Posts tagged with: corporations

t873In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court just announced its ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, holding that, “as applied to closely held corporations, the government’s HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).” The full opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, can be read here.

Although there is still much to digest, and although the majority opinion still leaves quite a bit of room for related battles to continue, it’s worth noting that that whatever perceived “narrowness” we see in the decision — confining things specifically to closely held corporations — remains a significant victory, particularly given our culture’s prevailing attitudes about business.

According to HHS, by simply incorporating one’s business in the pursuit of profit — “without in any way changing the size or nature of their businesses” — a company “would forfeit all RFRA (and free-exercise) rights” (quotes from Alito’s paraphrase). The arguments supporting such a view vary, including the principal argument advanced by HHS that corporations cannot “exercise religion.”

Alito dissects this from a variety of angles, and does so rather compellingly. But one of the more noteworthy sections is his refutation of the notion that for-profit corporations aren’t protected by RFRA because they “simply seek to make a profit.” (more…)

The New York Times ran an op-ed yesterday by Canadian legal scholar Joel Bakan, the author of a new book titled Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children. Bakan argues that the 20th century has seen an increase in legal protections for two classes of persons, children and corporations, and that one of these is good and one is terribly, terribly bad—mean, even. That furthermore, there has been a kind of inexorable, Hegelian clash between the Corporation and the Child, but that the Corporation is steamrolling the Child, and we’ve got to step in with governmental protections.

The first problem with Bakan’s analysis is his history of personhood. In his words, children were not legal persons until the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959. And as he understands it, corporations are granted certain rights of personhood simply because they have lots of money to pay lobbyists with—not because they are risk allocating mechanisms that must function semi-autonomously from the men and women who run them.

It is ridiculous to assert that “the 20th century also witnessed another momentous shift, one that would ultimately threaten the welfare of children: the rise of the for-profit corporation.” A Canadian lawyer should have some history of the common law and should know of the numerous 18th and 19th century for-profit corporations. And you can’t talk of fin de siècle child welfare reforms without corporate dark satanic mills already abusing the children.

Worse than these blunders, though, is Bakan’s view of the condition of children vis-à-vis corporations today.

Childhood obesity mounts as junk food purveyors bombard children with advertising.

We medicate increasing numbers of children with potentially harmful psychotropic drugs, a trend fueled in part by questionable and under-regulated pharmaceutical industry practices.

We also know that corporations often use [toxic] chemicals as key ingredients in children’s products, saturating their environments.

It is not even considered that children’s parents might be responsible for the food they eat, the medicines they take, or the toys they play with. Indeed, the piece begins with a reflection on Bakan’s own children’s absorption in the digital world and a sense that something is wrong with their lives, but nowhere does it occur to him to do anything about it, except to raise awareness in the pages of the New York Times. If the progressive state is to solve his own problems of parenting just as it is to solve his children’s problems, how is our brave muser any different than a child?

Bakan ends with a quotation of Nelson Mandela: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Mandela was right, and Bakan is a ward of the nanny state—it treats him as it treats his offspring, and makes children of them both. It is frightening to remember what Chesterton said—that “education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another”—if there is no difference between generations.

In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama commented that “even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they’re mostly lending to bigger companies. Financing remains difficult for small-business owners across the country, even though they’re making a profit.”

He then offered some of our tax dollars to help: “So tonight, I’m proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.”

The irony is that our government helped create this problem in the first place, both Republicans and Democrats. By repeatedly bailing out big corporations, Washington signaled the markets that it will protect “too-big-to-fail” companies if they should falter. So is it any surprise that big companies are attracting the lion’s share of the available credit?

What else has the government done to help? Well, it’s gobbling up an obscene portion of the world’s available credit by borrowing unheard of amounts of money. And by holding interest rates artificially low, it’s preventing the price function from coordinating the supply and demand of credit.

With help like this from the federal government, it’s a wonder there’s any credit left over for small businesses.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 14, 2007

To hear the NYT tell it (and Sojourners, for that matter), the family farm is facing severe threats. With no small degree of dramatic flourish, the NYT editorial linked above concludes:

For the past 75 years, America’s system of farm subsidies has unfortunately driven farming toward such concentration, and there’s no sign that the next farm bill will change that. The difference this time is that American farming is poised on the brink of true industrialization, creating a landscape driven by energy production and what is now called “biorefining.” What we may be witnessing is the beginning of the tragic moment in which the ownership of America’s farmland passes from the farmer to the industrial giants of energy and agricultural production.

If federal subsidies for corporate agribusiness is a threat to the family farm, then so is extensive FDA regulation of homegrown products and the morass of complex zoning regulations, telling people what they can sell, when they can sell, it and where they can sell it.

As my colleague Kevin Schmiesing wonders within a similar context, is the problem that the government just doesn’t quite have the right approach nailed down yet, or that the unintended consequences of government intervention into the market (in various ways) inevitably will screw things up (because, perhaps, special interests, whether corporate or individual, will always have an undue influence in the formation of policy)?

More news on the campus that may disturb those who are already hyperventilating about corporate involvement in higher education: university newspapers are receiving increasing corporate attention.

In an article in today’s WSJ, Emily Steel writes, “Hip, local, relevant and generated by students themselves, college newspapers have held steady readership in recent years while newspapers in general have seen theirs shrink. Big advertisers are going on campus to reach these young readers. Ford Motor Co., Microsoft Corp., Samsung Electronics Co., and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have all placed recent ads in college newspapers.”

In addition, “Last week, Gannett Co.’s Tallahassee Democrat acquired Florida State University’s FSView & Florida Flambeau, one of the nation’s few for-profit college newspapers. The same day, Viacom Inc.’s MTV, which already runs a network targeted at college campuses called mtvU, agreed to buy Y2M: Youth Media & Marketing Networks, a company that hosts the Web sites for 450 campus papers. MTV executives hope the deal will give mtvU credibility in the college community, providing its advertisers with easy access to college students.”

As a former columnist for Michigan State University’s student newspaper, The State News (I’m also married to a SN alum), let me just say that big corporations may be on to something…student newspapers have the market cornered and have the edge in providing locally relevant content to a uniquely situated and identifiable (perhaps even captive) audience.

HT: Poynter Online – Romanesko

Mark Cuban, billionaire and owner of the NBA franchise in Dallas, announced that he is “starting a website that focuses on uncovering corporate crime.” He continues, outlining the business model for the site: “I have every intention of trading on the information uncover[ed], and disclosing exactly what i do. The ultimate transparency.”

Another of Cuban’s ventures, HDNet, the first all high-definition TV network, is “talking to Dan Rather and we hope to do a deal where he produces a show that uncovers news. Information with a payoff.” Perhaps some of the news Rather uncovers will be of interest to the Cuban corporate corruption site.

Cuban defends his decision to trade on the corruption and crime information: “You may not like that I will trade on information we uncover and then publish it. I think reporting what we find is better than not reporting it. If we can uncover fraud. Thats a good thing. That profiting on the information we find is the smart thing to do. It beats the hell out of trying to remake the site every year to maximize advertising or subscriptions. It changes the newsenomics, which need to be changed.”

One conceptual difficulty I see is that for Cuban to “trade on” the information he gets, he’ll already have to own shares of stock in the affected company. Indeed, to trade on the news seems to mean that he’ll only be selling. That is, unless the news he breaks is in some cases about the lack of corporate crime in a case where it is suspected…then he could buy, I suppose.

In any case, Cuban’s plan certainly takes the idea of investment research to a whole new level.

Updated Update: Chris Roush gives an overview of Cuban’s plans as well as the site name, ShareSleuth.com, and links to a reaction from former BusinessWeek reporter Gary Weiss.

TCS Daily writer Larry E. Ribstein, a law professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, writes about the Cuban plan and confirms that “presumably this means that he will sell ‘short’ the stocks the journal investigates, and then buy them after the revelations puncture the price.”