Note: This discussion is focused primarily on large-cap companies valued at more than $1 billion. Small and mid-sized companies are treated differently, as discussed later. The use of faceless corporations as villains in pop culture is so well-worn it’s become cliche. From the 1973 sci-fi classic
I think you are right on point here. I believe strongly in the power of incentives, and so government needs to find ways to change the incentives for large corporations. Sadly though, the corruptive influence of money subverts this before the rules can be changed. Everything always comes down to separating the politicians from the power of outside money.
Assuming that there was a way to keep the corporations from buying enough politicians to prevent change, I think the concept of credits and offsets for good behavior is underused. Carbon credits/offsets have been a great idea. They have allowed companies with the ability to amend their process to remove carbon to sell them to companies with more primitive processes to buy time to change more slowly.
Why can't this be used for other problem issues in this changing economy? Surely there is a way to monetize technological advances to offset old tech that can't be changed quickly. You know more about food than I do, but I am thinking about the need to automate the midsize dairy farms across the country. It's not likely that dairy farmers can afford the $250K it takes for each robotic milking setup, but finding a financial proxy at a high tech producer to allow the smaller farmer affordable access to tech reduces inequality and benefits both sides. Perhaps it's in the form of a tax credit, but there has to be a way to connect businesses so that is feels less like income redistribution and more like a patriotic duty to move the country forward.
I's also like to see this applied to poverty in a more direct way. The largest corporations respond to tax policy. Why not experiment with a 2 for 1 deduction for charitable contributions that exceed your 5 year rolling average that are specifically targeted at organizations that address poverty issues like food and housing? At a corporate tax rate of 20% (I think that is current), this would be a return to society of 250% measured against the tax revenue lost ground up and 500% if only measured against the extra credit alone. The threshold of the 5 year rolling average makes this all new money going to poverty.
At the end of the day, corporate money is all about keeping score and winning. It's that fire that fuels capitalism. We need to change the scoring system so that rewards are defined not only in terms of accumulation, but also for the offset to the downside of capitalism - the consumption of resources, both natural and human. We probably cannot eliminate the cost of capitalism, but we can force it to account for the cost and to amend that damage through a reframing of what it means to win.
I'm a Marxist historian, so my perspective and conclusions may be different from your own at times, but this was an excellent historical summary of the rise of corporate power in the United States.
I think most of us can agree that corporations are definitely not people, and should not have the rights of citizens. Unfortunately, they hold all the levers of power at the federal level, and have successfully crushed all recent reformist efforts.
I don't think this system can be changed without a real revolution of some sort.
I appreciate your thoughtful & researched perspectives, John - I'm learning all the time.
Our Founding Fathers could not foresee large, multinational corporations from their perch in the late 18th century, but they did anticipate "factions", whether political or economic, that would try to impose their interests on society via action or influence in our governmental processes. The Constitution itself is necessarily a lean document, but the framers of it explained their rationale at length in the Federalist papers.
One of the more famous editions of these essays in Constitutional advocacy is Federalist #10, which was written by James Madison. Writing under the pen name of "Publius", Madison (along with Hamilton and Jay in other Publius essays) was quite concerned about the influence of "factions" on the proposed Constitutional Republic the Founders envisioned. "By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." (source: Federalist #10, page 1).
It's a fascinating and well written discussion. The Founders hoped that checks and balances within the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches would be enough to beat back the tyranny of these influences, and this system worked fairly well until the 20th century, when money became more important than character in determining who gets elected. The Founders hoped the "character" of those who were elected to high office would "put the interests of the nation ahead of any faction", but the need to raise funds to support ever more expensive election campaigns has long since pushed aside those who would put the nation's interests first -- ahead of themselves, their party, or special interest groups like corporations.
Getting corporate money (and the political influence it buys) out of campaigns/legislation cannot happen as long as corporate political contributions are viewed as "free speech" in our courts. Money isn't speech -- it's commerce -- and it is an abomination that corporations are deemed to have "rights" like free speech under our Constitution. No, only "citizens" have rights under our Constitution, and we citizens need to reassert this notion.
Thank you, John Geocaris, for taking on these issues in a thoughtful way!