Perspectives on Corporate Power
and Communications Technology
EDucate magazine, Issue 3/volume
2 [Summer 2004]
There were corporations as far back as
the 18th century, and beyond. In the United States, corporations
were public bodies. Basically, they were associations. A bunch
of people could get together and say we want to build a bridge
over this river, and could get a state charter which allowed them
to do that, precisely that and nothing more. The corporation had
no rights of individual persons. The model for the corporation
back at the time of the framing of the Constitution was a municipality.
Through the 19th century, that began to change.
It's important to remember that the constitutional
system was not designed in the first place to defend the rights
of people. Rather, the rights of people had to be balanced, as
Madison put it, against what he called 'the rights of property'.
Well of course, property has no rights: my pen has no rights.
Maybe I have a right to it, but the pen has no rights. So, this
is just a code phrase for the rights of people with property.
The constitutional system was founded on the principle that the
rights of people with property have to be privileged; they have
rights because they're people, but they also have especial rights
because they have property. As Madison put it in the constitutional
debates, the goal of government must be "to protect the minority
of the opulent against the majority". That's the way the
system was set up.
In the United States, around the turn
of the century, through radical judicial activism, the courts
changed crucially the concept of the corporation. They simply
redefined them so as to grant not only privileges to property
owners, but also to what legal historians call 'collectivist legal
entities'. Corporations, in other words, were granted early in
this century the rights of persons, in fact, immortal persons,
and persons of immense power. And they were freed from the need
to restrict themselves to the grants of state charters.
That's a very big change. It's essentially
establishing major private tyrannies, which are furthermore unaccountable,
because they're protected by First Amendment rights, freedom from
search and seizure and so on, so you can't figure out what they're
After the Second World War, it was well
understood in the business world that they were going to have
to have state coordination, subsidy, and a kind of socialization
of costs and risks. The only question was how to do that. The
method that was hit upon pretty quickly was the 'Pentagon system'
(including the DOE, AEC, NASA). These publicly-subsidized systems
have been the core of the dynamic sectors of the American economy
ever since - (much the same is true of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals,
etc., relying on different public sources).
It's a form of tyranny. But, that's the whole point of corporatization
- to try to remove the public from making decisions over their
own fate, to limit the public arena, to control opinion, to make
sure that the fundamental decisions that determine how the world
is going to be run - which includes production, commerce, distribution,
thought, social policy, foreign policy, everything - are not
in the hands of the public, but rather in the hands of highly
concentrated private power. In effect, tyranny unaccountable to
[The media] are just huge corporations that sell audiences to
advertisers in other businesses.
Ultimately it's a question of whether democracy is going to be
allowed to exist, and to what extent. And it's entirely natural
that the business world, along with the state, which they largely
dominate, would want to limit democracy. It threatens them. It
always has been threatening. That's why we have a huge public
relations industry dedicated to, as they put it, controlling the
Noam Chomsky page