Portugal is outraged (not to be confused with the Indignants movement) that Jeronimo Martins company – one of the biggest in this country – has apparently decided to dodge tax increases (that are supposed to help Portugal get out of economical problems) by moving to the Netherlands.
Protest groups are being created on social media, people are vowing never to buy anything in company-help shop networks. Company is being called “unpatriotic”.
Well wait a second. A company being a multinational financial creation with the single aim – providing financial gains to the owners – is called “unpatriotic”? Is it only me, or is this just very, very strange?
Of course that’s just on of the consequences of corporate personhood; if they are “persons”, we can use categories with regard to them, that we do use with regard to real, breathing persons. Right?
Well, not quite. See, corporations are “people” only insofar as it’s actually beneficial for them (and only them). E.g. when they can call upon right to privacy; or when they are treated as a “person” acting “on behalf” of the owners and the Board, which means that the Board and the owners are basically off the hook with regard to any criminal activity of the corporation; or when it is suddenly decided that a donation to a political campaign is a form of “freedom of speech”, which is indeed a very desireable thing for corporations (them being thus able to practically “buy elections”).
On the other hand, however, there is completely nothing that would make them act ethical. Everything that corporations do (with very, very few exceptions) is always due to a cost-benefit analysis, and nothing more. If by chance they act ethically, it’s because the cost-benefit analysis was in favour in this particular case – for example, due to taking PR and public image into account. If we really have a look at corporations as if they were real people, we’ll notice they usually show symptoms of antisocial disorder, or in other words – they act like psychopaths or sociopaths.
For Jeronimo Martins the Netherlands move is just a huge pile of cash on the “benefit” side, due to lower taxes. And it probably even already counted the projected losses due to boycott in Portugal on the “cost” side, and those turned out much smaller than the gains. Patriotism has nothing to do with this all, patriotism is a social norm that works with real people. Not corporations.
And even for this reason alone we should end this dangerous legal fiction that “corporations are people” (that, among other conditions, helped us get in the financial crisis we are all currently struggling with). They are clearly not.
Or… we could get them the full “personhood” thing, with all the rights, but also with all the duties and matching penalties. Dissolving of the corporation for repeated heavy offences and disregard for law as a “corporate death penalty”; freezing all the assets for a given time as a “corporate jail sentence”. Treating the Board and the owners as accessories to committing a crime if a crime is being committed by a corporation.