We all grow up and corporations, just like people, become adults and eventually get the urge to settle down, buy a nice place in the suburbs, have kids and grow old . Since Dartmouth vs. Woodward in 1819, the idea of corporate personhood has bestowed businesses with many of the same rights as you and I. At the peak of their game, adult human beings rule the world around them with a seamless balance of knowledge, experience, power, influence and confidence. So too do adult corporations. The long established Goliaths of the business world determine the sway of our global economy and while the young upstart corporations are typically more innovative, it is the well established that hold most of the power. However, if we agree that corporations are persons, then in† their adult phase, businesses become some of the most disturbed yet frighteningly untouchable individuals in the world.
If corporations are persons, hostile takeovers are shotgun weddings.
From time to time, wedding bells chime and two corporations promise to have and to hold, through insolvency and solvency, until bankruptcy do them part. Yes, mergers and acquisitions can be a wonderful thing (I always cry at M&As) where we celebrate the union of two beautiful companies into a synergistic partnership for optimized business operations. We always wish them the best and hope that we may soon hear the pitter-patter of little spinoff companies rushing to take on the world and prove mom and dad wrong.
Yet partners in these mergers are not always willing. A hostile takeover – the shotgun wedding of the corporate world – can be a traumatizing thing, regardless of the outcome of the takeover attempt. Everyone’s a little on edge during any merger, yet with the fiscal equivalent of a double-barrel pointed at your back, one really can’t hope for the couple to live happily ever after under such an aggressive union. We must question the ethics of such a merger and I would argue, the legality.
If corporations are persons, why can’t they go to jail?
Perhaps most concerning about this strange type of person is that no matter what kinds of terrible acts they perform, corporations cannot go to jail. Since corporations exist almost solely to create profit, by merely slapping them with a fee whenever they break the law, we assume that we are doing enough. However, the issue is that these companies don’t learn anything; there is no process of rehabilitation.
What if instead of a fee, corporations could go to a sort of jail? Imagine if any time they broke the law businesses had to cease regular in-market operations for a duration appropriate to the crime they have committed. Much like humans go through counselling and reintegration, so should corporate persons undergo business therapy and guidance back into the market. Did one of your faulty products kill someone? Let’s ensure that you feel enough remorse so that your goods never suffer shoddy design again. Did you steal ideas or technology from your competitors? Let’s give you the idle time to think about what you’ve done so that you understand that theft will not be tolerated.
If human beings are inherently moral and we still feel the need to put them in jail, then what are we doing allowing these sociopathic financial behemoths the freedom to run amok with nothing more than a financial slap on the wrist each time they commit a crime? If we want better behavior, we may have to impose better punishment.
If you want your customers to start respecting you like a person, then start acting like one.