Are Corporations Socialist?

Wandering about the web on a Sunday morning, pondering (well, trying to ponder – pondering is probably calmer than my current thought processes) Bill O’Reilly’s definition of what Occupy Wall Street is about

In other words, these folks want our stuff.

Throughout history, there have been human beings who did not want to compete in the marketplace. That sentiment drives a hatred of capitalism. The American economic system is a meritocracy. If you work hard and do well in your job, you usually will prosper providing you practice patience. If you don’t work hard and smart, you will be out on your keister — unless a union saves you.

Well, no.  We want a fair share of the increased American productivity over the last 30 years.  Most people in this country have worked hard and smart over that time, and very few of them – the top 1%, and, really, the top one-tenth of 1% – have gotten the gains. Do people really believe that every currently unemployed construction worker in the country was a lazy SOB who didn’t work hard – or is the implication that they are all stupid? Perhaps if they were smarter, they would have been hedge fund managers in the first place.  And, while it is relatively easy to move up and down in the middle class, it is very hard to move up out of the bottom 20%, and very unlikely that you will fall out of the top 20%.  Pick your parents well.

At any rate, I went to look up the definitions of “capitalism” and “socialism”.

1: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

Collective caught my eye.
6: shared or assumed by all members of the group <collective responsibility>

Aha! A corporation is ownership by a group.  Must be socialist!

But then I looked up corporate
1a : formed into an association and endowed by law with the rights and liabilities of an individual : incorporated

All of which brought me back to something I have known for decades:  the key is responsibility.

An individual or collective of individuals – a sole proprietorship or a partnership – can be sued for something the business does and lose everything they own individually, and can be criminally convicted for the actions of their business.  Enter the corporation, which protects those individuals.

Stockholders in a corporation have limited liability. They can only lose their original investment.  They cannot be sued or arrested for anything the corporation does.

A group which jointly owns a business and has shared responsibility is a collective, and therefore that awful thing, socialist.  A group which jointly owns a business and is, by law, incorporated and therefore exempt from responsibility as individuals, is a corporation, and therefore, that wonderful thing, capitalist.

So we have a situation where a collective of individuals are responsible for the actions of the business. But the owners – stockholders – of a corporation are not responsible for the actions of the business, and the board and employees are only responsible for making a profit for the shareholders.

It is indeed a wonderful world in which people demand individual responsibility while praising a system where no-one is responsible and condemning a system where people are.


I’ve been using almost all my writing energy for months on other sites and Facebook.  But yesterday I ran across something I want to share my (lengthy) thoughts on here – this UU minister’s thoughts on why he is not joining or even supporting the Occupy movement, entitled Occupation?  I am not picking on Rev. Matt; I just happened to run across his post which is typical of some ideas I disagree with.

My first thoughts are on his objection to the word “occupy,” which he associates with “the language and symbolic practice of the violence and oppression that we oppose” and “the militaristic language and practice of occupation.”  I think that today we more often think, not of occupied Europe or even the occupied West Bank, but of the occupation of Tiananmen Square by non-violent student demonstrators for democracy.

And the first definition of “occupy” in Merriam-Webster is “to engage the attention or energies of .”

The misunderstanding of the name leads to another misunderstanding – many people, like Rev. Matt, think the purpose of the movement is

To try to topple our own nation’s economic infrastructure through an admittedly anarchic strategy of occupation is to commit social and cultural suicide. It is knocking down our own house of cards rather than building it stronger. If these efforts are successful, we will all suffer.

What I see is not an “anarchist” strategy; anarchy, being “a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority” is much closer to libertarianism than to the democratic consensus process that is being used in the occupations.  Likewise, it is the Tea Party, the right wing, and corporations who are calling for the defunding of government and lessening of its authority.  The Occupy movement is calling for taking back our democratic government from rule by corporate interests.

Others have commented that the movement wants to tear down the system with nothing to replace it, which would indeed be anarchy.  But you don’t have to be a tailor to see that the Emperor is naked, and pointing it out without being able to design and sew a suit of clothes is not to say that you want the Emperor to remain naked.

This post by Rich Yeselson, The four habits of highly successful social movements, points out that the movement needs sustained organization, people  to “teach the less experienced and expand the circle of competent leadership”, doable solutions that will “have an organic connection to the pressing concerns of millions of people”, and people “explaining and defending the Wall Street demonstrators to curious Americans.”

Now that those in the streets have engaged the attention and energies of more and more people, those of us who have the skills and experience to help should do all of the above as we are able.

I think it is overly optimistic to think, as Rev. Matt says, that “Those of us with some leverage CAN make a rapid difference by rapidly changing our spending and voting habits with which we feed the system.”  We need to do that, but it is not nearly enough.  Many of us who were activist in the 1960s and 1970s have been trying to live lightly, sustainably, and lovingly our whole adult lives.  It has made a difference, but not enough.  I agree with what he says next, but it is not enough to “want” it – we need to help.

I want the “occupiers” to be successful in tearing down oppression. I just want them to be smart, careful, clever, and creatively subversive. Much like Jesus was. Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables too. But that was a small part of his revolution. His was a revolution of the mind, body, and spirit. I see people taking to the streets. I want to see people occupying hearts and minds with justice, equity, and compassion.

The now-nationwide demonstrations, with their long hours together and their General Assemblies (sound like town hall meetings to me) are opportunities not only to gain attention for the issues, but for the demonstrators to discuss and learn from each other.  Those who can be there in person should be.  But that can go on virtually, too.  So, my contribution to the cause is to occupy my little area of the web on this blog and others, and on Facebook.

I think most people truly don’t know how much of the wealth this country has produced in the last 30 years has been diverted to the top 1% rather than being shared among everyone who made it possible.  Clearly Americans don’t know that wealth is distributed less fairly than they think it is, and far less fairly than they think it should be.

Distribution of Wealth, Real, Percieved, Desired

from a  study by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely

Men in Their 30s Today Earn Less Than Men in Their Fathers’ Generation and Family Income Growth Has Slowed

Other misconceptions come up continually, and I’ll be doing my bit to research, contradict, and educate.