In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell gives his totalitarian Party three nonsense slogans: “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength.”

How did he miss “Corporations are People”?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

15 thoughts on “Oversight”

  1. I don’t recall any corporations in the book. His totalitarian distopia was a communist one, not a fascist one, similar though the two may be to the person living under them.

  2. Can we give this slogan a rest? People have speech rights, and there’s no good reason to deny groups the right to use various legal forms (i.e. corporations) in order to organize their speech. The First Amendment mentions something about the right to assemble.

    The problem is that “money = speech” has numerous unfortunate implications, totally independent of the legal form used to spend the money.

    1. which is why in many democratic countries, campaign-related spending is subject to limits and verification, whether nor not done by corporations.

    2. Your last two sentences are correct, except for the bit in parentheses. There is no reason to think of corporations as the particular legal form of assembly to be concerned about. There are all sorts of ways that people can associate with each other in order to express their First Amendment rights.

      Corporations are not, at their heart, a way to assemble for speech purposes. They are a way to assemble in order to take advantage of a set of legal privileges. Everything about the status of incorporation is the creation of government rather than being a natural right. The doctrine of limited liability is a privilege. The doctrine of perpetual existence is a privilege.

      Because a corporation is entirely a creature of governmental regulation, there ought not to be any reason why the government cannot limit it however it chooses. The conflation of incorporation and the right to free assembly is both pernicious and rather strange. If you want to assemble, do so, but if you don’t want government regulation, then do so without government created privilege, too.

      1. I honestly don’t understand what election finance regulation one would want that (1) is permissible if money != speech, but (2) is prohibited by recognizing the associational right to corporate advocacy.

        I agree that corporations are ways to take advantage of certain legal rights. Limited liability seems irrelevant to advocacy, but why shouldn’t the ACLU and the Sierra Club have perpetual life? And the “creation of government” argument proves far to much. Certainly, it would be unconstitutional limit free speech rights based on ownership of corporate shares or possession of a drivers license. Yet those are “government-created” rights, not natural rights.

        1. I want to believe there’s an honest point here but maybe I’m just gullible or didn’t get enough schoolin’. How does (2) circumscribe (1)? The 2nd paragraph is so confused and nonsensical/irrelevant I don’t know where to begin. Care to try again for us simple folk?

          1. Trying again:

            There are campaign finance regulations we’d like to implement. We can’t because of the First Amendment doctrine that money = speech. Suppose that doctrine went away. What regulations would we like to implement that could not be implemented because we allow people to form corporations for election advocacy? Putting a cap of all donations of $100 per person (and counting contributions to political corporations against that limit) would be totally fine in the legal regime I’m describing. That regulation is impossible because of the “money = speech” doctrine and has nothing to do with Citizen’s United.

            Saying that governments create corporations does not prove that any regulation the government would want to implement is consistent with the First Amendment rights of the shareholders.

          2. Thanks. Much more clear.

            Well, suppose I hold a significant number of shares in a company — one that is not an expressly political advocacy entity — and the board decides to give their $100 to a candidate I don’t support. My political giving power has been diminished without my consent. How and when do you do that accounting? If you argue that the reduction would be insignificant then there’s an implicit multiplying power here because these corporations could then effectively act as players independent from their constituents — who mostly hold a tiny number of shares. So I can see a need to regulate this even if we got to “money != speech” (itself a rather big ‘if’).

        2. Tim is correct, the second paragraph is blowing so much smoke, it is hard to even begin. Best just to ignore it, because it is simply dishonest.

          If JMN wants to respond, talk to me about the 13th, slavery, and “people, my friend”.

          1. Oof, mea culpa, I was responding to TimS. Apologies to JMN. Entirely my fault for getting it wrong.

  3. Clever! I currently have a sign pinned to my cubicle wall that reads, “I refuse to believe corporations are people until Texas executes one.”

  4. In 1984 there are no corporations outside the state mentioned, no first amendment or other conception of free speech, no elections or electoral campaigns or corporate-funded speech about elected officials (of which there are none). Plus, changing “is” to “are” and replacing abstract terms with more concrete categories ruins the flow. This doesn’t even work as a joke. See Nick W for a better example.

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