Monday, November 7, 2011

The Founders And Occupy Wall Street

Writing at The Washington Monthly, Rick Ungar takes a few jabs at views that originalists like Antonin Scalia or John Roberts espouse, especially the view that corporations are people.  Ungar writes,
While we know that the Founders had contempt for these corporate entities and the corruption they produced in Parliament, it appears to have never occurred to them to directly address corporations when they wrote the Constitution. It is not particularly difficult to understand why this would be the case. The Constitution speaks to control of government by the people…for the people…and of the people. Why should it occur to the Founders that a corporation might ever be perceived as one of “the people”?
He goes on to remind readers:
After the nation’s founding, corporations were, as they are today, the result of charters granted by the state. However, unlike today, they were limited in how long they were permitted to exist (typically 20 or 30 years), only permitted to deal in one commodity, not permitted to own shares in other corporations, and their property holdings were expressly limited to what they needed to accomplish their specific, corporate business goals.
Put another way, every single investment bank on Wall Street, as we know it today, would have been illegal in the days of our founding. 
Of course corporations are now legally individuals, so what was illegal is now seen as "good business," especially when one wishes to buy political influence.  Ungar, however, concludes,

Despite the controls placed on corporations in the early days of our nation, as corporations grew larger and their shareholders wealthier, they began to influence the rule making process that governed corporations. Using the money they had accumulated, they began to chip away at corporate restrictions. Eventually, corporations were permitted to go on forever. Where shareholders had once been personally responsible for the actions of the corporation, contemporary corporations shield their owners from personal liability. And, as more money became involved, the politicians who regulated them grew were increasingly seduced by what the wealthy corporations could do for them.
Were they around today, our founders would not only be standing on the front lines of the Occupy Wall Street movement, they would likely be pursuing a far more strident strategy than playing some bongo drums in Zuccotti Park.
 I'm sure the Tea Party folk will be upset at the notion that they don't have sole claim to being on the side of God, angels, and the founders or that Occupy Wall Street has an equal claim to the founders' vision.  Were they a little more aware of the history they claim as their own, they would remember that the original tea party struck against tea owned by corporation sanctioned by crown and parliment.

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