Corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don't run this country for corporations, we run it for people. - Senator Elizabeth Warren (D - Mass.)
This past week I watched TED 2 and it made me think (imagine that) about what makes one a person. Morgan Freeman’s character focuses on two fundamental requirements – (i) being self-aware and (ii) demonstrating empathy. I shall refer to these requirements as the Freeman Test.
Recently the U.S. Supreme Court has extended rights such as freedom of speech as decided in Citizens United, as well as freedom of religion as decided in Hobby Lobby to corporate entities. Those on the political right see this as a logical extension of rights, while many others in the political center and left are appalled at these type decisions and the effect they have on the democratic process.
Generally, I speak about issues regarding the cannabis industry, and if you are kind enough to permit me I will try and tie the current topic to the Cannabis Industry.
A corporation is deemed for legal purposes to be a fictitious person recognized by the state. You can birth a corporation at any time, no nine months required, with the simple filing of required organizational documents and filing fee with the state. No more, no less.
Turning to the Freeman Test, I don’t believe there can be much of an argument that a corporation through its directors, officers and employees is highly self-aware of its condition. Obviously there is conflicting awareness, but nevertheless a company has all the tools necessary to understand and address issues concerning its own perpetual existence.
Now, with respect to the second part of the Freeman Test – does a company possess empathy – the analysis becomes slightly more complex. Any High School course on economics will teach us that the ultimate purpose of a corporation is to “maximize profits”. Corporations are not created to love, they are not created to nurture, they are not created to be concerned about the environment, and they are not created to be concerned about the community.
As a foundation of the capitalistic system a company’s sole purpose and intent is to maximize shareholder value and profit. In fact, the profit motive is such a strong corporate objective that we have collectively, as a society, enacted laws to help restrain (anti-trust), regulate and limit corporate activities.
Individual employees, officers and board members of a company may be great humanitarians and may be empathetic but this does not speak for an entire corporation. Again, the corporation is a simply a legal fiction.
A corporation has no children, no spouse, no parents. A corporation has no need to eat healthy food or to keep the environment safe (besides for regulatory fines and lawsuits). A corporation does not worry how it will educate its children or how an individual employee will achieve personal fulfillment. A corporation does not have a religious or spiritual pedigree. A corporation does not love. A corporation does not feel heartbreak.
This is very different from a “person” who has dreams, aspirations, thoughts, hopes, desires, feelings, and inherent inalienable rights such as free speech and religious worship. People love. Factors, other than profit maximization, ultimately differentiate people from corporations.
So in trying to tie this together, the ability for an individual to partake in cannabis use for medical or recreational purposes is viewed as an individual right. A right of freedom. A right of love. A right of empathy and compassion. There are those who whole-heartedly embrace rights for corporations, but fail to see that the granting and extension of personal freedoms to individuals should be of a higher concern. People suffer from pain. People suffer from depression. People seek to engage in spiritual and religious fulfillment. Corporations don’t – although individual members may.
In conclusion, the growing support of the cannabis legalization movement, is to some extent a rejection of the “corporations are people” mantra. Rather, the cannabis movement speaks to the fact that individuals are people, with various personal needs and desires. These are the needs that require acknowledgment, empathy and compassion from the State. By allowing corporations to dictate the cannabis industry regulations to just maximize profit, without concern for the market they are intending to serve, just goes to prove that “corporations are not people”.