Writing06: Corporate Conscience

The notion that a corporation should be understood as a person, having the same rights as one in the eyes of the law, has both valid merit and fault. The reality is that it should be treated partially as a person, but not given the full extent of rights extended to actual people. Luckily, the United States understands this at least somewhat, with companies not possessing fifth amendment rights while having the right to make and enforce contracts held with individuals or other companies. However, the notion to which companies are extended personhood is absurd, especially when they are not held accountable for their actions to the same extent that actual humans are. Whenever a company makes a large mistake to which they must be held accountable, like negligence of safety regulations, they are slapped with a fine rather than fully prosecuted as a citizen would be. This double standard allows employees of the company to be treated as collective and avoid true justice for their actions, hiding behind the veil of the company name and offloading any moral responsibility. This is an egregious breach of justice, but there will never be any accountability until we properly trace the company’s actions back to individuals.

So corporations should not be afforded all the rights of a person, that is fair enough. But should companies be allowed to grow as large as they can possibly become? The United States found an answer to this quandary slightly over a century ago, notably since Standard Oil was broken due to it being found to have a monopoly on the oil industry. The government recognized that when one company has a stranglehold on a specific part of the economy, they will do everything they can to crush competition, exploit consumers, and will not be motivated to innovate due to the fact that they are the only one that consumers have the ability to purchase from. This does not breed the competition we consider the hallmark of our capitalist system, so the government rightfully decided that when a single company grows too large, it must be broken up to encourage competition. This is not an archaic issue reserved for the industrial revolution, however. My father has told me stories of how AT&T used to gouge him as a consumer in the seventies and early eighties before there was any company that could compete in telecom. However, it seems in recent years we have forgotten this lesson. Microsoft was allowed to systematically steamroll companies so that they could not compete with them, notably Netscape, without any real consequence. A breakup of the company was ordered, until it was rolled back. In the end they escaped relatively unscathed, setting the precedent for several companies to get away with monopolistic practices, and to my eyes it seems this is a keen problem especially among software companies. Companies like Facebook or Google, they are concerningly large and utilize anti-competitive practices, but face no consequences. I am not saying that they must be broken up, but they must be held accountable for their monopolistic practices.