Crumbling pages in the rare books room of the Wisconsin State Law Library may hold the key to breaking the corporate stranglehold on the democratic promise so long dormant in the heartland.
I’ve read those pages in that cool, dim room. But you can find the same info in the well-thumbed regular stacks that are only medium-rare. What is rare is for anyone but a historian or lawyer to read them. (Hint).
(Rather than having you read this, I’d like you to go here, but you’re probably not ready yet.)
“Incorporate in minutes: CHEAP, EASY, FAST.” Have you seen those ads? Why is it easier to incorporate than to register to vote, get a driver’s license, or maybe even order a pizza?
Try your luck with this multiple-choice question.
Corporations get their vast power from
A. their brilliant, inventive, plucky, persistent, indefatigable founders’ work and insights
B. US military forces and domestic police protecting their property worldwide
C. a winking conspiracy among judges to invent extra powers for them in the margins of their decisions
D. the sheer popularity and market domination of their amazing products
E. state legislatures
E is the key. A-D all help, with A always overrated and C exaggerated, but state legislatures do the deed.
Those CHEAP, EASY, FAST steps that today allow you to incorporate have a profound impact. Incorporation carves out a handful of chips of power from the block of government sovereignty, and hands them over to corporations. Simply put, some of the power of government is transferred to a corporation. In other words, GOVERNMENT CREATES CORPORATIONS.
(If you’re still reading this, maybe now you’re ready to go here.)
Before incorporation, all you have is a bunch of people, ideas, and resources. AFTER INCORPORATION, you have a company clothed with powers and protections granted and enforced by the full force of government. Law enforcement, courts, agencies, the whole chalupa.
This changes everything. For example, if you’re upset about a corporation doing bad things, you should be even more upset with your government that has granted that corporation the power to do those things.
I heard that many times before I got it. And I only got it when I went to the law library and held in my hands the pages that wrought such transformation. (Ready to go here?)
In a law library, you can hold in your hands the law that a legislature passed to turn that bunch of people and ideas into a corporation with powers of government. They used to do it one at a time. As in, the Octothorp Corporation may raise this amount of money, construct such-and-such a facility, and mine dilithium crystals in these three counties.
That’s amazing enough, that you can literally read the document that breathed power into a corporation. Even more shocking for us today is that if that corporation messed up, didn’t follow legislative instructions, or exceeded powers granted, the same legislature could just pass another law (no judicial intervention needed, thank you very much) and repeal the charter, a process called charter revocation. (Are you ready to see the treasure map to finding a charter revocation?)
That charter revocation—you can also hold it in your hands. Something about seeing this “in the flesh,” as it were, changes the way you understand corporations. It is hypocritcal and inaccurate for lawmakers to intone the equivalent of, Gosh, those darn corporations are so powerful. When in fact every single one of their powers was granted by legislation, voted on by legislators. (And even if first granted by a court, those powers were later ratified in statutes).
So I want you to take two steps that aren’t on many agendas just now.
ONE—Get thee to a law library.
TWO—Realize that the target of citizen activism is not so much corporations (using powers overtly given to them by governments), but the governments themselves that have ratified such a wholesale transfer of power from the people to corporations.
That’s my pitch. I hope you’re ready to go here, to see a pamphlet-length layperson’s tour guide to a law library. Even if you never make it to the library, you’ll learn a thing or two by flipping through the tourist brochure. Perhaps, even enough to turn your attention from corporations to the governments that create and protect them.
Bon voyage, jam