Thursday, July 29, 2010

What’s another word for corporatism?

In 1971, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on the case of an anti-war activist shareholder of Honeywell, Inc. who wanted access to the shareholder list of Honeywell for the purpose of communicating with these shareholders about the munitions manufactured by the company that were being used in the Vietnam war.

If I recall correctly, cluster bombs and Claymore mines — the use of which is now regarded by many civilized nations as a war crime, but not by the U.S. — were some of the munitions that Pillsbury objected to. This all happened at the very beginning of an activist initiative that became known as the Honeywell Project.

That’s ancient history to most of you, boys and girls, but I remember the case quite well. I even remember bringing it up in my corporations class, questioning the result, and being met by a dismissive professor (who was not, it is perhaps unnecessary to say, Professor Don Marshall).

The case was captioned State of Minnesota ex rel. Charles A. PILLSBURY, Appellant, v. HONEYWELL, INC., Respondent. It would be hard to find a case in Minnesota with only two parties with more famous names.

The Supreme Court of Minnesota, affirming the district court, turned Mr. Pillsbury down, stone cold. Why? The court ruled that Pillsbury only had a legitimate interest in Honeywell’s bottom line, not social or political matters.
In the instant [a much cooler word, don’t you think boys and girls, than the pedestrian “this” or even “present”] case, however, the trial court, in effect, has found from all the facts that petitioner was not interested in even the long-term well-being of Honeywell or the enhancement of the value of his shares. His sole purpose was to persuade the company to adopt his social and political concerns, irrespective of any economic benefit to himself or Honeywell. This purpose on the part of one buying into the corporation does not entitle the petitioner to inspect Honeywell's books and records.
Under Pillsbury against Honeywell, the social and political concerns of a shareholder do not matter, but under Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the corporation is a citizen entitled to a voice in social and political affairs.

These decisions are, well, at odds. They throw into sharp relief the problem with making corporations into political and social stakeholders with direct access to the political system.

Corporations aren’t, practically speaking, accountable to their owners. The real ability of shareholders of Best Buy, Polaris Industries, Securian (which is a better name for a condom company than a company in the insurance business), Target, or any of the big dollar company contributors to MNForward, to have any effect on on where contributions for political speech goes, is nil.

Many of the companies who have contributed to MNForward have been the recipients of economic assistance by the state of Minnesota or its political subdivisions in the past, by the way of direct grants, tax incentives, or tax abatements.

The potential for subversion of a functioning democracy is obvious to the casual observer, if not to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In spite of what morons like Jonah Goldberg write, or what the unlettered say at Tea Party rallies, corporatism is the real synonym for fascism; the contributions highlighted by MNO yesterday illustrate the point very well.

A thump of the tail to MNO for the post making me think about Pillsbury against Honeywell.

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