Saturday, May 15, 2010

Capitalism and Corporatism: The Duck and the Rabbit

Capitalism & Corporatism: The Duck and the Rabbit


Introduction


Existence in America is driven by certain myths.  Myths are dangerous things to base one’s life upon, for while they usually germinate from the seeds of truth, they come to metastasize into rootless species, multiplying at a rate which guarantees their proliferation and the extinction of other competing viewpoints, ideas, theories, and even the truth itself.  Not all myths are harmful; in point of truth, most are benign enough and communicate timeless principles or axioms.


But the American myths that have come to the forefront of our national dialogue are dangerous indeed.  America is undergoing a great fracturing, where groups are organized around mutually held grievances which they blame on the descendants of those who caused whatever problem leading to the current argument.  The sins of the father are visited upon the son in the Old Testament, but in America, we do not hold that guilt is transmitted down the generations.  We believe, or at least we used to believe, that guilt was an individual matter.  More importantly, we believed in individual accountability.  This is changing.  


What is important about this development is simple: we have an entire culture of victimization, where even those who do things to harm others can point to someone who victimized them or enabled their decisions at some point in their lives, and they can thereby spread or collectivize the guilt, diminishing their own crimes in the process and clouding the debate over their own guilt and the level of punishment or accountability they should face.  This is flagrantly in conflict with our unique cultural values.  American exceptionalism begins and ends with individuals acting in their own rational self-interest, with an acute awareness of the notion that actions have consequences, consequences which can resonate not only to those victimized by one’s bad or criminal behavior, but also to the perpetrator himself. In America, individualism is the key determinant of national identity.  


We in America are given rights as individuals which function as limits upon the collectivized power and authority of the government and even on the majoritarian sentiment.  Our Founding Fathers recognized the democracy did not always produce just or even rational results.  When the leaders of our country worked to reconcile the Union following the conclusion of the Civil War, they did not try to construct artificial majorities out electoral maps. They extended former slaves the rights held by every other individual in America.  Rights are the foundation of individual power.  They are sacrosanct notions of an individual’s intrinsic value and worth apart from others.  No matter how alone you are in this world, no matter how few people agree with you, you are free to speak your mind.  Men and women in this country have killed to defend the right of individuals they did not agree with or even like to hold individual liberties.  The average individual is not inclined to kill as a matter of due course, so this fact should tell you something about what rights and freedoms mean to average individuals.  We could of course argue over whether or not soldiers were indeed fighting for freedom and liberty in theaters halfway around the world, but that is irrelevant: the point is that soldiers thought they were fighting for liberty and were willing to take the lives of other individuals they had never met or known in order to defend their own freedom and that of others.  No soldier draws inspiration from the notion that he is fighting to defend some wealthy interest or corporation within his country.  He does not identify with them any more than he identifies with the unknown individual in the foxhole or sniper’s nest across from him on the battlefield.  He identifies with that which is mutually held and mutually exclusive: his rights, your rights, our rights, with each precluding the other from forcing his views or beliefs upon anyone else against their will at the expense of their life, liberty, and property.  The sole reason for nations to exist is this notion of individual liberty.  Any nation not built upon the notion of individual liberty for its citizens inevitably passes into history as a failure.  


The greatest threat to nations and the liberty they hold for their own does not come from without; it comes from within.  There will always be those interests within a country who seek to be more equal before the law than others.  It is from this camp that myths are manufactured.  Myths are the webs woven by individuals and groups seek to erect a framework upon which to establish the basis of legitimacy for their illegitimate ends.  They are the claim to justified supremacy.  


Challenging these myths ultimately threatens the foundations of a society whose citizens have accepted them.  The truth is dangerous in a society whose truths are built on deeply rooted deceits.  People will fight for the lie in the most vicious of ways if they genuinely believe in it.  It is essential to their identity. Telling the truth in an age built on the accumulated deceits of an epoch is not merely revolutionary; it is tantamount to storming the sanctum sanctorum in order to tear down that which is holy.  No matter that you are telling the truth, you are blaspheming against the truth held by the majority, a truth which unites them in solidarity and provides the tie that binds their lives.  


This is the environment we currently occupy: telling the truth, and differentiating between that truth and the dominant paradigm of deceit is seditious.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in our national dialogue over the economy.  A great deal of confusion exists about the economy, and the false has come to rule over and crowd out the true.  


Part of the core issue is that economics as a discipline purports to possess the ability to do the impossible: quantify human behavior neatly and precisely, and to render a model of the inherent risks within behavior driven systems like the stock market within a degree of accuracy.  It is not that human behavior is too complex to model.  Human behavior is simple.  Human beings pursue any objective which they perceive to align with their self-interest.  It is perception that is complicated, and it is perception which cannot be modeled with any degree of precision or accuracy.  We know how to influence perception, even how to direct perception with a degree of accuracy. We can make people desirous of something.  But we cannot control behavior or perception once desire has taken hold.  We cannot predict with any degree of accuracy just how much people will desire an objective, or the lengths to which they will go in pursuit of satiating their desire.  We cannot predict the effect their individual choices will have across the macroeconomic board.  Desire is an inherently volatile thing, and when combined with perception, the two create a doubly volatile and highly combustible mixture.  


It is possible to inculcate within human beings desires which are self-destructive and even suicidal, and to influence their perception in such a way as to blind them to this reality.  When dealing with the sheer power of desire, and its companion perception, one has to be aware of the fact that with their ratio of intensity is directly proportionate to the current level of risk.  People in a frenzy are dangers to themselves and to the larger market in which they make their decision.  Their ability to think and assemble information into an accurate picture within their mind is corrupted.  


Think of the pictures you see in a book of optical illusions.  Turn the picture one way and you will see a duck, and turning the book another way will reveal a rabbit.  The information on the page does not change.  The way your mind assembles it into a recognizable result does change depending on perspective.  Your mind assembles the same information differently depending on any number of factors, including the influences of your life, your social background, your accumulated experiences, and all of the variables that go into a human life.  Depending on the way information is presented or the point in your life during which information is revealed, you can come to many different conclusions about the same information.  You will act on those conclusions in any number of different ways.  This is why your behavior is inherently unpredictable and impossible to model with any degree of empirical validity.  


There are items which arise out of human behavior which one can model. Debt can be modeled.  Profit can be modeled.  Historical trends can be modeled.  Common sense can be modeled.  Each of these can be modeled in relation to the others to glean an insight or two about how they relate to current situations, but in any case, you still come back to the duck and the rabbit.  It really depends on your perspective and a number of other variables as to which result your mind will glean out of the same information.  Despite the fact that the information may be 100% valid, the conclusion which you infer from it may be 100% inaccurate.  It may only be 50% inaccurate.  Then again, you may be 100% valid in your information and 100% accurate in your conclusion, but you must never make the mistake of assuming that this has anything to do with your own innate capabilities.  Most of the time, we are just fortunate when we get it right.  Humility is the greatest asset you can have in life.  Everything else is blinding.  


It is not that you cannot know with a reasonable degree of certainty what will happen.  If you take on a debt that outstrips your ability to pay the debt off, you will fall into insolvency.  If you take on debt which falls within the limits of your ability to pay, you will have something additional left over after the retirement of your liabilities.  There are unforeseen pitfalls in life which you can then provide for with your surplus.  You can plan for the unknown, if you will.  


The great myth of economics is that surprises occur.  Surprises do not occur.  Everything of significance which has ever happened is entirely clear in hindsight, and it ought to have been clear in foresight.  However, from one perspective people saw a duck, and from another they saw a rabbit.  It is entirely foreseeable that an economy built on tulips might crumble.  It is entirely foreseeable that an economy with rampant mortgage fraud might come to a sharp demise.  The only time individuals and nations are surprised is when they willfully look the other way.  The way that people in economics look the other way is with graphs, equations, and formulas designed to persuade them that the current path is sustainable in perpetuity.  It is not a matter of perspective so much as it is a willful choice.  


We will ourselves to see a duck or a rabbit.  Oftentimes outcomes depend on what we go looking for.  A liar is no good at his vocation, but an expert is phenomenal at his vocation.  The liar gets caught, while the expert eludes detection or consequence.  


Take light, for example.  For a century, physicists have been locked in a battle over whether light behaves as wave or a particle.  They’ve found that depending on what they went looking for, and how they positioned their sensors, the experiments yield a result consistent with their preconception.  What the physicists have failed to consider is that light is malleable.  It does what it must do to get to its destination in the most efficient way.  


In much the same way, information does what it must do to get to its destination.  That destination is whatever you want it to be.  This ability to control destination by perception combined with desire does not entail control.  On the contrary, outcomes will arise that defy any notion that individuals or nations control matters to a degree where they can break the immutable.  Spend more than you take in, and you will go bankrupt.  Borrow more than you can pay back, and you will lapse into insolvency and additional credit will be increasingly difficult to procure.  


You can take a piece of Play-Doh, roll it out flat, and press your fingers in the flattened surface to make indentations.  Then you can take water and pour it over one end of the surface, and you can watch as the water takes the most efficient path to get to an indentation.  Once a particular indentation reaches capacity, the water moves towards the next efficient destination from its starting point.  


You can cheat to a degree. You can carve out little ridges which direct water along a longer path, but the path is still the most efficient path for the water to travel.  It’s inefficient only from your perspective.  The great mistake men make is assuming that they have accomplished something momentous in playing such little games with economics, social problems, and other items of human concern.  The difference between real efficiency and perceived efficiency is the distance between two points and the energy required to traverse that distance.  The distance between two points may be shorter, but the path required may involve the expending of vast amounts of energy which render the shorter distance less efficient than a longer but less consumptive path.   This is perhaps the great measuring stick of human achievement.  You may have solved a human problem, but you may have created one in the process or you may have expended a level of effort that was unnecessary and even wasteful.  The excessive expenditure may have grave implications for the future.  


All of these principles come down to two basic concerns: which is the more efficient and therefore more valid path, and which path is real by virtue of its initial claims and yielded results?  Capitalism and Corporatism are the two dominant paradigms in our thought today.  There are other -isms, but these are the only two that matter.  Socialism and fascism are masks for corporatism.  Marxism, or communism as it is more commonly known, is a confused reaction to corporatism by feeble-minded people.  


Corporatism’s greatest success has been convincing the majority of individuals that it is capitalism, and therefore valid and good for their lives.  Whereas capitalism might result in a seat at the table, corporatism ensures that the vast majority of individuals will content themselves with the scraps and cast offs from the table.  Those scraps can be significant, even sustaining, but they will never be as great as the potential yield an individual could gain in capitalist free market.  


Corporatism is the weapon by which the ruling elites of the world have bludgeoned the rest of us into compliance and obeisance.  We do not question the system in which we live because to do so would be to question the very foundations of our freedom and our identity.  After all, capitalism is the widely held to be the best economic system under the sun.  Questioning a purportedly capitalist society is tantamount to blaspheming God.  Corporatism requires faith of its serfs, but the faith is not the same as that which is found in religion.  Religion requires belief in the unseen.  Corporatism requires you to stare a thing in the face and believe the exact opposite.  This is the price of salvation in the catholic community of Corporatism.  Anyone who does not possess the ability to overlook and deny the obvious inconsistencies is a heretic steaming towards their own damnation.  They must be discredited, mocked, and relegated to the fringe of society.  


Corporatism offers you a duck, and commands you to identify it as a rabbit.  It then offers you a rabbit, and commands you to identify it as a rabbit. It places the duck and the rabbit alongside one another, and commands you to identify both as rabbits when they are obviously not both rabbits by virtue of their visible anatomical and physiological differences.  The end result of corporatism is a world in which ducks are rabbits and rabbits are rabbits as well, and ordinary people lose the capacity to distinguish between the obvious contradictions.  Corporatism is not surprisingly the great enabler and ally of totalitarians.  


It is also what we have in our country today.  The United States has not had a capitalist economy in over 80 years.  It is doubtful that we were every completely capitalist, as it is very hard to to achieve and maintain purity of theory and theology in an environment where ballots exist.  There was a time in which we were primarily capitalist or at least as capitalist as we could be in a world where trade had to be conducted among various partners who possessed differing rules and strategies.  The United States, being a corporatist nation, is also a totalitarian nation.  Rights are no longer absolute or sacrosanct. They may be suspended or overturned for convenience.  These conveniences are dressed up in noble and practical purposes, such as security and order.  But the end result is the same: you lose the ability to do what you please, even if what you please to do is of no real harm to anyone else.  


At the root of each of these incursions against liberty is an economic purpose.  We have not legalized drugs in this country because illicit drugs are entirely too profitable.  As long as they remain illicit, the monopolies can be maintained.  In point of fact, wherever there are illegal markets, there are closed markets, and someone is gaining a premium off of those markets.  It does not matter who profits off of those drugs or illegal markets, and therefore I will not speculate and engage in libel.  The fact of the matter is that someone does substantially profit off of such illegality, and it isn’t the high school dropout selling crack on a street corner.  The kingpin is a mere lapdog to the types who drive such markets.  His share is greater than the street level operative, but he is still a servant and not a master.  


The fact that drugs are harmful if used to excess (or in some cases, if used at all) to people is immaterial.  Those who sell drugs or profit from their trafficking do not care about harm to others.  They encourage laws prohibiting drugs under the ostensible purpose of preventing harm, but harm still occurs.  They proliferate laws on any number of free-choice victimless crimes, but the fact of the matter is that the law does not eliminate or even significantly curb the crimes in question.  The law is not a deterrent; instead, it is a definition and a prescriptive.  If A occurs, then B will follow.  


Prostitutes and drug users are not victims.  They are individuals making a choice and bearing the consequence of that choice. In the former case, the customer is an individual making a choice and bearing the risk and consequence of that choice.  In free societies, individuals are not immunized from consequence.  They are expected to bear consequence and to learn from it, or they will perish if they do not.  This consequence is the greatest catalyst towards virtuous behavior a society can have.  Individuals learn on their own what works and what doesn’t.  They tend to self-assimilate accordingly.  


Removing natural consequence is the greatest catalyst towards lawlessness a society can have.  Yet, as with the incursions against liberty, the interruption or prevention of natural consequence has its economic purpose as well.  Prisons are lucrative to their operators.  Fines and court fees swell municipal and state coffers.  It would be cheaper and more efficient to simply allow people to learn on their own, but government is rarely concerned with lowering expenditures or raising efficiency. Governments are primarily concerned with their own preservation, expansion, and perpetuation.  They have this in common with businesses.  


The more efficient way for a business to operate is within the parameters of a free market economy where businesses, like individuals in a free society, bear the consequences of their decisions and choices.  However, businesses rightly recognize that this could mean they are perishable.  They seek to erect barriers to culpability and consequence.  They seek to insure their survival even in the event that they make a wrong choice.  Corporatism is the systematic synthesis of their efforts for both themselves and the larger society in which they exist, and corporatism enables them to profit from every eventuality, especially those eventualities where individuals make bad decisions in violation of the law.  


Corporatist societies do not seek to end vice.  They do not even seek to prevent it.  They seek to identify it and profit from it in their punishments of vice.  Individuals existing within a corporatist system come to see that the punishment for prostitution or drug use is a fine, and they then make a potential cost versus potential risk decision. There are certain crimes which are not profitable, in that they require a lengthy detention and cannot be simply resolved with a fine and some court fees.  Incarcerations cost money.  This is why you see the rise of plea bargains for violent crimes, to lessen the cost of those crimes to municipalities and states.  It’s an economic decision. Furloughs, work releases, sentences to halfway houses, all of these are merely economic decisions made by governments seeking to profit rather than to protect.  None of this would be necessary if victimless crimes were not statutorily outlawed.  It would not be necessary to incarcerate drug users or dealers.  Our prison populations would be reduced to those individuals who actually harmed others.  


What is more, if you remove the illicit quality of an act or behavior, you lessen its appeal.  The forbidden fruit is always intoxicatingly tempting.  If you remove the safety net associated with such behavior, such as publicly funded rehabilitation and recovery programs, you will further lessen the appeal of excess.  People do things because they can.  Lessening the consequence in the name of compassion only ensures that they will do more because they can do more.  You do an individual no favors by lessening his chastisement.  To do so is neither mercy nor grace.  It is a foolish enabling.  It is agonizing to watch an individual in the throes of addiction, and your heart naturally goes out to them.  But if you enable them, you ensure that they will never come to the realization that their behavior is destroying them.  They can live lives of indolence and irresponsibility and still have their basic needs met by family members who provide them with delays of the inevitable consequence in the form of food, clothing, and most importantly, unearned money.  


To dispense with myth in such instances to be merciful.  It is to hasten the reckoning, and by doing so, you ultimately give your loved one a higher chance of survival by ensuring that he will come to a reckoning sooner rather than later.  In much the same way, to dispense with the comfortable and conventional myths of our time is merciful in its own way.  Our country is sick, and its reckoning has been delayed for far too long.  Further delay constitutes a foolish enabling.  It is time for the hard truths to be spoken, for a reckoning to occur.  It is time to call a duck a duck and a rabbit a rabbit.  This piece is my attempt to differentiate between the duck and the rabbit, if you will, and to offer you a choice between one option which I believe to be superior, and another which I believe to be the root cause of our nation’s issues.  



























Posted via email from momus1978's posterous

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Functional Illiteracy within the Tea Party: Humorless Harpies, Nattering Nabobs, Anti-Intellectuals, and Putrid Puritans.


Recent encounters with the lunatic fringe have caused me to have an epiphany of sorts where the Tea Party is concerned.  I am, philosophically speaking, a conservative in my home and a libertarian outside of it. That is, I believe in and practice traditional morality in my own home, but I do not see any legitimate power or authority that I can claim to force others to do as I do.  


On occasion, I do succumb to the notion that might makes right.  One of the issues that most vexes me when out and about in public is that of disrespectful and even violent children who seem to have no compunction about putting their hands on their parents.  I have been known to step outside of decorum and snap at errant children in a threatening manner, whereas their parents simply stand passively and absorb the abuse.  Call me old-fashioned, even a bit archaic, but I’ve actually taken off my belt in a store before and offered it to a flustered mother.  When her expression changed from embarrassed to confused, I offered to give a demonstration.  


Two things happened: her child immediately straightened up, and I realized that I did not need to wear belts in public anymore.  Sans belt, I’ve made my way through the world without criminal outbursts.  There is something highly irksome about the way in which young men address their mothers these days, and I’ve also had to stop carrying a pen around with me.  I had the scene from Goodfellas flash through my head briefly, where Joe Pesci brutally stabs a fellow gangster with a pen until the man collapses in tears and pain from the assault, when a young man in J.C. Penney addressed his mother with pejorative that in my youth would have yielded him a broken jaw from my mother and a broken bottom from my father.  Suffice it to say, I don’t go out much these days.  The world and I are at loggerheads, and I eschew temptation where my oft-lamented proclivity towards violent reciprocity is concerned.  


I don’t judge people for doing what they do, but I make quite the statement with my own life and how I live it.  I’m a one woman man.  I have never cheated on any woman I’ve been in a relationship with.  Granted, there was a time in my life in which I avoided issue by specifically delineating the distinctive differences between the beast and the bond, but when I have committed myself to a woman in exclusivity, I’ve kept up my end of the pact.  I no longer do drugs, but I don’t deny that I occasionally reminisce about the days in which I did do drugs.  When I became a man, around thirty or so, I put away childish things.  My regular tobacco pipe, a beautiful example of craftsmanship, still sits on the dresser.  I occasionally lift it to my nostrils and catch a whiff of that old Blue Note blend tobacco I used to smoke in Nashville.  I often find myself going inside the gas station to pay instead of swiping my card at the pump, simply to get a glimpse of my beloved Camel Wides.  


Adulthood be damned, I still drink a Guinness every now and then.  The same for my Phillips Union whiskey, or my Famous Grouse.  On occasions that merit a finer snort, I do go and get a Glenmorangie.  And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I just can’t do much with a man who doesn’t drink.  Sobriety of mind is one thing, but the damned temperance fanatics irk my last nerve with their holier than thou attitude.  If abstinence from or consumption of a substance is your claim to moral supremacy, you’ve missed the point of living a moral life: to participate within reason and demonstrate control over oneself and one’s faculties in a manner consistent with one’s professions.  Granted, given my tendency to take my belt off in order to assist a confused parent in disciplining their wayward child, I do have a few areas to work on.  


I live my life in a manner that is generally consistent with my professions.  I make no pretense of being something that I am not.  I have told my wife how I feel about the role of a man, as a protector who handles a good many roles within the relationship for which a woman is not suited.  I don’t expect my wife to fight off a burglar in the home.  I also expect that when I do say no, my wife will ultimately understand that I do mean no, and that my authority is not exercised for inappropriate or self-edifying purposes.  I open doors, and my wife has learned to wait for her door to be opened.  There are certain rituals and codes within life that must be honored, especially within relationships.  Order proceeds out of these rituals and their repetition, and my wife has come to know and expect certain things as a result.  


Moral slobbery, identified by William F. Buckley as that indifference in things minor which carries over to things major, is something that we all struggle with on some level.  I despise a vacuum cleaner.  My sinuses loathe it even more.  However, there are things that must be done.  I’m not a fan of household chores in the slightest, to be honest.  But, as a wise and conflicted man once said, tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.  I have yet to reach the apex of that latter standard, but I strive nonetheless.  


I recognize my weaknesses and my strengths, and consequently I did not enter the ministry after my father’s example.  I am not a preacher precisely because one cannot exhort others without being a model of sorts oneself.  Humility before honor, achievement before acclaim, and work before reward, and so on and so forth.  I am, like Charles Barkley, fully cognizant of the fact that I am not a role model.  


Would it were that so many of the lunatic fringe that I encounter in the course of blogging and participating in the effort towards political reform had the same cognitive epiphany.  These individuals, while perhaps not even  a significant or cohesive minority within the Tea Party or 9/12 Movements, are united by one quality: they are loud.  It is extraordinarily hard to simply ignore them, and even you manage to do so, they do not go away.  They are possessed with inexhaustible reserves of stamina which enable them to harangue, nag, slander, and libel anyone they perceive as a communist, socialist, or leftist.  


What is more, the infuriating fact of the matter is this: they haven’t a clue what they speak of, nor do they possess the capacity to comprehend anything outside of their narrow ideological constructs.  Don’t even get me started on their inability to spell or construct complete sentences with proper punctuation.  I am admittedly a stickler for complete words, and a man who utterly despises that common vernacular of our times, the acronym.  It irks me to no end to encounter someone who utilizes acronyms in written correspondence, but what really sets me off is that rare bird who uses acronyms in spoken conversation.  They are still rare, but they are becoming more and more common.  


If an individual criticizes the corporation, or the way in which corporations contend for a free market on the one hand while soliciting bailouts on the other, these saps start screaming out in defense of the corporation and against any legitimate criticism of the corporate world, specifically the banking industry.  They have one horse to ride, and they ride it to death.  Spurring on their pony, they beat it down the stretch with a riding crop known as socialism and/or communism.  Any perceived hostility towards banks, no matter whether or not it has legitimate roots in capitalist constructs, is automatically identified as a signal of less than pure loyalty towards capitalism.  


It does not matter how one differentiates it, these “pro-business” types automatically and thoughtlessly label any deviation from the ideological line as a sign of heresy. The fact is that these individuals, professing absolute fealty to capitalism and free markets, cannot articulate exactly what a free market is or what capitalism is.  They haven’t read Adam Smith, and most of them couldn’t even tell you who Adam Smith is.  They certainly can’t identify Malthus, Keynes, Bastiat, Krugman, or any other notable economist or thinker from history.  


In point of fact, they are reflexively proud of their lack of historical knowledge.  The simple truth of their existence is that they are ignorant of history, economics, literature, art, or any other intellectual or academic area of concern.  Their regard of individuals who possess the ability and the desire to read is akin to the attitude of the Khmer Rouge towards people wearing glasses: they regard them with suspicion and mistrust, and they want them driven out of any movement or effort they lay claim to.  Education is for the supercilious hauteur, and not for the real people who make up any legitimate grassroots movement.  


What they are incapable of is this: recognizing that their own ignorance and inability to focus on specifics and the details of policy are directly responsible for the gradual degradation of American politics into the romper room we now have.  Say what you will, informed consent is not the responsibility of governments; instead it is the responsibility of citizens who wish to direct their government in the right direction with their votes.  One cannot help but look at the past three presidential elections and come to any other conclusion than this: on either side, you were with stupid.  


Whether Al Gore or George W. Bush, or George W. Bush or John Kerry, or even Barack Obama and John McCain, you were with individuals who were hopelessly mundane and average.  Each man traded on the cachet of his network or his family name to get where he was.  That’s their merit. Whether you brought into the notion that Al Gore was an intellectual and George W. Bush was a fraternity boy gone gub’ na, the reality of the matter was this: both men were C students in Ivy League schools, and both men were individual heirs to family dynasties.  Neither of the two has any individual accomplishment which speaks to a particular genius on their part.  


Al Gore’s sole advantage over George W. Bush was that he was better at pretending to be intellectual.  He spoke the language of the snobs in the media, as evidenced by the following quote from a piece I wrote which touched on Al Gore and George W. Bush’s differences and similarities: 


“Here’s an example of how tone deaf a person raised within the political class can be to the concerns of average Americans: when interviewed by Louis Menand, then Vice President Al Gore mentioned reading The Phenomenology of Perception, citing it as a book that made him want to get involved and change things.  This is what Al Gore said about the book, written by French author Maurice Merleau-Ponty: it enabled him to “cultivate a capacity for a more refined introspection that gave me better questions that ultimately led to a renewed determination to become involved with the effort to make things better.”  Menand’s takeaway, as follows: “It is a little hard to imagine having this conversation with George W. Bush.”  


Why?  Why is it harder to imagine having such a conversation with George W. Bush?  He and Al Gore attended similar preparatory institutions, attained similar grades, matriculated, went on to the Ivy Leagues, and both hailed from political families.  They graduated from the Ivy Leagues, went on to serve in non-combat positions within the military to elude the risks of Vietnam, and both were comfortably ensconced in the family businesses and family pursuits afterwards. All in all, they’re remarkably similar men, in every way and fashion save one: their constituencies.” 


-Outreach and Inreach as Revolution



Let’s examine that again, and condense it down to the essential part: “... cultivate a capacity for a more refined introspection that gave me better questions that ultimately led to a renewed determination to become involved with the effort to make things better.”  On some level, if you have a basic command of vocabulary, and some degree of depth in dealing with intellectual matters, you can call bullshit.  The essential thing Al Gore was doing when he came up with such a convoluted and pretentious answer was the same thing every country club born again Republican does when he talks about Jesus Christ before an audience at Bob Jones: pandering.  


The interview I reference took place in 1998, nearly two years before the elections, and anyone with a brain could have seen the obvious problem with the interview and what it represented: here you have Menand, a man who has likely never read The Phenomenology of Perception, and who therefore has no means of confronting or challenging Al Gore on his breezy summation of the book’s influence on his life, letting Al Gore get away with one while slamming George W. Bush in advance to bring forth the differentiation between the two men that the media wanted as part of its script: Gore the intellectual gnostic, and Bush the entitled and unintelligent fraternity member without intellectual heft or merit.  


What, in the name of all that is holy, was a publication doing casting the presidential race two years in advance?  If you can doubt that the presidential elections are anything other than scripted theater, given the abundance of evidence in the form of such interviews, then you lack the ability to recognize basic reality.  The coronation of the nominees occurs well in advance.  What happens on the campaign trail is usually nothing more than window dressing.  The intelligentsia know this, and they give you the forecast well in advance by shaping public opinion.  


The role of intellect in recognizing this is utterly indispensable.  I do not encourage individuals towards intellectual pursuits or the development of intellectual capacity merely along the lines of ars per ars gratia.  I do it because it has a practical utility to our lives.  It is vital to discernment, and to recognizing patterns in politics and the overall society in which we live.  It’s a built in bullshit detector, and you can recognize when you’re being snowed.  


You can also recognize that certain personalities are utterly full of nonsense.  I’m sorry, but there is no way that Sarah Palin ought to be allowed to take office as President.  I don’t care how many Palinites I offend in saying this; the woman is neither conservative nor libertarian.  She is a politician of the first order, and she has terrific instincts for what will play in Peoria.  What does it say about Palin that she would pander to ignorance by playing the part herself?  If it isn’t a play, then it’s genuine ignorance of her own nation’s history and it speaks volumes about her approach.  It says something about her diligence, her sense of tradition, and her commitment to making informed statements and policy positions.  Do you really want such an individual possessing the ability to deploy nuclear weapons?  


Sarah Palin excels at getting people pumped up in an unthinking way. So has every two term president we’ve had since Nixon.  The American people may have had a government with 40 consecutive years worth of deficits since 1970, but the most important thing is this: they didn’t feel indebted.  They felt great.  When a President’s greatest quality is his ability to anesthetize the people to their reality, that President is a danger to national security and economic well-being.  The American people have become inured to their reality: their nation is indebted, they are indebted, and we are overextended in spending and action.  Our economy is largely comprised of and driven by pure debt.  


Saying such things does not constitute an attack on the right or conservatism.  On the contrary, these hard truths represent a defense of conservatism by disavowing those who lay claim to the mantle only to betray it with their actions.  Ronald Reagan was a helluva nice guy, and he made you proud to be an American.  He also presided over tax increases in six out of eight years, opened up Social Security to raids on its surplus by Congress, and issued amnesty to illegal aliens.  How in God’s name does this constitute conservatism?  In much the same way as the current day, the enforcement agencies under the Reagan Administration looked the other way on banking fraud and illegal immigration.  How is a lack of law and order conservative? How is a routine disregard of the law conservative, especially when it takes place among men and women who have sworn to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land?  How does waging an unlawful war in violation of the Boland Amendments constitute anything other than a total disregard for the Constitution?  


The worst crime a president can commit is this: to make the American people confront their reality in all of its awful glory.  Take Jimmy Carter, a president who was weak, ineffectual, and inept.  He was also searingly honest in one speech he gave, in which he identified a national malaise and its underlying causes and overlying symptoms.  The simple truth is that Jimmy Carter, for all of his errors and his general inability to put forth a strong front on anything, did not lose the presidential election based on those errors.  He lost it based on that speech, the substance of which was totally candid and honest.  For once, the Chief Executive tired of being the anesthesiologist and decided to come forth with some altogether bracing and even stinging: the truth.  The public reacted, and so did the press. Carter was roundly panned.  


Ever since, presidents have been in the business of lying without fail.  Regardless of the skyrocketing debt, the massive tax code and its inefficiencies, soaring entitlements costs, a newer and better day is just around the corner.  America isn’t just strong, she’s invincible.  No matter how badly we bungle our fiscal policy or our military execution abroad, God will not allow us to fail.  Deus ex machina is the expectation of the American people, and so they can spend without worry and pile up massive debt for future generations without care.  


Say what you will about Jimmy Carter, and you can say a lot, and it’s all quite negative, to be honest, but he believed in what he spouted.  He had the courage of his incorrect convictions.  There hasn’t been a Republican president in 42 years who believed in the rhetoric coming out of his own mouth.  How can I say this?  Well, just look at what they’ve done after the election.  


I don’t have to play the fool to appeal to anyone based on perceived ideological purity. Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.  My bona fides are this: I’ve advocated for the abolition of property taxes, income taxes, gift taxes, capital gains taxes, corporate taxes,  the elimination of specific departments within the United States federal government like the Department of Education, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and others.  I don’t equivocate.  My legitimacy is not built upon my appeal to a faux conservative legacy like that of Ronald Reagan.  


I don’t pander.  In point of fact, I do the exact opposite. I’m too conservative and too small government for most Republicans, and that’s saying something.  I came out with the idea that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were nothing more than wealth redistribution programs and were therefore anathema to conservatism, small government, and the historical intent of the Founders and the Framers.  I presented ample evidence to this effect, in the form of specific quotes and citations.  And at the end of the day, all the red meat Republicans I know blanched at the notion that we might actually repeal Social Security.  They didn’t challenge the notion that Social Security was unconstitutional under Article I’s outlining of Congress’s ability to tax for specifically enumerated purposes, none of which include Social Security or any program like it.  They didn’t challenge my assertion that Social Security was nothing more than a redistributive program.  


No, what they spoke to was this: well, you’re right, but those people who’ve paid into Social Security expect to be able to collect later.  They assented to being robbed, and now they expect to be able to the same now that it’s their turn at the trough.  I built an intellectual foundation upon which to rest my assertions and statements, which no one challenged, and it wasn’t enough to convince even those Republicans who routinely scream about redistributive schemes of the Obama Administration.  


No, what I got back was this: how dare you criticize Ronald Reagan. Why does everyone always have to bash Reagan?  He was great president!  He was this, he was that, he defeated the Soviets and brought about the end of communism.  The Berlin Wall came down like the walls of Jericho because of Ronald Reagan.  


I answered every objection with facts about Reagan’s presidency, including citations and sources with every statement I made.  I was exhaustively sourced. What you come to realize is this: the facts don’t matter in the face of a civic myth.  Our national ethos is built upon the maintaining of certain myths.  


The left has their myth in presidents like FDR and JFK.  Talk to a leftist, and they’ll tell you FDR’s New Deals brought about the end of the Depression and the regeneration of the U.S. economy.  Never mind that at the beginning of WWII, our unemployment rate was 15%. Guess what it was at the end of WWII. That’s right: 15%.  If you had this knowledge, or if this knowledge was common to the population at large, we might have been able to universally and soundly reject the false notion that a government stimulus would hold down unemployment or even lower it.  The historical evidence just isn’t there.  


But when you have a population whose defining characteristic is a disdain of history, it is impossible to place modern errors in their proper historical context in order to prevent their implementation.  What you have is a population that consents to its own collective euthanizing by tyrants hell bent on nepotism and political patronage as the basis of public expenditure.  Try communicating to lemmings the fact that their destination has been arrived at before by former generations with disastrous results, and you’ll get the same look you get from a modern day partisan when you try to tell them that a particular proposal has been done before and doesn’t work.  They’re caught up in the frenzy of the tarantella, and they must dance like everyone else, brainlessly.  


Take healthcare reform: it was done in New York back in the 80s in a way remarkably similar to that of the recently passed healthcare reform bill.  It didn’t work.  If you like, you could even look to the more recent example of Massachusetts. Costs are rising, coverage is being reduced, and the panacea of the former day is now the albatross around the neck of the present day.  You could point out that the proposals of the healthcare reform legislation had their genesis in large part over at the Heritage Foundation, despite the protestations of those currently minding shop over at the think tank that the proposals aren’t exactly what they had in mind.  Funny thing about intellectual mercenaries is this: they say what they’re paid to say, and arrive at the conclusions they’re paid to arrive at.  


Independent thinking is in short supply at any think tank.  What you must understand about the men and women who work for think tanks is this: they are paid to arrive at a certain conclusion which fits with a preexisting outlook.  As such, you have to go and do the legwork to verify what they say.  You cannot simply just accept it.  The process is never ending, and everything that emanates out of the establishment intelligentsia must be chased down and verified independently by ordinary men and women doing the due diligence that the mainstream media no longer does.  


The New York Times has had any number of scandals over the past ten years with Judith Miller and Jayson Blair being among the most notable.  And here’s the best part: guess who had a letter signed by 30 staffers alleging improprieties and falsehoods or fabrications in reporting while editor in chief of the Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s student newspaper?  Why, that would be none other than Jayson Blair!  Here’s the link: http://www.baltimoresun.com/topic/bal-as.blair23,0,5336838.story . My question to ponder is this: if the Baltimore Sun could have retroactively gone back and documented these facts, why did the New York Times human resources department fail to ferret out Blair’s proclivities before he was hired?  


You have no reason whatsoever to believe that the media is a reliable source of information in its current iteration.  Media outlets retain individuals as writers and producers who routinely bend the facts or engage in outright deceit, and that’s based on what we know.  It stands to reason that after the Dateline NBC scandal, the New York Times’s various issues, and the New Republic and the Boston Globe, there are many other such issues which are never caught or revealed to the public.  What’s more, many of the supposedly independent media watchdog organizations like factcheck.org are nothing more than affiliates of partisan or ideological foundations like the Annenberg Foundation.  


The sole basis for the appeal of news organizations like Fox News to individuals within the Libertarian and Republican set is this: Fox News panders to us.  It serves up a heaping helping of excrement in much the same way as MSNBC or CNN, with the only difference being that their excrement is less offensive to our partisan olfactory sensibilities.  The idea that Bill O’Reilly is a genuine and committed warrior for conservatism is beyond my comprehension.  The man hosted A Current Affair, and Glenn Beck was a shock jock, for the love of God.  You can be a fan, but you don’t have to be a slobbering fool who abdicates his capacity for independent judgement and thinking to become the political equivalent of an obsessed teenage girl at a boy band concert.  


Let’s take a look at O’Reilly, for just a moment.  During the second Iraq War, O’Reilly’s message to dissidents was simple: shut up and support the President, even at the expense of questioning potentially illegal methods used to engineer consent to the invasion of Iraq.  I was 100% behind George W. Bush in the lead up to Afghanistan.  I publicly advocated turning the country into the world’s largest parking lot.  A lot of my more moderate and even liberal friends did the same.  We were pissed off, and rightly so.  However, our support of the President does not give him and his underlings a blank check to expand war into countries that had nothing to do with 9/11.  What is more, I had serious questions about the way we went to war in Afghanistan, beginning with the fact that no formal declaration of war was ever proffered up by Congress.  I had even bigger objections about the manner in which the Bush Administration handled the Saudi connection to 9/11.  But for the most part, I was part of the loyal opposition.  Admittedly, I didn’t like George W. Bush.  I never liked George W. Bush as a presidential candidate.  I disagreed with almost everyone of his fiscal policies, save his tax cuts.  The profligate spending irked me to no end, especially the expansion of Medicare and No Child Left Behind’s ultimate funding increase for the Department of Education.  


What’s really extraordinary and revealing about O’Reilly is that he didn’t have much of a problem with any of these elements of the Bush Administration’s agenda, even though they clearly flouted long held conservative principles of governance.  His objections, if present at all, were in no way as strident or impassioned as his anger with those who dared to critique the war in Afghanistan, whether on the grounds of process or the ultimate justification for the war itself.  And just who is O’Reilly to be telling other Americans to shut up when they voice their opinion on any matter?  That is their right as citizens!  


Never you mind that Bush was the utter antithesis of what conservatism had previously been: a principled advocacy of core ideals, uncompromising and not at all concerned with the pragmatism of the issue at hand.  On the conservative side, and the libertarian side, there were clear lines and delineations.  There was a right and wrong, and we stood for what we believed was right.  We didn’t water down the truth to make it more palatable.  If we had been open to such an approach, we might as well have decamped over to the Left.  After all, they’ve been moral and ethical pragmatists from their inception.  


Bush was, more than anything else, malleable.  He was appealing to evangelicals because he spoke their language, but he also reached out to the other side with his notion of compassionate conservatism, whatever the hell that was.  There are those of us who believe that compassion entails brutal honesty when necessary, and we tend to hold that lying or bending the truth is the opposite of compassion.  We don’t need a modifier before you nomenclature to clarify our position or to make it more palatable: we are what we are, and what we are is either conservative or libertarian.  We were right about the national debt, about the unsustainable course of entitlements spending, and about the further lack of sustainability in military spending.  Where we went wrong was when we put forth the likes of W. to carry forth our standard into the 21st century.  We went further wrong with the seniority approach to presidential nominations, period.  


Ronald Reagan was a seasoned veteran of presidential races, having lost the nomination once before to Gerald Ford.  George H.W. Bush had a seasoned history as a running mate prospect, and a nominee for this position or that position.  Bob Dole was the elder statesman of the party in 1996.  He also holds the distinction of being the first presidential candidate to receive my vote.  Essentially, the Republican Party’s approach to nomination over the past 42 years has been to let the man who’s been around the longest have first dibs, with the notable exception being W., who waltzed in on the virtue of primogeniture.  


Then again, we have Mitt Romney on the horizon in 2012, and he’s the second coming of Nelson Rockefeller.  Joy oh joy.  My own theory is that Jeb Bush will emerge in 2012 to claim the mantle on primogeniture yet again.  Those are the choices: seniority or primogeniture.  The Libertarian Party might have had my vote in perpetuity, had they simply continued putting for the likes of Harry Browner.  When they went for Bob Barr, I got off the party barge and swam for shore.  


But in an environment where few people know who Nelson Rockefeller even was, and where fewer people understand why Bob Barr is an incomprehensible choice for the Libertarian nomination, and where John McCain could get the Republican nomination only to do to it what he did to fighter planes in Vietnam, there’s always a chance someone like Romney or Bush could waltz into the nomination in 2012.  That’s the importance of history and sentience in grassroots activism.  People have to understand from the past why an idea or candidate isn’t a good fit for the present or the future.  


But among the ahistorical humorless harpies, nattering nabobs, anti-intellectuals, and putrid puritans who seem to be at the forefront of the grassroots with their megaphone mouths and Twitter accounts, there isn’t much evidence of any real understanding of historical context and its application to the present.  What we have are ham-handed efforts at discrediting people who do have some notion of history and intellect with sledgehammer ad hominem attacks.  That boy reads Chomsky and Chambers, and therefore he must be a Commie.  Think about that for a moment: the books one reads disqualifies one from bona fides among a movement whose members supposedly stand for freedom and liberty.  Hmmm, where have we heard that before?  Oh, I know!  The Soviet Union! Solzhenitsyn was exiled from the Socialist paradise for his ideological impurity and partisan disloyalty in exposing the Gulag.  Then again, given the reaction of supposed rightists to those who exposed the black sites and the extraordinary rendition, one wonders how the poles could have shifted to where those condemning such exposure are the defenders of liberty rather than the heretics of freedom.  The fact that I’m a literate biped who possesses opposable thumbs should not discredit me as an advocate for limited government and freedom.  


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Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Legal Obscenity: Corporate Personhood and Equal Protection as Mutually Exclusive Realities

The United States is reaping the dividends of unfettered corporatism of late, given the recent economic crisis and the continuing abuses of the financial sector.  Let me explain quite carefully what I mean, lest you think that I am lapsing into some sort of heresy whereby I am supporting an interventionist government: corporatism must be differentiated from capitalism, as the former is a type of business approach or strategy and the latter is an economic philosophy which very often contradicts the ambitions and drives of the former. 


Capitalism recognizes certain obvious things, and they are as follows: 


  1. Labor theories of capital are hopelessly misguided.  Mind you, a labor theory of capital did not come along in its explicitly stated form until well after Adam Smith had written The Wealth of Nations, but, nevertheless, there have always been those individuals who thought labor by itself constituted a form of wealth unto itself.  
  2. Capital investment is the chief means of creating wealth, with productivity being the key determinant of wealth’s perpetuation and expansion.  
  3. Profit is the chief motivation of both the investor and the laborer.  Profit is why we invest and work.  
  4. Profit must be balanced against the motivation of consumers, which is to have as much as possible for the least possible price.  This least possible price is identified by Adam Smith as the “natural rate,” and defined by Smith as “the lowest which the sellers can commonly afford to take, and at the same time continue their business.”  


The point of capitalism as Smith understood it was to eliminate scarcity by balancing profit against motivation of consumers to arrive at the natural rate.  In short, the goal of capitalism is convenience; convenience, that is, of the consumer.  In all matters, the idea is to drive the price to the lowest possible rate that sellers can take and still manage to survive.  Volume selling, if you will, which enables consumers to buy more and therefore live lives unfettered by the specter of scarcity.  


Corporatism runs in the opposite direction.  The point is not to eliminate scarcity, it is to promote scarcity and increase it at all costs.  Corporatism seeks at all points and places to sell as high as possible, and corporatists have no concern for anything other than profit, and in particular, profit margins.  Scarcity accomplishes the increase of profit margins, and is therefore something that corporatists seek to promote in an economy.  


The destabilizing effects of such an approach ought to be obvious: the food supply is not something we want subjected to the tender mercies of a corporatist approach.  Some of us won’t be able to eat if corporatists can withhold supply in order to drive up prices and profit margins.  However, sometimes supply is irrelevant to the goals of corporatists.  The point of corporatism is gaining the sort of power which will enable corporations to arbitrarily set prices and profit margins apart from market forces.  


In short, corporatism as a doctrine and as a practice seeks to circumvent not only regulatory limits placed on business by the state, but also those limits placed on businesses by the market itself.  Corporatism seeks a rigged market.  It employs monopolies, contango, antitrust exemptions, tariffs, trade blockades, anything and everything you can think of to enable corporations to control the supply irrespective of demand so that scarcity can drive up prices and margins.  Sometimes the approach is hopelessly wrong and corporatists wind up going too far, which results in a price that is too high for consumers to buy and a later glut of excess supply which drives prices extremely low and results in a loss.  This is because it is extraordinarily hard to control every variable in a complicated supply chain.  


With that said, however, corporatists have become extremely adept at controlling what they can control within economies, markets, and governments.  Corporatists have become extremely good at what they do: engineering booms and busts within an economy, and positioning themselves to profit in either situation.  This is because corporatists have long understood the importance of networking and forming alliances within governments.  Corporatists may not respect the spirit of the law, but they most certainly do know with exact precision the letter of that law.  They have to.  Otherwise, how will they find the route through the letter to their intended destination?  


To understand how we arrived at a day when our Congress no longer writes or reads the bills they vote into law, we need to go back in our history to one of the first real strikes for corporatism.  We need to understand that corporatism is a creature of the law, and more specifically, the twisting of the law against its intent and towards something more amendable to the corporatist’s own intention.  


We must also understand that not every employee of a corporation or even every officer of the corporation’s board of directors is a corporatist.  Many of the people you would think of as being ardent corporatists are in fact merely individuals who are in the right place at the right time.  They aren’t particularly smart.  They don’t understand exactly what is taking place around them, or how their profits are being generated.  Very often, they simply know the right people, or have attended the right schools, and by virtue of those two realities, have managed to secure a fortunate positions for themselves.  


Corporatists are usually people within the shareholder class.  They own substantial amounts of stock.  Very often, they exist within that rarefied strata of influence and wealth that is the top 1-5% of the population.  To make this observation, one does not need to be cognizant of class concerns; one merely needs to be capable of neutrally assessing reality itself.  Divide the ladder of the top 5% of households in the U.S. into rungs of tenths, and the higher you  go up the rungs, the more tightly concentrated corporatists will be.  These are the sorts of people who put their money into hedge funds.  They have the minimum contribution available to achieve entry into such funds, and then some.  They own the voting shares, the preferred shares with greater influence over company policy and direction.  


You and I own stock through our 401(k)s.  We may even have a Scottrade or an E-Trade account.  We perhaps have an IRA and some CDs.  The truth is that we don’t have a clue as to what is going on.  Our investments are haphazard.  Our perspective is limited, our information incomplete.  When it comes to the serious money, we don’t have enough cash or capital to even achieve entry into the conversation.  When the market bottoms out suddenly, we lose thousands and perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars from our retirements.  


So much of what we hear, so much of what we believe, and so much of what we accept as gospel truth isn’t real at all.  It’s mere misinformation and disinformation, the distinction between the two being the intent of the source in conveying it to us.  Corporatists depend on our playing along and prattling endlessly on about capitalism and free markets, for those myths are the ether which dulls us to the truth of our existence: we haven’t had capitalism or free markets for some time in the case of the former and possibly never in the case of the latter.  


We get enraged at the notion of socialism, and rant and bloviate to no end about the injustice of taking from one man to enrich another.  Our focus is usually on the deadbeat, the poor individual who seeks to pilfer a pittance from the Treasury through welfare programs.  These are the small time thieves.  Their crimes when taken cumulatively are substantial, and the costs are gargantuan, but the reality is this: they do not even begin to compare to the cost of tolerating a corporatist approach to economics.  


In one fell swoop, a bailout for the corporatist can cost the Treasury years and years worth of welfare expenditures.  There really is no comparison whatsoever between the two obscenities, except this: both welfare and corporatism are two sides of the same redistributive coin in that they are comprised of individuals who feel entitled to the wealth of others for whatever reason.  One involves the trickling of wealth downwards, and the other involves the cascading flood of wealth flowing up to be concentrated with prior wealth.  And in both, the political class recognizes the efficacy of building constituencies by robbing one group to pay another.  


It all began, as so many episodes in our history do, with a tax issue and a legal loophole. Southern Pacific Railroad didn’t want to pay Santa Clara County a tax.  The California Constitutional Convention of 1878-79 forbade railroads from deducting the amount of their debts from the taxable value of their property, while retaining the same for individuals.  San Mateo County then proceeded to sue Southern Pacific Railroad, and the county won in the California Supreme Court.  


Southern Pacific then found the Jurisdiction and Removal Act of 1875, a law whose ostensible purpose was to allow newly freed slaves to circumnavigate southern state courts in order to evade the very real threat that they wouldn’t receive a fair trial. This law enabled Southern Pacific to appeal to the federal courts, specifically the Supreme Court, where the Court under Chief Justice Morrison Waite ruled in favor of Southern Pacific on the matter of fences being included in the valuation of Southern Pacific’s property.  The state of California and its municipalities had no legal authority to collect taxes based on improper valuation.  


It just so happened that a former president of the Newburgh and New York Railway was the Court Reporter.  J.C. Bancroft Davis, a former railroad executive, made certain to include remarks from the oral arguments in which the Chief Justice spoke for the court to indicate the court’s belief that the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause applied to corporations in the same as persons:  


"The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”  


Davis wrote a letter to Chief Justice Waite on May 26, 1886 to clarify the matter: 


“Dear Chief Justice, I have a memorandum in the California Cases Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific &c As follows. In opening the Court stated that it did not wish to hear argument on the question whether the Fourteenth Amendment applies to such corporations as are parties in these suits. All the Judges were of the opinion that it does.”  


Justice Morrison Waite gave his response in a reply letter:  


“I think your mem. in the California Railroad Tax cases expresses with sufficient accuracy what was said before the argument began. I leave it with you to determine whether anything need be said about it in the report inasmuch as we avoided meeting the constitutional question in the decision.” 


Left to his own discretion, J.C. Bancroft Davis, former railroad executive for the Newburgh and New York Railway, and then-Court Reporter for the Supreme Court, included the remarks from oral arguments in his headnotes for the case.  The majority opinion, as Chief Justice Waite noted, did not address the constitutional question of whether or not a corporation was a person under the 14th Amendment.  Given that the majority opinion was the legally binding portion of the report, there should have been no issue whatsoever.  The Court had not formally ruled on the question of whether or not a corporation was a person under the 14th Amendment.  


But in 1938, Justice Hugo Black, in his dissent in the case of Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v. Johnson, noted the following:  

“...in 1886, this Court in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, decided for the first time that the word 'person' in the amendment did in some instances include corporations...The history of the amendment proves that the people were told that its purpose was to protect weak and helpless human beings and were not told that it was intended to remove corporations in any fashion from the control of state governments...The language of the amendment itself does not support the theory that it was passed for the benefit of corporations."


Black was wrong.  The Court had not held for any such finding where the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause were concerned.  Despite Black’s clear belief that the Amendment in no way held a purpose of removing corporations from state control, his error in holding forth that Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad had decided corporate personhood in the affirmative sense ultimately ensured that his dissent would be cited as further evidence of stare decisis for the exact opposite notion he was putting forth.  Corporatists would seize on the mistake, and they would use it to carve out great privileges for themselves.  


Suddenly, corporations, like people, had the right to contribute to political campaigns and causes under the guise of freedom of speech, only their resource base and ability to maximize legal loopholes gave them something far greater and more powerful than speech: it gave them influence.  The logical absurdity of corporate personhood ought to be seen when one juxtaposes bankruptcy law for corporations against bankruptcy law for individuals.  Corporate personhood is predicated on the notion that corporations, like individual people, are equal under the law, yet there could be no greater example of how unequal a corporation is to a person than in the arena of bankruptcy law, which affords corporations the opportunity to declare bankruptcy multiple times while limiting individuals to just one such declaration, and also forces individuals to undergo credit counseling sessions as well due to the recently passed bankruptcy reform legislation. As a further example of how asinine a result such an idea could yield, consider this: as a person under the law, what is to prohibit corporations from running for public office?  After all, states cannot deny corporations any of the treatment afforded to individuals, and that would naturally include election laws and qualifications for public office.  Let us not even begin to think of limited liability.  Three or more individuals working together who incur a liability as a result of a tort committed are culpable before the law without limit, but if they’d just incorporated, only the assets of their corporation could be subjected to liability and forfeiture.  Under the guise of equal protection under the law as per the 14th Amendment, the corporatists managed to achieve a more equal status for themselves and their enterprises than most individuals could ever hope to achieve.  


The net result of all of this has been a legal obscenity in which equal protection under the law has been made a mockery of in theory and shredded in practice.  Whereas homeowners received a $75 billion mortgage bailout plan, corporations received $23.5 trillion and counting in bailouts.  Considering that the $75 billion from the mortgage bailout will inevitably find its way into corporate coffers, one can rightfully scoff at the notion that it is actually a bailout solely to homeowners.  In the end, what we have in this country is nothing akin to capitalism, or even socialism, which posits the removal of class barriers and distinctions in order to hold things in common.  What we have is nothing more than pure corporatism, where class differences are actually codified into law to perpetuate inequality and maximize the advantages of one individual or group over another, and the tendency has been towards a sort of chaotic reciprocity whereby minority groups from time to time adopt the same techniques and tactics as the corporatists to carve out advantages for their interests in the law and in precedent.  Far from being an enabler of order and equal treatment, the law has become the tool of whoever holds majoritarian power at the moment, and everyone outside of the privileged class of the moment gets to endure a whipsawing.  


Socialists being the morally and ethically malleable individuals that they are, corporatist techniques and tactics afford a greater advantage than rhetoric to achieve their supposed ends.  In the end, equality before the law is nothing more than a hollow statement and an empty ideal, a middle ground never reached as two extremes tug and yank the rest of us back and forth in their dispute.  As such, the law loses credibility and the power it has to bind us all into an agreed upon stasis whereby a mutually held respect for the rights and prerogatives of others gives us some form of assured order and steady process in our communities.  

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