A few years ago — around the time of the 2010 Citizens United decision — I was thinking about “corporate citizenship” and corporate “speech.” These ideas don’t make sense to me. Corporations are a legal construct — something made by humans — and yet we’ve given them human rights, as it were.
Then I started to compare human behavior to corporate behavior. Though I’m no expert in human behavior, I’m pretty knowledgeable about corporate behavior. Corporate behavior is determined by the goal of profit maximization while it seems to me that human behavior is unlimited and dependent upon experience and situation. Humans have feelings and desires. Corporations do not. With these thoughts in mind, I began to make lists of typical behaviors in regards to ethics, accountability and modes of functioning.
I find myself coming back to these lists often — they may not be perfect indicators of all human behavior but they seem pretty solid regarding corporations. These “corporate citizens” we’ve created underlie so much of my current thinking. Who are they speaking for when they speak? Who benefits when they lobbying government? Who is helped when they contribute to political campaigns? And most importantly — if they are citizens in their own right, then to whom are corporations accountable?