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Wed Feb 27, 2013, 10:35 AM

How to Tame the Corporation - Nader

In an interview in the August 20, 1916 edition of the New York Times titled "Why American Business is Constantly Pounded," James A. Emery, then general counsel for the National Council of Industrial Defense said: "Nothing can illustrate more clearly the characteristic operation of these local and peculiar prejudices than the use that has been made of, and the attitude of mind that has been created toward, the term 'corporation.' A mere legal description, it has become upon the lips of some an epithet, and upon those of others an accusation and an indictment that often without a hearing amounts to a conviction of business wrong."

This was the big business lobby response nearly a century ago to the attacks on the expansion of corporate power. As Mr. Emery puts it, the corporate entity was nothing more then harmless legal speak, even as corporate power and influence rapidly metastasized in the United States in the early 20th century. How many "business wrongs" have been committed by corporations in the past hundred years? What about the past decade alone?

Here's a brief history of the corporation:

When the first U.S. public corporations were created in the early 1800s, corporate charters were granted by the state legislatures for very specific purposes. The charters specified that the corporations met what was considered to be a worthy public purpose and contained strict restrictions, such as the length of time the charter lasted and what, specifically, the corporation could manufacture. In the mid-nineteenth century, it wasn't unheard of for states like Ohio, Michigan, New York and Nebraska to revoke corporate charters when corporations no longer fulfilled their purpose. (Imagine if charter revocation was on the table during the recent wave of corporate abuses on Wall Street?) But then the corporate attorneys moved in, working state by state to weaken incorporation laws, loosen restraints and standards, and bend the rules in their favor.


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