Monday, August 18, 2014

Corporate Anthropomorphism and The Right to Assembly

'Oh No! I Am Home To A Big, Bad
INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION!'
'What is a corporation: A) an association of people or B) an inanimate object like a machine or a computer?'

It is always interesting when we hear people assign human qualities, emotions, virtues or faults to a company or corporation.

'Corporate Anthropomorphism' we'd like to call it.

Recently, on a relatively obscure financial issue, we have heard politicians from President Obama to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and even Secretary of State John Kerry say that corporations that 'invert' their operations, or move them to somewhere overseas are 'unpatriotic' in some way.

George Will wrote a column that got us to thinking about this in more depth: 'In a Stew Over Inversion'

'Corporate Inversion' is defined as the following:
Re-incorporating a company overseas in order to reduce the tax burden on income earned abroad. Corporate inversion as a strategy is used by companies that receive a significant portion of their income from foreign sources, since that income is taxed both abroad and in the country of incorporation. Companies undertaking this strategy are likely to select a country that has lower tax rates and less stringent corporate governance requirements.*
If corporations are inanimate objects such as a machine or a computer, how can they be 'unpatriotic' or have any other human characteristic?

Think about it. If someone said: 'My computer started acting up today. It must be unpatriotic', that would be crazy. You would laugh them out of the room.

Computers are machines. People make them. When people stop using them, they are thrown away and they are recycled or torn apart for parts or junked. They have no intrinsic value other than to help us live better, more productive lives.

Is a corporation a 'machine' or a 'computer'? The legal shell of it might be in some way. But those legal shells were created by Congress and state legislatures to provide certain protections from legal liability so people would be incentivized to take risks to grow that business without putting every personal asset at risk.

At the heart of any company or corporation are people led by some executive, president or board of directors who make decisions on a daily basis designed hopefully to extend the life of that company by making more products and selling them for more than it costs to produce them.

So when it comes to calling a big, bad corporation 'unpatriotic', aren't critics basically saying that the people who run those corporations and work for them are 'unpatriotic' for making such business decisions as 'inverting' them overseas?

Here's what we think is so interesting about this:

  • 'Big bad corporations' are considered 'human' by critics and politicians when it seems as if it might be a favorable potential political issues to their side such as inversion. 
  • 'Big bad corporations' are not considered 'human' when it comes to issues such as political free speech and campaign finance when it seems as if bashing them might be a favorable potential political issue for their side.
Which is it then? Are corporations made up of human beings? Or are they just mere 'machines'?

And what about the 'right to assembly' as defined in the First Amendment?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Aren't people who work for or run any company or corporation basically 'assembling peacefully' to work together for some common purpose such as producing vaccines for the Ebola virus, finding cures for cancer or making fuel-efficient automobiles for us to drive to work every day?
If so, why should they be denied the right as an assembly of people to participate in elective politics through funding or speaking out on the issues of concerns to them collectively....just as unions can do and have done for the past century?

Are unions 'human' or not as well? Or are they just like corporations where laws passed by our duly-elected legislators protect their right to 'assemble' and 'to petition the Government for a redress of grievances' such as work-related safety and conditions?

It is just something to think about the next time you hear some politician rant on about 'corporate inversions' or some other thing they think will rile up the electorate to vote for their side this fall.

* http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/corporateinversion.asp




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