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Discussion questions for ‘We the Corporations’

Author Adam Winkler. Credit Todd Cheney

Author Adam Winkler. Photo by Todd Cheney

Our October pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club is Adam Winkler’s “We the Corporations.” Become a member of the Now Read This book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here.

Below are questions to help guide your discussions as you read the book over the next month. You can also submit your own questions for Adam Winkler on our Google form here. Winkler will answer reader questions on the NewsHour broadcast at the end of the month.

WARNING: Spoiler alert on questions further down.

  1. What do you know about the “corporate rights movement”?
  2. Did you follow the Citizens United Supreme Court decision when it came down in 2010? What did you think of it?
  3. How did corporations use the 14th Amendment — which was meant to prevent discrimination of former slaves — to protect themselves against regulation?
  4. Winkler writes that, today, corporations have almost all the same rights that individuals do, including freedom of speech, due process, religious liberty, trial by jury and more. Do you think corporations should be treated like people? If not, how should they be treated?
  5. With the Hobby Lobby case of 2014, the Supreme Court decided that the company didn’t have to provide their employees with birth control because corporations have religious liberty rights. What is your opinion on that case and why?
  6. Winkler argues that the Supreme Court gave corporations certain rights decades before they were granted to women and African Americans. How did this happen? Was this surprising to you?
  7. How was America founded, in some ways, by corporations? How did the founding fathers consider corporations, if at all?
  8. Winkler writes that his book is neither an endorsement of broad protections for corporations nor an attack on corporate rights. Do the facts as he laid them out make you feel more skeptical of corporate rights or more supportive of them?
  9. According to the United States’ seventh president, Andrew Jackson, corporations were an avenue for politically connected insiders to get special economic privileges others couldn’t. Do you think this analysis remains true today?
  10. Former President Theodore Roosevelt, who was known as the “Trust Buster,” called for federal regulations on businesses, including maximum-hour and workplace safety laws. Have government regulations on big business become stronger or weaker in the years since? Should the government do more, do you think, or step back?
  11. Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis believed that a major problem with modern corporations was their great size, which he saw as dangerous to democracy. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  12. Winkler reminds us that, by law, a corporation exists to further the interests of its stockholders, not the interests of its employees, customers or the community. Do you see this as a problem? Why or why not?
  13. What new insights did you learn from Winkler’s account of the Citizens United case?
  14. Today, politicians like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez have voiced sharp critiques of corporate influence. What do you see as the next phase of the corporate rights movement? Do you think corporations will continue to gain power, or start to lose it?