In the fall of 2007, when the U.S. economy first seemed in peril, I began answering reader queries here on the Business Desk. I still do so occasionally, but this page has expanded to include posts from eminent economists, "far-flung correspondents," and a variety of voices that have intriguing and/or useful things to say about economics, broadly defined. Please feel encouraged to respond to any and all of them.
Is It Fair to Describe Corporations as Sociopaths?
Ellen Kandoian Sweeney
City & State:
Question: You recently said that someone's referring to big banks as 'sociopathic' was perhaps 'over the top'. But have you seen the excellent 2004 Canadian documentary, The Corporation? If not, you should.
Doesn't it make a convincing case that corporate "persons" are precisely that -- they exhibit the key features of sociopaths? ("No soul to save, no body to incarcerate"; "Like a shark is a killing machine, a corporation is an externalizing machine", indifferent to criminal law, beyond the control of nation-states, etc.) If this is true, are we doomed?
Paul Solman: I HAVE seen "The Corporation," which I found -- how do I put this? -- a bit "over the top." That said, there are fascinating issues with regard to the legal birth of a business as a "person" with equal rights protection under the Fourteenth Amendment: It may have been something of a mistake. You can read more online by Googling the key case: Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company (1886). As to "sociopath," well, here's the Dictionary.com definition: "a person...whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience." Is that true of all corporations, do you think?