[FoRK] Justice Defends Ruling on Finance

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Thu Feb 4 10:18:23 PST 2010

Damien Morton wrote:
> http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/04/us/politics/04scotus.html?hp
> """
> Justice Thomas said the First Amendment’s protections applied regardless of
> how people chose to assemble to participate in the political process.
> “If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’d say
> you have First Amendment rights to speak and the First Amendment right of
> association,” he said. “If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’d
> say we still have that First Amendment right to speak and of association.”
> “But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?” Justice Thomas asked,
> suggesting that the answer must be the same.
> """
> This is just so fucking wrong. Corporations are nothing like 10 people
> coming together to form a partnership to speak.
> Its one or more owners, who can now use the corporation's finances and
> employees to amplify their speech.
I can see why people are upset with this, however I think the reasoning 
is now correct, even if inconvenient.
One thing I don't understand is what the people gathering petitions, 
etc., are going to do.  Pretty much the only choice is A) a clever law 
that tries to circumvent the First Amendment (good luck) or B) a 
constitutional convention to make a change (really, good luck.  Talk 
about a can o' worms).

I don't see what is so magical about a corporation in this case.  
Companies do not have to be incorporated technically (although, 
practically, most do).   Answering this would be illuminating:

Sole proprietorships and partnerships are "companies" of individuals 
with no additional legal standing or entity.  They can do just about any 
kind of business, except sell stock.  (Although you could enter into 
stock-like royalty agreements possibly.)  A person, operating as a sole 
proprietorship, could have any amount of money, land, buildings, etc., 
and could directly employ any number of people.  What would or should be 
the legal basis for restrictions on such a person from using their 
"finances and employees to amplify their speech"?

An employer isn't technically / normally controlled by its employees.  A 
group of people can elect for a leader to guide, direct, and speak for 
them.  I don't see the bright line of logic in the sentiment that a 
corporation has no free speech rights.

There are "powerful" people who I agree with and trust and those that 
are quite the opposite.  To some extent, more successful people have a 
greater reach in general.  What ways of blunting their effective voice 
and reach are really valid?

Of course we want and need to prevent corrupt self-reinforcement of 
government.  Is it really the case that we can only control this at the 
Pavlovian level of money->speech->votes?  Isn't that what the First 
Amendment specifically allows and trusts: Listener beware - survival of 
the fittest memes.  If you are worried about the prospect of sheeple, 
then work to cure people of sheepleness.  If you want an advantage in 
influencing sheeple, then shame on you.

Certainly, there have been some nasty cases in the past.  The tobacco 
industry for instance, but they were outright lying to the public, 
already illegal.  Any time a company is so large that they saturate an 
area or other large group of people, there is some danger.  If you were 
to catalog the resulting evils of too-large corporations, it might 
include things like decisions (politically related or otherwise) that 
run counter to certain business units or groups of employees or 
"stakeholders" in general.

I would suggest that the best solution here is perhaps something along 
the lines of strengthening antitrust or similar mechanisms to break up 
companies before they get big enough to seriously cause certain kinds of 
problems.  Or perhaps as soon as they are demonstrated to have those 
problems.  We have plenty of communication and market exchange 
capability to have efficient markets of medium-sized companies rather 
than being dominated by a few giants.  Companies should get into 
efficient trading / partnering arrangements rather than being allowed to 
roll up into can't-fail behemoths.


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