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July 28, 2004



In regard to the case of separation of the Church and the State: an individual can retain religiousness without actively serving the religious organisation. What is the equivalent of individual religiousness in the case of separation of Corporation and the State?

I guess we have to a) answer this question very well, and b) address the eventual practical problems that will become clear in the light of the answer.

This might be the main obstacle to the actual separation.

I guess that social solutions are never really accomplished by the acts of prohibition and their enforcements. They are rather about making people aware of ways of doing things superior to the undesirable ways.

I'm from non-EU Europe.

Michel Ickx

Brilliant post. You certainly present and analyse the issue very well. However the solution seems difficult and some of your readers doubt the possibility to solve it through a constitutional amendment. Possibly your metadata and mirror approach (memes) will do more to change the paradigm and correct the actual situation. Let us hope so...

BJ Peters

About thirty years ago, I was sipping Bloody Marys with friends on a Sunday afternoon talking politics when a light bulb moment hit. I shared with my friends what has turned out to be a prophetic statement: Our forefathers were very intelligent and created three powerfully balanced branches of government, ensuring that the previous powerful institution of religion would not ever be able to share any of that power with the US government. What our founders could not forsee, however, was the power that would be yielded by corporations.

Today, corporations do, indeed, rule the world. They have taken over the fourth estate and have major influence on American policy both domestic and foreign. They have shifted our national values from compassion to greed, from spiritual to material.

Someone earlier suggested that it is individuals making corporate decisions. While this is of course true, corporate policy is what dictates profits are the only bottom line that matters. So our planet is dying, the gap between rich and poor (and middle class) is widening, science is being obscured, truth and integrity are lost, citizens are working longer hours for less pay and benefits, personal freedoms are being eroded, the American Dream is a fiction.

I don't know if a Constitutional Amendment is in order or a grass roots National Dialogue is what's needed. But something is...

Pierre Wolff

Good question Nova, let me give it some more thought, but one difference I could point to off-hand is that religious organizations are tax exempt whereas corporations are not. Hence, there's an inherent interest here that any constituent (tax paying) needs to have. Given that corporations are treated as "artificial persons" then they are afforded all of the rights that "natural persons" are, and this includes influencing gov't.

Nova Spivack

Pierre, I like your suggestion of changing the liability structure of corporations. But that would not really help to stop undue corporate influence on the political process. Again, I think the situation is identical to that of the separation of church and state. Why should corporations be treated differently than the church with regard to how they relate to government?

Pierre Wolff

Nova, a friend and I have been exchanging e-mails re: this topic since I forwarded him a copy.

At the end of the day, I believe we both agree that in all parts of corporate abuse you have people involved in the process and they are the ones abusing the system, especially since corporations are only "artificial persons" as defined by law. Hence, it's the people that run these, own these, and influence these that are to be held accountable and that can be done w/o a Constitutional amendment.

If you consider an area that corporations have gotten a lot of slack for being the outsourcing of jobs, then the point becomes clearer. A corporation's mission and purpose is not be charitable nor to make the lives of people better (though hopefully if its products do the corporation will be more likely to succeed). It's mission pure and simple is to generate a ROI for its investors/shareholders/owners. How it does this is its business. Hence, if one way of enhancing its bottom line is by farming out jobs to reduce costs, then that's exactly what the corporation should do. If that makes people mad, then it's the corporation's owners that are to blame since that's the directive of their company. Why aren't shareholders being hounded about the "Oursourcing of America"?

Now, shareholders can come in all diff sizes and shapes. For example, there are many shareholders which are themselves corporations (ie. Pension Funds, Mutual Funds, etc.). This obviously complicates matters in terms of who you go after, but at the end of the day, somewhere in this pipe there are people making these decisions and that's where the issue needs to be focused. We do have laws in place to address people doing the wrong thing or being negligent, we just need others w/the resources to begin going after these people. As well, pension funds are closely tied to labor unions, and that s/b another target since they are indeed investors.

What you'll see happen however is that when taken fm this perspective, and w/everyone seeing themselves as a shareholder that wants to make a ROI, the noise will abate and all of these probs will continue. Why? Because no one wants to be the one to give up making money in our society ;-) Cynical, but true.

I bet you if you changed the liability structure of corporations so that such liability flowed down to the shareholders, you'd see very different behaviors and attitudes. Again, not something that would require a Constitutional amendment.

Pierre Wolff

There's a book written by Thom Hartmann called "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights", that could add much to your thoughts here Nova. He goes over the history and the specific judgment made by the Supreme Court case (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad) that resulted, erroneously, in corporations being granted equal rights to human beings. What's most fascinating is that the Supreme Court actually didn't rule this at all, as usual they avoided the tough question, but because the court reporter wrote up the headnotes as such, and no one read the full decision, the precendent was set and our destinies forever changed as a result. Sad but true :-(

Now if we could only turn back to the law that s/b because it was never really changed, perhaps all would be better today ;-)

Patrick Meuser

What concerns me about a state in which seperation must be explicitly defined is that in order to enforce such an ammendment, it would now likely create a 'super-nation' in which the freedoms of the individual are evaluated even more or less in terms of the state, as opposed to a state in which its ideals can be freely asserted; in other words are we at a stage where such ideals can be assumed without consequence? The question is, if such is constitutional, how should such an ammendment be implemented without affecting the freedoms of the state within the corporation, and how could the state be free to make future ammendments regarding the coroporation?

Although, at first glance the idea seems a logical extension of the basic freedoms that we know, it can confuse the corporation for religion in favour of what could be allowed instead of afforded.

However, much can be argued in favour of such an ammendment, mainly that the corporation shall satisfy certain individual guidelines where the state should not be concerned. Also, that the individual should remain free to set such guidelines without confliction. This would seem to reinforce the concept of a free society independent of a corporate identity, which may not neccesarily be inevitable. Whenever this is or is not implemented, such would not compromise the proprietorship and franchise at the same time.

Nova Spivack

Interesting point Tom, however, if that is the case then an incorporated nonprofit Church would have the same rights -- would that then contradict the separation of Church and State? The concept of Constitutional rights and the separation of Church and State are two different things. Similarly I think the same is true for the proposed Separation of Corporation and State. A Corporation cannot be elected President for example -- a Corporation cannot vote, etc. The rights of Corporations are not exactly the same as those for human legal Persons.

Tom Vilot

Fundamental problem: The corporation in the U.S. has rights, much like an individual citizen has rights. This was formalized in the notion of Corporate personhood which allows corporations to have "inalienable rights" (sometimes called constitutional rights) just like (human) persons.

As flawed as I believe this "corporate personhood" concept is, it is formally enshrined in our laws. You are proposing stripping a "citizen" of certain "inalienable" rights. That's quite a fundamental change ...

Nova Spivack

Hey let's not forget that the Church is one of the wealthiest organizations on the planet, and at one time (if not currently) the Church used that financial might to wield tremendous political influence. It wasn't really that different from corporations today in that sense. Governments certainly did have a stake in what the Church thought of them (and many would say that is still the case). This is one of the reasons for the separation of Church and State, besides just the freedom of religion issue. As for a specific proposal for how to separate Corporations and State, I think for one thing high elected officials need to agree to never go back into corporate life after they serve. Another thing we could propose: No-bid contracts cannot be awarded to corporations, by government officials under any circumstances. Furthermore, we could propose that high elected officials must not have worked in any officer role for any corporation within 5 years prior to being elected.


It's a good idea, but there are a lot of questions to answer before proposing something like this.

1. Calcification. Governments and beauracracies have an inherent tendency to create more laws and rules, bloat the laws they have, and divide the laws further from the reason that they were made in the first place. Corporate lobbyists add an element of dynamism, sometimes acting like an acid on the laws, dissolving ones that are vulnerable. For example, President Nixon proposed the nationwide 55 mph. speed limit in reaction to high gas prices, but the law stayed on the books because of false ideas about safety and because speeding fines became a revenue generator. However, trucking lobbyists in cooperation with groups like the National Motorists' Association pushed Congress into finally getting rid of that harmful law. However, the NMA isn't able to get enough money to support its own lobbyist anymore. So the question is: will private efforts, less organized and funded, be able to fill the gap if corporate lobbying is made illegal?

2. End-runs. How will we prevent the Government from regulating corporations through government contracts, underwriting (such as FMNA), taxes, the FED, or other indirect means?

3. Limits. How much interaction between gov. and co. is too much? How much is not enough?

The separation betwee church and state is simpler: the government has no direct stake in what afterlife people believe in. (indirectly, it has huge impact--the Christian Coalition, one of the most powerful lobbyist groups out there, is a testament to that.) Capitalism is a horse of another color: money is both directly and indirectly one of the primary concerns of government, and corporations are its stewards. How would you go about separating it from government?


a very simple & great idea!
i'll read you more often!
hello from russia =)


Liam, I don't think it needs to be internationalized on the scale of the WTO or the UN or the EU. Unfortunately(or, fortunately, depending on your views), as the US goes, so goes the world. When the US didn't ratify the Kyoto Treaty, what happened? It's in limbo until the US does something about it.

What will happen in Sudan? More genocide, unless the US steps in, as France, who is (and should be, given its close ties with African nations) the main foreign player, has cold feet due to its own oil interests in the country.

When the US sets trade standards, such as shipping regulations and such, many countries will be soon to follow, because they need that American market.

However, things of this sort would be hard to do on international level, as you can't take a machete and whack through governments getting rid of corporate influences. That may be easy (well, easier) in the US, where the State doesn't have corporate arms, but what of the countries where the state controls different companies, such as media outlets, fishing concerns, oil companies, and such? That would be harder, cutting tentacles from vendors, customers, business partners, etc.

This would have to be undertaken on an individual basis. But don't look for it to happen here first.


I think this is a fine idea, but one that needs to be implimented on a global scale. As corporations expand and cross the planet, they are redefining the borders of countries on economic measures and forcing governments to change laws via organizations like WTO and IMF.

This is where the separation and reorganization must occur - on the level of international governing bodies. Perhaps separation within a single country like the US is a good start, but if it is to be effective it must also occur on the international stage.

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