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Dániel Boros

moral justification for corporations

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Corporations are entities with rights normally only humans can possess. These rights are given to them by the state. They are not natural rights.

Is there or can there be any justification for such rights?

P.S.:

I also feel that with corporations shifting the responsibility from leadership to the shareholders often causes people to make risky deals they would have not made otherwise.

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Well corporations don't exist just like forests don't exist. What does exist is a collection of individuals and trees. Corporations 'exist' because the sovereignty is in the individual. Corporations are an expression of individual activity.

Having said that, it's impossible for corporations to shift responsibility because corporations don't exist. Individuals shift responsibility. If the management or owner of a business chooses to shift that responsibility, then it is an individual choice. The shareholders can threaten to remove their investments if they have no confidence in the management. And that's ok too.

The real issue about corporation is really about taxing structure, financing and liability. If the corporation fails, share holders do not have the right to go after their personal property or impose debts extending into future generations. It's more of a technical thing, rather than a moral thing.

The history of corporations goes way back to kings financing ship voyages, and dealing with loss of property and men. To what extent is the king liable for in damages? In modern times, Each freight or passenger airplane is its own corporation mainly for liability issues. IIRC, those plane or flight numbers are names of corporations.

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Corporations don't exist, they are legal creations and legal reifications. The rights at issue in the recent Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court case were the rights of the people in the corporation, which do not disappear simply due to the condition of employment.

That thread softwareNerd linked to is good.

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The word 'corporation' can realistically describe one of two things: it either describes specific actual people who interact with each other in certain specific ways, or it describes a logical construct used as a tool, by actual people. Either way, every dollar a corporation spends, every word it publishes originates in the intentionality of an actual human being. It's impossible to suppress the activities of corporations without suppressing the activities of actual people.

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Corporations are entities with rights normally only humans can possess. These rights are given to them by the state. They are not natural rights.

Is there or can there be any justification for such rights?

Why are you singling out corporations? Corporations aren't the only legal persons who aren't individual human beings, but rather an organization of individuals. There are also cooperatives, associations, trusts, unions, charities, sovereign states, municipalities, religious organizations, sects, international organizations, temples etc.

Oh, and the answer to why all these legal persons have legal rights is on the wikipedia page of the concept legal persons. First, internationally:

Legal personality allows one or more natural persons to act as a single entity (a composite person) for legal purposes. In many jurisdictions, legal personality allows such composite to be considered under law separately from its individual members or shareholders. They may sue and be sued, enter contracts, incur debt, and own property. Entities with legal personality may also be subjected to certain legal obligations, such as the payment of taxes. An entity with legal personality may shield its shareholders from personal liability.

The concept of legal personality is not absolute. "Piercing the corporate veil" refers to looking at individual natural persons acting as agents involved in a corporate action or decision; this may result in a legal decision in which the rights or duties of a corporation are treated as the rights or liabilities of that corporation's shareholders or directors. Generally, legal persons do not have all of the same rights—such as the right to freedom of speech—that natural persons have, although the United States has become an exception in this regard).

Second, in the invariably superior legal system of the United States:

In part based on the principle that legal persons are simply organizations of natural persons, and in part based on the history of statutory interpretation of the word "person", the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that certain constitutional rights protect legal persons (like corporations and other organizations). Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad is sometimes cited for this finding because the court reporter's comments included a statement the Chief Justice made before oral arguments began, telling the attorneys during pre-trial that "the court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does." Later opinions misinterpreted these pre-argument comments as part of the legal decision.[7] As a result, because of the First Amendment, Congress may not make a law restricting the free speech of a corporation, a political action group or dictating the coverage of a local newspaper,[8] and because of the Due Process Clause, a state government may not take the property of a corporation without using due process of law and providing just compensation. These protections apply to all legal entities, not just corporations.

P.S.:

I also feel that with corporations shifting the responsibility from leadership to the shareholders often causes people to make risky deals they would have not made otherwise.

You're wrong. First, financially: shareholders are putting up and risking their own money. No one else's. What's it to you whether the risk is great or small. And what does "otherwise" mean? If the government made it impossible for me to hand my money over to some hotshot corporate executive for safekeeping, I would be more responsible with it? How do you know? Maybe my next best option would be Vegas.

Second, from a criminal law perspective: As explained in the wikipedia article, the legal personality does not protect individual participants from criminal prosecution. Corporate executives and shareholders are held to the same standard of criminal responsibility as everyone else. There is nothing in corporate law stating otherwise.

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