Living on the Earth, February 7, 1997: Supercitizens
This country's founding fathers wrote that "All men are created equal. " What
they really meant was more like " All land-owning white males of English descent
are created equal."
Our democracy has evolved slowly, and sometimes painfully, to the point where,
legally at least, men and women citizens of all races and levels of wealth are
allowed to participate in this grand experiment called democracy.
Over the years, however, another class of citizen -the supercitizen- has arisen.
These supercitizens aren't biological or mortal beings like us. They are
corporations, legal artifacts which exist only to make a profit.
In the 1700s, the close relationship between the English government and giant
global trading corporations was one of the major issues which caused the
American Revolution. The King granted special monopoly rights to the Dutch East
India Company, a chartered corporation, to distribute tea from England's bulging
warehouses. The effects of this concentration of political and economic power
on average merchants precipitated the Boston Tea Party. And the rest, as they
say, is history!
Because of this experience, our founding fathers were careful to prohibit the U.
S. government from chartering corporations. The states were given the sole
authority to grant corporate charters. In return for a charter, the corporation
agreed to obey all laws, to serve the common good, and to cause no harm.
Charters were supposed to be revoked if corporations broke laws, didn't serve
the common good or did harm.
As state-chartered corporations became larger and more powerful, with the help
of the courts, they amassed special privileges, benefits and wealth.
Corporations have become more like humans. They acquired the right to sue and
be sued, the right to privacy, and the right to contribute to the political
system. Currently there is a large corporate push for what's called "tort
reform" which would give these supercitizens preferential status in the courts.
Corporations have other advantages that make them "super." Unlike people, they
have the potential to be immortal. Some of the most successful ones are over a
hundred years old.
While citizens owe allegiance to their country, to their communities, and to
their families, supercitizens owe allegiance only to greater financial returns.
They are free to roam the country and the world, looking for the best deals on
labor, raw materials, taxes and government subsidies, with no feeling of
allegiance to anything but the bottom line.
As corporations' power increased, their share of government's cost decreased.
In the 1950s, corporations paid almost 40 percent of the taxes in this country.
By 1980, they paid only 26 percent of all Federal taxes. Then, the Economic
Recovery Tax Act of 1981 reduced the corporate share to just eight percent.
Although corporations work hard to reduce their taxes, they generously fund
campaigns in order to influence government. Almost two-thirds of the money that
puts people into Federal office comes from corporate contributions. It's not too
surprising that corporate taxes have gone down.
The share of our taxes that is used to buy from corporations, to subsidize them,
and to clean up after their messes, has gone up. Most of the corporations' raw
materials are subsidized by the rest of us. There's quite a list: timber and
pulp wood, agricultural products, including grains, fossil and electrical
energy, water, the transportation system, research and regulation. Soon, with
the change from human to corporate welfare, we may even subsidize labor by
paying half of the salary of the low-paid workers upon whom fast-food
restaurants and giant retailers depend.
The expenses of supercitizens - jet planes, elaborate headquarters, executive
retreats, public relations firms, and much more - are all tax deductible. In
contrast, the expenses of regular citizens- a car to get to work, rent,
education and almost everything else, are paid for with "after-tax" dollars.
An individual has to earn $1.40 to have one dollar to spend. A corporation
spends a dollar and takes 30 cents off its taxes.
What can we do about this? Campaign finance reform is critically important.
Offending corporations should have their charters revoked. We should pay closer
attention. Our best long-term strategies may be to rely less on corporations and
do more for ourselves.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since
November 1995 are available there.