Book Reviews: Unequal Protection (2002)

The rise of corporate dominance and the theft of human rights
by Thom Hartmann

2002, Mythical Research Company, 293 pages

UnequalGoing into the Freedom Portal (Free State) I had doubts about the morality, perhaps even the constitutionality, of corporations.

What, after all, is a corporation?

American Heritage says: “a) A body of  persons granted a charter legally recognizing them as a separate entity having its own rights, privileges, and liabilities distinct from those of its members. b) Such a body created for purposes of government.”

Now isn’t the b) part of that definition interesting?  At the very least we know corporations are creatures of the government and do not exist at common law.

Thomas Hartmann, a true modern lower-case democrat, writes that Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and several other Founders warned strenuously against monopoly corporations:

“I hope we shall… crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” –Thomas Jefferson to George Logan, 1816

And from Andrew Jackson:

“Corporations have neither bodies to kick nor souls to damn.”

These conscientious men were worried about abuse of power.  Early chartering of corporations in America reflects this concern, often imposing severe limitations—such as prohibiting corporations from owning other corporations and requiring annual renewal of the charters.

Many people do not realize the Boston Tea Party was a revolt against corporate privilege.  Queen Elizabeth chartered the East India Company (EIC) in 1600; into the 1700s it dominated trade by Britain with America.  Tea became a huge import to America by the mid-1700s and EIC wanted all the business.

Several acts prohibited Americans from acquiring tea from other sources.  In 1773, the Tea Act exempted EIC (of which the king was a stockholder), but not colonial merchants, from taxes to the crown.  The tea partiers were telling the Crown and the EIC stick their cheap tea where the sun don’t shine.

During the industrial revolution, many of these legal bands were continually loosened.  Then in the famous Santa Clara case (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad) of 1886, the restraints snapped entirely.  The nuts were off the buggy.

That famous case effectively conferred “personhood” on corporations for the first time—though, as Hartmann points out, the only statement granting such personhood appears in a clerk’s headnote to the case.

Much of the book is a fascinating compilation of the privileges (private laws) under which corporations are treated unequally and which many use to mistreat the citizens in order to scorch the earth for shareholder profit:

  • Unequal (privileged) regulation
  • Unequal (privileged) taxation
  • Unequal (privileged) criminal liability
And so on.  Today corporations routinely file SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) suits against citizen groups, which are not thrown out of court because corporations are considered persons.  Hartmann shows readers how to fight back. 
I’m sure the grassroots movement is gathering steam, and we will get our country back.

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