Brad Smith recently took up an important point in the Providence Journal, responding to Democrat U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who is seeking to “strip rights from corporate entities,” in Smith’s words. He cites the 1819 Supreme Court case, Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward:
A corporation, the court noted, “is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.” But that didn’t mean that people gave up their rights when they formed a corporation. Rather, the decision emphasized that when people join together to accomplish things, they usually need some form of organization, and shouldn’t have to sacrifice their rights just because they organize.
This is one of those recurring discussions that are frustrating because they’re mainly semantic, and one feels as if normal people sitting down to fairly explain to each other what they mean will agree and move on. The danger is that the semantics could allow radicals like Whitehouse to push the law a few steps to totalitarian control.
Step 1 is to force people to organize for any sort of public activity by offering either competitive enticements (from tax benefits to liability protections) or regulations restricting activities if people do not organize. We’re already pretty far along this path.
Step 2 is declare that those organizations that people have formed don’t have rights. Another way of putting that, as Smith explains, is to say that people lose their individual rights when they organize as corporations… which they were more or less forced to do in order to accomplish their goals.
Step 3 will be to force people to do what government insiders want by imposing requirements on the rights-less corporations.