When the New York City Council approved a ban on sales of soft drinks in containers larger than 16oz, ban opponents used some ideological sleight-of-hand. It was so subtle that I noticed it only now!
By framing the ban as an issue of individual liberty, they obscured a crucial fact: the ban would have regulated the behavior not of individuals but of businesses. Individuals would still have been able to buy all the soda they wanted.
Therefore, the real issue was whether irresponsible corporations would still be allowed to tempt customers to use too much of an unhealthy product. All the talk about government overreach, the nanny state, and personal choice was really about the City’s treatment of corporations, not people.
All the talk about government overreach, the nanny state, and personal choice was really about the City’s treatment of corporations, not people.
However wise or foolish this ban proposal may have been, governments have a responsibility to regulate commerce within their borders and also a responsibility to protect the health of the community. In similar future cases, Framologists should name who is really affected by the proposal and identify the real issue as corporate responsibility, not individual liberty.
Do you know if soda-ban defenders used this approach? I’d love to hear about it!
The legal status of corporations is in an interesting ferment. With recent corporate legal challenges to the Patient Protection Act’s requirement that health insurance cover birth control, the idea of corporate personhood is back in the news. For example, the owners of Hobby Lobby claim that the company has a religion.
Although its website has a Ministry Projects page, the corporation is a structure–a metaphorical building. Even though corporations can be established for religious purposes, their legal and physical structures do not themselves hold opinions, religious or otherwise. It’s the people that occupy that do, and their right to religious expression does deserve legal protection.
Like these corporate lawsuits, Mitt Romney’s famous statement that corporations are people blurs the distinction between corporations and human beings. (I do not believe that, as some have claimed, he meant that corporations ARE human beings, just that people inhabit corporations and benefit from them.)
This blurring is dangerous because, as the 2004 documentary The Corporationhas argued, if corporations were people, many would be psychopaths. Giant psychopathic corporations with all the rights of citizens are the last thing we need!
Another important development is the dawn of benefit corporations (aka public benefit corporations). In states that have created this category of corporation, the corporation has a fiduciary commitment not only to its own bottom line but also to the community and the environment. Supporters of benefit corporations may call these the triple bottom line: profit, people, and planet.
When extreme conservatives talk of corporate rights and corporate personhood, I think Framologists should respond with corporate responsibility and the triple bottom line. When extremists say that corporations are persons before the law, we can point out that, although they do have the rights to advertise their products, enter contracts, own property, and sue, they are not and should be citizens. Citizenship is for Americans. Corporations created by American states have responsibilities to those states and to the people and natural world that make their business possible.
How should progressives respond to the extreme conservative mantra, ?
This slogan comes from the inaccurate view that markets justly mete rewards and punishments like the fundamentalist, strict-father version of God.
As noted before, from a progressive perspective, markets are tools to be used by Us the People for our benefit. If we were to let markets make important policy decisions for us, we would be like Don Quixote on his first sally. Seeking adventure, the would-be knight rode out of town and then let his horse decide where to go. The horse returned him to his barn, of course!
But at least his horse got him safely home. If we abandon ourselves to the judgment of “markets” without clear, consistently-enforced expectations for fair play and fair treatment of workers, customers, communities, animals, and the planet, the corporations that tend to dominate markets could be far crueler.
The effect of letting the market decide too often means that the two or three (sometimes only one) companies that dominate an industry decide for us what our options are. Insisting that the government, as the people’s servant, set rules to structure markets for our benefit, increases confidence in business and helps markets function in our interest.
Therefore, when extreme conservatives say to let “the market” decide, progressives should reply,