In her book, “Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological – Economic Vocation,” Lutheran theologian, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, charges that the power given to the Corporation robs people of true democracy. She points out that Democratic theory considers freedom as the freedom of citizens entitled to participate as political equals in making the laws and rules under which they will live together. In this system, no entities should be granted the legal sanction and tools to exercise such far-reaching and life-determining power for structural violence, as do corporations, while remaining publicly unaccountable: “Where economic power becomes concentrated in a few hands, unaccountable to larger communities, so too does the capacity of those holding that power to serve self-interest regardless of the consequences to others or the Earth.” (p. 225)
She goes on to explore how concentrated unaccountable economic power threatens the common good. This was not always so, however. Centuries ago, the state charters contained substantial restrictions aimed in part at holding the corporation accountable to the public good.
Moe-Lobeda explains that the evolution of the corporation, through a sequence of historic developments, has rendered economic power in the United States, and in other Western democracies, as progressively more exempt from democratic accountability. This evolution began with the 1886 United States Supreme Court decision that
corporations are ‘legally persons’ and have the legal rights of persons. “The ruling enables corporations to strike down regulatory attempts by cities and states, by claiming that those regulations are violations of the corporation’s ‘human rights.’” (p. 226) Corporations throughout the ensuing decades have whittled away at restrictions until little remains and what does is largely ineffective. What is more, because state and federal political figures are often financially beholden to corporations, they are reluctant to sanction them.
There is a Canadian Film/documentary entitled, “The Corporation,” that explores the rise and impact of the corporation to the level of dominance it enjoys today. The film, featuring 40 interviews including CEO’s from the world’s largest corporations, as well as critics like Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Naomi Klein, Milton Friedman and Vandana Shiva, examines the far-reaching repercussions of the Corporation’s increasing pre-eminence as well as its inner workings, history, controversial impacts and possible futures. The film argues that if we were to assess the ‘personality’ of the corporation as a ‘person,’ given this is its legal status, we would have to conclude that it behaves like a psychopath. To do this, the film employs a checklist based on the diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization. This reveals that the operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social ‘personality. It is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous, and deceitful. It breaches social and legal standards to get its way, does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.
Cynthia Moe-Lobeda states: “The problem of concentrated corporate power explodes with significance in the context of the neoliberal global economy. One of its defining features is the accumulation of wealth in that hands of a minute and publicly unaccountable portion of the world’s people. They are the high-level management of large multinational business corporations. Three decades of highly effective corporate-driven effort to deregulate have shifted power from local, state and national governments to corporations. Power to make decisions regarding water, food, forests, mineral resources, food-producing lands and more is increasingly in the hands of a few people who are accountable to no one except corporate shareholders. That is, they are accountable only to the people who stand to gain if the decisions prioritize profit over all else. Yet, their decisions determine life or death for many people. This process subordinates democracy (rule by the people) to ‘rule by the corporation.’” (p. 227)
Our current Western economic system has limited democracy to the political sphere. Classical liberalism assumed that where market forces did not serve the common good, they would be constrained by political forces. Limiting the scope of democratic accountability to exclude the economic sphere, however, “has left its power for domination and exploitation insufficiently checked. Systems have been set up to accentuate the rights of the corporate power over the rights of demos power (governance).” (p. 228) In other words, political democracy without economic democracy is limited by its vulnerability to the sway of economic power. Our governments have become subordinated to powerful economic players, and this flies in the face of democracy.
In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Corporations have been enthroned…An era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavour to prolong its reign…until wealth is aggregated in a few hands…and the Republic is destroyed.” (p.222)