The Billings Outpost

Rethinking personhood

Attorney David Cobb is touring the United States trying to help people understand how corporate personhood works, and doesn’t work, in our great nation. Cobb spoke in Billings Sunday, May 6, at Universalist Fellowship church on Central Avenue.

He began with four enormous topics: democracy, sovereignty, legal personhood, and corporations. Cobb described democracy as rule by the people, with liberty, justice and equality for all.

“Do the people rule?” Cobb asked. He pointed out that consumer choices are not all there is to freedom. Sovereignty means the authority to rule, such as the sovereignty of a king given power by God.

Cobb described legal personhood as having the ability to assert rights.  A corporation is a legal fiction created by a government, just as the original 13 states of the United States were created.

In 1784, in order to become a corporation, an entity had to apply to the House of Representatives, get it passed (like a bill), get it through the other House, and then get it signed by the executive branch of government. At that time in our history, a corporation could only exist for a specific number of years before the incorporation expired. If the corporation failed at any time to meet the public interest, then the right to incorporate expired immediately. Things have certainly changed since those days!

Free people delegate powers to government so that government can fulfill its many duties to the people. Cobb describes the history of the United States as a long struggle among various peoples to achieve legal personhood with its rights and privileges. Originally only about 5 percent of the population could vote and was free: only white males who owned property. Gradually that has been expanded to include women, blacks, Indians and others who finally achieved citizenship/personhood.

We may have gone a bit too far when we included corporations as persons!  Exxon-Mobil, for example, has become a worldwide sovereign, dealing in a sovereign way with governments around the world and having no social responsibilities toward any public interest, no time span, and no global accountability.

As a result of this new understanding among many Americans, serious efforts are under way around the country to reverse the idea that corporations can be people, or that money equals speech instead of just being property. These are interesting times!

Joan Hurdle

Billings

 

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