot, after all) below, I turned to the vaguely weary clergyman and asked, "So ... what now?"

#OccupyWallStreet: A Generation Finds Its Voice

A TV reporter broadcasts from the NY protests last week/Photo by Tim King for Sojourners

I had seen people my age start successful businesses, become pop-stars and even play a key role in partisan political campaigns, but I had never seen them develop and sustain a social movement.

Sure there have been more focused shifts around issues like educational equity, LGBT rights or global poverty that my generation has had a hand in shaping, but nothing that quite had the look or the feel of what I imagined the anti-War or Civil Rights movements of the 1960s to have been. I assumed we -- my contemporaries ( I'm 27) -- simply didn't possess the interest or the will-power to accomplish something that big.

I was wrong.

Columbus Day, Wall Street, and Alabama Immigrants: "It's About Power, Stupid"


In our own time the "jobs" rhetoric from both the right and the left ignores the power grabs and power differentials that led to the hemorrhaging of American jobs in the first place. The simple truth is that multinational corporations could make more money for their shareholders by outsourcing jobs to third-world countries so that is what they did.

This was not a moral dilemma for CEOs; it was a "sound business decision." And the gospel according to free-market capitalism (the USA's true religion) preaches that what is good for American business is good for America.

In Case You Missed It: #OccupyWallStreet's Official Statement

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From the official statement by #OccupyWallStreet: "As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power."

Did Someone Say "Class Warfare"?

When President Barack Obama laid out his deficit plan Monday, he wasn't just trying to sell a policy. When he pressed for tax hikes on the rich and announced, "This is not class warfare," he was trying to exorcise a demon that has bedeviled the Democratic Party for decades and in the process deprive the Republicans of one of their trustiest weapons. The reaction from the right was swift and sure: "Class warfare!"

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