Thom Hartmann discusses Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights
Thom Hartmann came to the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in 2003 to discuss his book Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights.
Unequal taxes, unequal accountability for crime, unequal influence, unequal privacy, and unequal access to natural resources and our commons - these inequalities and more are the effects of corporations winning the rights of persons while simultaneously being given the legal protections to avoid the responsibilities that come with these rights. Hartmann tells the intriguing story of how it got this way - from the colonists' rebellion against the commercial interests of the British elite, to the distorted application of the Fourteenth amendment - and how to get back to a government of, by, and for the people. He offers specific legal remedies that could truly save the world from political, economic, and ecological disaster through actions that can be taken by citizens, courts, legislatures, and local communities.
Thom Hartmann is an award-winning author of more than a dozen books, and international relief worker and psychotherapist, a former business and marketing consultant, and the founder and former CEO of seven corporations that have generated over a quarter-billion dollars in revenue.
What follows is an edited version of Thom Hartman's Bodhi Tree Bookstore presentation.
Thom Hartmann: When I started working on this book, Unequal Protection, I wanted it to be a sequel to The Last Hours Of Ancient Sunlight. In that book, I looked at our world's ecological disaster and asked: "Why is this taking place?
Consider for example, the population explosion. The first one billion people, was achieved in 1800. Five million years of human history led up to that. The second billion people took only a hundred and thirty years, to 1930. The third billion took only thirty years more, until 1960. The fourth billion came fourteen years later, in 1974. The fifth billion happened in 1987, after thirteen years, and the sixth billion took eleven years, in 1999. This population explosion is not going on with the whole human race but with essentially one part of it - the culture or tribe that uses technology and fuels. It is probably about eighty or eighty-five percent of all people on the Earth.
Now the economic salvationists suggest that population could be brought under control if everybody just lived a middle-class lifestyle. They say in countries like Western Europe and the United States where people achieve a middle-class lifestyle, the population drops to zero. Keep in mind, the six billion people that we have now. Of that six billion people, between four and five billion of them don't have reliable access to clean water. Somewhere between three and four billion of them go to sleep every night at least malnourished. Two to three billion are living on less than a dollar a day.
If we were to raise the standard of living or level of consumption of all six billion people on the Earth to only the top of the poverty level - a family of four in Appalachia at $12,500 a year - it would take four planet Earths to provide the needed raw materials. It's simply not possible.
Then there are the technological salvationists who say that the problem could be solved with just birth control technology. But, according to Planned Parenthood, there's somewhere between three hundred and seven hundred million families that would like to have access to birth control that don't. But that's not enough people to produce a doubling of the entire planet's population since 1960, about forty-two years.
What I did learn from my research when I was writing Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, was that in those cultures where women have relatively equal rights with men or power with men, or even have superior power to men, population stabilizes in a single generation. Of course, we haven't achieved this parity even in the United States or Western Europe.
So, why are we overpopulating the planet, and wiping out species at an alarming rate? There's something else at work here. The conclusion I came to was that it wasn't because of our specific behaviors, although these were the obvious cause of the destruction. Instead, the deeper reason was our way of thinking, which was driving those behaviors.
In order to bring about deep, meaningful, and lasting change, I realized that we needed to change not only our behaviors, but also the thinking that led to those behaviors. And when I say thinking, I don't just mean, "I'll do this instead of that;" I mean our core cultural stories. For instance, it turns out that a story is driving the human population explosion. It is a cultural story that we find in most of the religions of the world, since these religions wanted to encourage their tribes to grow by producing more and more babies. Sociologists may say these were useful stories at one time, when a growth in population was desirable. But now, with six billion people in the world, that is no longer the case.
I described five or six other toxic and ecologically destructive stories in The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. But after the book had been written and published, I realized that I had missed one story, and a very toxic one, at that. And that is why I wrote a sequel, which is Unequal Protection. The story I missed is the one that says a woman made a terrible mistake, six thousand years ago, when she ate an apple, or talked to a snake. Therefore, the story says, God is upset with all of us, and our basic nature is defective. Everything else in the world is born to harmony and balance, and has a basic nature that is inclined towards homeostasis. When there are more rabbits, the fox population increases until the rabbit population declines, and in this way, all of nature aims towards harmony - except for humans. Somehow, we are defective, the story says, but I would disagree. It's not that humans are defective; instead, it's just that this one culture has some defective stories in which it believes. But unfortunately, if we accept this story of a defective humanity, it follows that someone needs to rule with an iron fist. In other words, this story gives rise to a culture based on crime and punishment, and on power.
When I began writing this book, I intended to write about Jeffersonian democracy. It seemed to me that this founding principle of our nation was really an attempt to apply tribal values to a larger community. The founding fathers realized that for six thousand years, civilization had been governed by warlords, theocrats, and autocrats. But they saw an alternative in the Iroquois confederacy, and that is why, as the Constitution was being written in 1783, Franklin and Jefferson invited thirty-four members of that confederacy to spend two months sleeping on the second floor of Liberty Hall in Philadelphia.
I began my research by reading Jefferson's letters. There are about five or six thousand major ones, of which I have read four thousand. I spent a year living inside of Jefferson's head, so to speak, reading both the letters and some biographies. In fact, the original title for the book was going to be "Restoring Jefferson's Dream". I found a couple of things that Jefferson was saying that I hadn't really understood when I first studied history in high school or college, even though they were conspicuous in his writings.
The first thing I found is the idea of the difference between rights and privileges. You also find this idea in the writings of Thomas Paine. In 1791, he wrote The Rights of Man, which contains this marvelous passage: "It has been thought," he begins, "that government is a compact between those who govern and those who are governed. But this cannot be true because it is putting the effect before the cause. For as man must have existed before governments existed, there necessarily must have been a time when governments did not exit, and consequently, there could originally exist no governors to form such a pact with. The fact, therefore, must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government, and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist." Now, this was a radical notion. Among Jefferson, Paine, Adams and Hamilton - the founders of American democracy, representing the whole political spectrum - there was a consensus that emerged from the writings of John Locke and John Stewart Mill. The common idea was that human beings, simply by being born, are endowed with absolute rights by their creator. So it follows that these rights cannot be taken away, since that would be a violation of the laws of nature.
Then, the human beings who possess these rights might decide to create institutions such as governments, churches, unions, guilds, or partnerships. But those institutions would not possess rights - only privileges. Only human beings have rights, and institutions are granted privileges by the human beings who hold those rights. Privileges can be revoked, but rights cannot - that is the crucial distinction. So there is an absolute wall between rights and privileges.
In his writings, Jefferson identified three oppressors of humanity that we find throughout history. First, there are warlords, who held power through the use of violence and terror. Secondly, there are theocrats, who claimed that god, or the gods had given them the right to rule. And finally, there are the plutocrats, who belonged to what Jefferson called the "pseudo-aristocracy." They are aristocratic by wealth rather than by birth, and claim power on that basis. Jefferson argued that human beings, having rights, should be protected from domination by any of these three institutions.
The Declaration of Independence explicitly states that we would not have a king, so that is the end of that. The First Amendment to the Constitution rules out having popes to lead us on crusades. We can have popes, but they cannot take part in the government, due to the separation of church and state. That puts an end to theocracy. And interestingly, I found in Jefferson's letters that he wanted to include a ban on commercial monopolies in the Bill of Rights. He wanted to prevent practices such as corporations owning stock in other corporations, or conducting more than one business. So if a corporation was chartered to make railroad cars, it could not also make matchboxes; if they published a newspaper, they could not also make movies, and so forth. In addition, he wanted to limit the life span of a corporation to a productive human life span, which in his estimation was forty years.
Jefferson fought very hard to include these principles in the constitution, but without success. His opponents included Alexander Hamilton, who had a vision of America as a commercial powerhouse; his Federalist party, which Jefferson called the party of the well-born and the well-bred was beholden to the moneyed interests of North America. The Federalists believed that commercial monopolies would help build the country, so Jefferson's compromise was to allow small monopolies, provided that they were tightly regulated. This was accomplished by giving states the absolute power to create corporations, and as a result, the word "corporation" cannot be found in the Constitution. All private corporations were to be chartered at the state level, so that citizens of the states could keep the corporations under control. And in fact, from the founding of the United States until 1886, corporations had a limited life span of anywhere from ten to forty years.
Under state laws, corporations were established to serve the local community, by making matchbooks, drilling for oil, or whatever. The state attorney general would verify each year that corporations were serving this specified purpose, and if they were not, they would lose their charter. Almost every state had a "bribery and influencing law." For example, this law in the State of Wisconsin up until the 1880s said, "It is a felony for any person to speak with any legislator with an attempt to influencing legislation on behalf of or to further the interests of a corporation. It is a felony for any person to give money to a political party, a political candidate or any political group on behalf of a corporation with an intent to influence legislation, and it is a felony for a person to publish any form of advertising or public pronouncement on behalf of a politician or to influence legislation that is paid for by a corporation." You could go to jail for five years if you did these things.
So, originally, corporations had no First Amendment rights to free speech; they just had certain privileges. Human beings had rights, while it was up to states and local communities to determine what corporations could do. For instance, there were communities that wrote laws to encourage and help small entrepreneurial businesses by restricting out-of-state, predatory corporations. The people in a given community decided what they would allow in terms of business activity, and that was that, based on the Constitution.
After the Civil War, however, two things occurred simultaneously that created an interesting confluence of events. In 1834, the first railroad in America, the Baltimore and Ohio, or B & O, was chartered, and within twenty years, as the nation approached the Civil War era, the growth of the railroads was explosive. Railroads transported supplies for both the North and the South during the War, and by the 1860's, almost ten per cent of all federally held land was deeded to them. Like Microsoft in our own era, the railroads became the most powerful corporations in America - bigger than anything the world had seen.
And as the railroads grew to this position of incredible power, they began chafing at the bit; they were very upset about regulations imposed by the various states, counties, and townships. Of course the railroads converged in the big cities, such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, but in most of the United States, there was a single railroad in each community that held a monopoly. So the communities would say that since this railroad is operating on land given to it by the government, we should be able to regulate it. We can tell them what to charge for carrying passengers or freight, and how much to pay in taxes. We can set boundaries for them - as our government did with the airlines, until 1983, when they were deregulated in the United States. Needless to say, the railroads did not like this at all.
The second interesting event occurred when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which freed the slaves in both the North and the South. After the war, a Civil Rights Act was passed, but it proved inadequate because of the two passages in the Constitution where slavery was essentially institutionalized. So, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were written, all within a year of each other. The 13th Amendment stated that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude would exist within the United States. The 15th Amendment stated that the right to vote would not be denied on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, and the 14th Amendment said that the former slaves had full access to the legal process. The actual language of that amendment is crucial for the issue of the rights of human beings and of corporations.
The 14th Amendment begins with the words, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States . . ." Obviously, this should apply to human beings, since you cannot say that corporations are "born or naturalized." Then it continues: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any state deprive any person . . ." - notice that word, "person," - of life, liberty or property without due process of law nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Clearly, the 14th Amendment is sandwiched between the 13th, which abolished slavery, and the 15th, which said that everyone, regardless of race, could vote. The 14th Amendment was intended to give the former slaves, now the freed slaves, full access to the legal process - equal protection under the law. Everyone understood that, but the railroads found it very interesting.
Historically, corporations had been referred to as "artificial persons," while human beings were referred to as "natural persons." Corporations had to have some sort of legal status in court - "artificial persons" - in order to pay taxes, to sue or be sued, or to own property, and the 14th Amendment doesn't specify "natural persons." Now, the words "All persons born or naturalized" would indicate to any intelligent person that they refer to human beings. But the railroads nonetheless believed they had found a loophole, so they began taking cases before the Supreme Court that claimed they were persons under the law. Artificial persons, perhaps, but persons nonetheless who should have rights rather than privileges.
The railroads' first attempts (in 1873) were complete failures; they were essentially laughed out of court. Justice Miller, for instance, wrote "The one pervading purpose of the 14th Amendment was the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment of that freedom, and protection of the newly-made freeman and citizen from the oppression of those who had formerly exercised unlimited dominion over him." In other words, he flatly dismissed the railroads' case. But they kept coming back, again and again, and if you talk to any lawyer, legislator, or law professor, they will tell you that in 1886, the railroads finally got what they wanted.
In a famous case called "Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad," the Southern Pacific Railroad contested their property taxes. The Railroad maintained that Santa Clara County was taxing them at a different rate than San Mateo County, which they claimed was unlawful discrimination under the 14th Amendment. And if you ask any lawyer, legislator, or law school professor, they will tell you that in 1886, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons. Therefore, they are entitled to equal protection under law. That ruling opened a door, since it implied that corporations, as persons, would also have First Amendment rights. Unions, political parties, or governments wouldn't have those rights; only corporations. And the corporations used these rights as the basis for striking down tens of thousands of laws in local communities and states all across the United States - laws pertaining to bribery, influence, etc. - with the agreement of the Supreme Court.
When the EPA wanted to inspect a factory at one of America's largest chemical manufacturers to see if they were polluting their surroundings with highly toxic chemicals, they responded, "No, you can't enter our facility, since we have 4th Amendment privacy rights." The EPA then hired a pilot to fly a small plane over the facility and take photographs that would document their contentions, but the corporation (Dow Chemical) took them to court. The case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, where Dow won. As a result, the EPA can no longer perform surprise inspections, nor can OSHA, should they wish to investigate workplace safety. In addition, corporations have claimed the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. As early as 1934, for instance, tobacco companies claimed this right in order to keep information about the dangers of smoking secret.
Then, during the 30's, J.C. Penney challenged the laws that many communities wrote to nurture local businesses and make it harder for out-of-state companies to come in. J.C. Penney maintained that these laws discriminated unfairly and took their case all the way to the Supreme Court. Sure enough, the Supreme Court determined that this "discrimination" was illegal, on the grounds that corporations are persons. As a result, thousands of laws were struck down, and that is why it is now impossible to stop a company like Wal-Mart.
Money has now been equated with speech - and free money with free speech. The corporations have essentially taken over the American political process, and we now have a government of, by, and for the corporations rather than of, by, and for the people. Why? Because corporations have been given the same rights as people, and of course, the corporations are much more powerful. They can live forever; they can amass infinite wealth; they are not subject to inheritance taxes; they can produce progeny, like humans, except they can produce their progeny in one day. Enron had over 900 subsidiary corporations, and every single one had a unique identity and unique rights. Corporations can also change their identity, or change their citizenship in a day. If you or I wanted to become citizens of Switzerland, for instance, it might take years. Corporations don't fear death; they don't fear prison; they don't need fresh water to drink; they don't need pure air to breathe; they don't need good, pure food to eat. Humans do, however, and the corporations have overwhelmed us.
As I was researching my book, I found that Jefferson had warned precisely about this unlimited corporate power in his arguments for including a ban on commercial monopolies in the Constitution. Hamilton, however, responded that there was no need to worry, since corporations are comprised of people; he believed in a moral compass that would lead people to behave appropriately, and refrain from harming their communities. His attitude was similar to the changes in EPA policies under the present Bush administration that will allow polluters to voluntarily regulate themselves. The same thing happened in Texas during the first year that Bush was governor, which led to much greater pollution.
Now, since everyone says that the 1886 Santa Clara Country case was the turning point, where, legally speaking, corporations became persons, I decided to read it. So, I went down to the State Supreme Court building in Montpelier, Vermont, where I live. They have a great law library, where I met the law librarian, Paul Donovan. I told him I wanted to read the 1886 Santa Clara County case, and he said, "Oh, you mean the one where corporations became persons." Then he found an old, leather-bound book. He pulled it off the shelf, with dust flying everywhere, and when he opened it, the pages began to crack, since no one had touched it for a hundred years. I had enough coffee in me that I was able to read the entire case straight through - fifteen pages or so or turgid, post-Victorian legal prose.
I found that the Southern Pacific Railroad had been refusing to pay their property taxes to Santa Clara County for six years. The county assessor had determined the value of the fence posts along the railroad's right-of-way, and the Railroad maintained that only the state had the right to make that assessment. The Supreme Court agreed, and ruled in favor of the railroad. But at the end of the ruling, I discovered that while the railroad had offered several other defenses, including one on constitutional grounds, the Court had chosen not to consider them because the issue of the posts was in itself quite clear. I then said to myself, "This doesn't say that corporations are persons. In fact, it explicitly states that the Court did not rule on the constitutional issue." You can find this on supremecourt.gov, under 1886 Santa Clara County.
So I went to Paul, the librarian, and said, "This ruling you gave me doesn't say that corporations are persons." He answered, "That's interesting - did you read the head note, the commentary on the case?" Then he showed me an introductory page of small boldface type, and the first sentence states, "Corporations are persons under the 14th Amendment and therefore entitled to equal protection under the law." I said, "That's interesting - it's not in the decision. What is this?" He answered, "That's the commentary on the decision written by the Clerk of the Court, the Court's reporter." "It doesn't say what the decision says," I told him, and he replied, "I'm not a lawyer. You need to ask a lawyer about that." So, I paid my seventy cents and made some copies.
Then I walked a few blocks to the office of an old friend of mine who is a lawyer in town, and laid the copies out on his desk. "I want to ask you about the 1886 Santa Clara County case," I told him, and he answered, "Oh, you mean the one where corporations become persons." Really, that is how lawyers inevitably respond. Then I asked him to take a look at the last paragraph of the case. He read it, and said, "That's interesting." But when I had him read the first sentence of the head notes, his response was "Holy Cow!" or actually, something a little stronger. "Clearly," he said, "the head notes don't say what the ruling says." "Which means . . . ?" I asked. "Which means there is a mistake," he answered.
"A mistake?" I said. "A hundred and twenty years of American law based on a mistake? The World Trade Organization is based on a mistake?" And he said, "Calm down, I'm not an expert on constitutional law. Why don't you call somebody who knows this stuff?" So I went home and called Deb Markowitz, who is the Secretary of State for Vermont - "Hello, I'd like to speak to Deb Markowitz." The answer was, "this is Deb." That is one of the advantages of living in a small state! I told her that I had a question about the 1886 Santa Clara County Case, and she replied, "Oh, the one where corporations became persons." I said, "Yes, that one," and asked her if she had read it. She said she hadn't, although she had studied the case in law school. So I read to her from the end of the case, where the court declines to rule on the constitutional issues, and her response was about the same as my friend's - she was shocked. And when I asked what it meant, she said it showed that the Court never said that corporations are persons, and never granted them constitutional rights.
I thought this was great: All we would have to do would be to clarify this one ruling. But she told me the issue was much more complicated, since the Court had made other decisions based on the (erroneous) information in the head notes. (Since then, I have found 36 such cases.) She then told me, "It doesn't matter who the court cites as precedent, even it it's Donald Duck; once they make a ruling, it is the law." So, the 1886 Santa Clara County case wasn't the actual precedent that established corporate personhood, but once the court quoted the clerk's head notes, the precedent was established.
By the way, it turns out that the clerk who wrote the head notes, John Chandler Bancroft Davis, had been the Assistant Secretary of State in the Ulysses S. Grant administration. The Grant administration was arguably the most corrupt in American history, and they were especially known for being in bed with the railroads; many people in that administration had to resign because of bribery scandals. Further, Davis had served on the board of a major railroad himself. I found a letter in the National Archives in which Davis asks the Chief Justice, Morrison Remick Waite if the Court had ruled that corporations are persons, along with this response from Waite: "I leave it to you whether to discuss that in the commentary in as much as we avoided meeting the constitutional issue in our decision." In other words, using the passive voice employed by 19th century lawyers, he says, "We didn't rule that." (You can see these documents on my web sites, unequalprotection.com or thomhartmann.com.)
This is why the title of my book refers to "the rise of corporate dominance and the theft of human rights." Make no mistake: This was a theft, since the Supreme Court never actually ruled that corporations have the same rights as persons. No legislature has passed such a law, no governor or president has signed such a policy into law, and the public has never voted on such a law. In other words, it is not the result of any democratic process whatsoever. And yet, corporations have cited this principle in every sphere imaginable.
What can we do about it? Actually, there is now a movement in the United States to return human rights to human beings and put corporations back in the same category with unions, churches, the government, partnerships, and associations - groups that have privileges rather than rights. This is called the "Movement to Abolish Corporate Personhood." The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, one of the oldest women's rights group in the United States (wilpf.org) has declared a three-year campaign to abolish corporate personhood. The Alliance for Democracy, a great, national organization with a number of chapters, has declared the abolition of corporate personhood to be one of its main goals. The Green Party of Arizona is talking about putting it on the ballot in an attempt to amend the state constitution. Ten communities in Pennsylvania have passed laws saying that corporations are not persons within those communities. These are the first shots in a new American revolution, one that will be fought with petitions and votes, instead of guns and troops. It is a revolution to win back democracy.
It is also happening in Nebraska and South Dakota, and the odds are that these cases will end up before the Supreme Court. Then the Court will have the opportunity to fix the mistake it made in 1886 - even though it never actually made the mistake! And in 2000, the city of Point Arena, California, passed a resolution on the subject. This is how a community can start; you and your local community can do it. Resolutions may not have the force of law, but the get the corporations' attention and may inspire lawsuits. In addition, I took some of the money from the advance for this book and gave it to CELDF, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (celdf.org). They then wrote a sample ordinance saying that corporations are not persons in a given community, which any community can pass. We customized it for each of the fifty states.
Of course, the final step would be to change the Fourteenth Amendment by inserting the word "natural" before the word "persons." That would instantly settle the matter. So, both legislative and judicial approaches are possible.
Will the Supreme Court ever reverse the mistake of 1886? If they do, it will be because enough people have started to speak up, beginning with local communities that pass resolutions. You can get a resolution before your board of supervisors or township council - every community does it differently; it might take a petition drive, but there is always some way you can do it. We need communities to say, "Wait a minute! We don't think that corporations are persons. They have privileges; let them play their games to make money all day long. But don't put their activities in the same domain as human rights. That is not appropriate."
When enough people have taken this step, the Supreme Court might reverse itself. In fact, it came very close to doing so in the 1979 Boston v. Bellotti case. Remember, this is an issue that transcends left and right; a true conservative would be just as horrified at corporate claims of human rights as a true progressive. In the Boston v. Bellotti case, it was Justice Rehnquist who wrote a dissent saying it is absurd that corporations should have the rights of personhood. In his opinion, the Supreme Court has never given corporations those rights, so Justice Rehnquist gets it. I am convinced that we can wake people up and start a movement - it is already happening. Even the Wall Street Journal is looking into it.
To conclude, it is time for us to take back democracy. As Americans, we are the holders of a sacred archetype. In 1989, 15,000 people risked imprisonment or death as they marched through Tiannmen Square. What were they carrying? A 36-foot tall paper-mache statue that they called the Goddess of Democracy. Since we hold that sacred archetype for the world, it is our sacred obligation to bring this extraordinary, elegant, and potentially successful form of government back to our country. The United States, after all, is the nation that gave birth to democracy for only the second time during 6,000 years of human history. The Athenian Greeks made the first attempt, 2600 years ago, and it only lasted for 200 and some odd years. De Tocqueville predicted that our experiment with democracy would also last only 200 years or so, but we can re-invent democracy and make sure that it endures. This is my call to action: Please, get involved, by writing a letter to the editor, or to a politician, or by starting a petition drive. Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world, for indeed, that's the only way it has ever happened." Here we are - we are the ones who can change the world. Thank you.
Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights By Thom Hartmann
(360 pp.) ISBN 1605095591. Rodale
In the Introduction, Thom Hartmann writes, "this book is about the difference between humans and the corporations we humans have created. The story goes back to the birth of the United States, even to the birth of the Revolution. It continues through the writing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights in the 1780s and reaches its first climactic moment just under 100 years later, after the Civil War. The changes that ensured from that moment continue to unfold into the 21st century. And very few citizens of the world are unaffected." He continues, "In another sense, this book is about values and beliefs: how our values are reflected in the society we create, and how a society itself can work, or not work, to reflect those values."
Hartmann tells a startling story that will forever change our understanding of American history. In 1886, after a series of cases brought by lawyers representing expanding railroad interests, the Supreme Court allegedly ruled that corporations were "persons" and entitled to the same rights granted to people under the Bill of rights. Since this ruling, America has lost the legal structures that allowed for people to control corporate behavior. Thom Hartmann went back to the original ruling and in close reading of it, he discovered that the court did not rule on the issue of "persons" but it was so stated in the commentary on the decision, written by the Clerk of the Court. It was an extraordinary discovery.
As a result of the mistaken ruling, the largest transnational corporations fill a role today that has been historically filled by kings. They control most of the world's wealth and exert power over the lives of most of the world's citizens. Their CEOs are unapproachable and live lives of nearly unimaginable wealth and luxury.
This new feudalism was not what our Founders - Federalists and Democratic Republicans alike - envisioned for America. Hartman challenges "we, the people" to take back our lives. He proposes specific legal remedies that could truly save the world from political, economic, and ecological disaster.