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I’ve never found that to be a profound observation. But, yes, corporations are run by people, are owned by people, sell things to people. I’ve always found it odd that someone feels the need to rail against them. Did you realize, too, that non-profits are typically “corporations?” Many universities have affiliated corporations or are themselves “corporations.” When folks rail against “corporations” I don’t think they mean what they think they mean.

In any event, if we are insistent that America is not “run for corporations” as we heard many times last week, because after all, “corporations don’t have children or don’t love” then what on God’s Green Earth leads anyone to believe government is any different? Seriously, the pleas coming from the folks at the Conventions was, “we need government, you NEED to trust government …” But governments are not people. Governments do not love. Governments to not have children. Nor do they live, die or do any of the millions of things that makes us so preciously alive. What the heck does it mean to “take back America from the corporations” when the alternative is to give it to “corporations with an army?”

Color me green from nausea.

Finally, Ben Stein once wrote an appreciation for an old friend of mine, who I sadly never had the great opportunity to know better than I wanted to, who said the following:

But when Professor Harriss started talking about how corporations manage their affairs, he said, “Now assume that the stockholders of the corporation, the owners and beneficiaries of the corporation, are all widows and orphans.”

This was an eye-opener indeed. And it made total sense. Of course, except in the rarest of cases in those days, then, and even now, the biggest companies are owned by legions of pension funds, mutual funds, (now, also ETFs and index funds). They are not owned by the Rockefellers or the Astors, as Professor Harriss used to say. They are owned by our parents and by us. The corporations are the people every bit as much as the workers are the people.

This insight, seemingly rarely taught in today’s universities, has enabled me to ask — for example — why we as a nation would be angry at the oil companies, when we as a nation and as families own the oil companies, when the oil companies employ our fellow Americans at a decent wage, and when the oil companies pay us Americans as savers and retirees oil company dividends. Why would we hate any company without understanding that — generally speaking, definitely not always — its managers are simply trying to do the best for the widows and orphans and retirees who own the company? The companies are not a cancer on the society: they are the society.

Professor Harriss died on Monday, December 14, the day after Paul Samuelson passed away. I only met Samuelson a few times. He was clearly a great man. But to my way of thinking, Professor Harriss’ insight that we are corporate America, almost all of us, and to hate that beast was no less than hating human nature, not much different from hating ourselves, was a lamp unto my feet — and still is. That one blast of intelligence has cleared away countless cobwebs in my mind and those of my readers. R.I.P., wonderful Professor Harriss. We Jews call the wisest among us “teachers.” You are irreplaceable, wise Teacher Harriss, and I will never forget you.

2 Responses to “Corporations are Not People”

  1. Michael says:

    I often find a dicussion of “bad” corporations should include a quote from the movie Polyanna: “If you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.” It was attributed to Abe Lincoln, but that was just for the movie; he never said it.

  2. Harry says:

    Great piece by Ben Stein, and great points, WC.

    Corporations, including S corporations, LLC’s, PC’s, etc., are entities that, as said above, are created to limit liability and thus encourage risk-taking. Unlike sole proprietorships and simple partnerships, where all your assets are at risk should someone slip on your pizza parlor’s floor, your liability is limited to the net equity you have in the company, and not your house and first-born child. Even lawyers incorporate, and lawyers are people.

    Ok, I do not want to launch a controversy about whether all lawyers do or do not have human blood in their veins. I know some who do.

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