Now that I have briefly explained how we can create a right to own land and stay within the confines of Natural Law (you can read it here), I suppose I should also address the issue of corporations. As with my first post on a right to own land, this post is a general outline. It is intended to give the idea and not cover every possible aspect of this subject. And as with land ownership, it starts with the Natural Right to Contract.
Now, if society wants to create corporations, I see no reason it cannot do so, but there are many more things that need to be addressed in the process than with creating a legislative act allowing people to claim ownership (i.e. exclusive use rights) of land. By its very nature, a corporation is an artificial entity: a created fiction that acts and is treated like an individual. At the same time, the creation of a corporation inherently includes – because it must – a notion of ownership by a real person or persons. This relationship is wrought with peril, as our modern system of corporations has clearly demonstrated. To create a corporation and stay within the boundaries of Natural Law, it requires great care and careful diligence to maintain. The founders managed it by issuing charters.
A charter functions like a corporation. It creates a corporation that can be owned and operated like a private business, but the government retains ultimate control of the corporation formed by the charter. Charters usually have limited life times, after which they must be renewed or they automatically dissolve. Charter companies were usually intended for public works. In return for accepting the restrictions associated with a charter, the owners were allowed to make a certain profit, but they were still held accountable. This is why, no matter how many shares an individual may have owned in the charter company, every share holder had an equal vote in the operations of the charter. As you can see, such an arrangement is tightly controlled and, in our modern times, would be resisted by the corporate elite within our society.
The primary complaints would be three-fold. First, people will argue that there is no private ownership in a charter company. This is true, but that is because a corporation is a public creation. It can only exist after the people pass a law to create it, and can only survive if it has the continued support of the people. This is why there can be no ‘property right’ in a corporation; only a right in the ability to operate a corporation. What we do not want to accept but must because it is inherent in the definition of ‘corporation’ is that a corporation is a legally created thing. It comes into being as a social act, and therefore, it remains under the ultimate authority of society, without whose support, the corporation ceases to exist. It is impossible to have private ownership in something that exists only in the public realm. At best, you can be granted the civil right to exclusive control of such a creation. For those who understand Scripture, this is derived from the principle of stewardship.
The second objection is that modern business requires huge organizations, and that it is impossible to raise the necessary sums of capital outside the corporate structure. Well, technically speaking, this is not true. Before the rise of the modern corporation, people used co-ops. Co-ops are autonomous entities formed by voluntary association. Farmers’ co-ops may come to mind. An example of how a co-op could work in our modern world, let’s look at the cell phone industry. Suppose there are hundreds of cell phone companies, and they all operate in small regions of the nation. Now suppose we want to build a national tower network so each regional company can operate as though it were national. The way we do it today, we create a few huge corporations and they consolidate everything: control, plans, profits, etc. But a co-op would consist of a hundred different owners who all contribute cash to build the national tower network, and in the process, they all share a claim to the use of that network. Yes, there will be details to be worked out there, but this is no different from any other contractual matter. The point here is that the capital can be raised without having to use corporations. In this example, every small company could be privately owned and operated, yet the same sort of national system we know today will still exist – only it will be in accordance with Natural Law.
There is an added benefit to co-ops: they actually strengthen the economy. Whereas the system we use now allows people to buy stock in a company, stocks are volatile and do not really represent true ownership of a corporation. In a sense, you are just buying the right to gamble on the company, which is little different from the objections that Natural Rights corporations do not allow for private ownership as mentioned above — but we will not get into this at the moment. The point here is, there is real ownership in co-ops. This then leads to a stronger middle class as, instead of concentrating the profits from the cell phone industry; they are distributed among the hundred or more owners who, depending upon their personal beliefs, may actually provide for better wages than the major corporations. Contrary to what the media likes to tell us, small businesses do tend to pay their people as well as they can – often better than corporate America.
The final objection will most likely be associated with the assertion that corporations are also formed by the Natural Right to contract. The problem with this objection is that it is not true. What ‘contract’ are you entering into when you buy stock in GM? What you are really doing is gambling, nothing more. If you had bought part of the company, then you could enter any of its facilities and use any of its assets as though you were the owner. Go try that sometime and see what happens. In truth, the modern corporation is little different from the government. The government gives you the ‘right’ to pay taxes and hope that you get some value in whatever return the government delivers. The corporation is the same way: you give them money and hope you get a return you value. Yes, there are differences, I am well aware of this. But the point is that both are socialized in nature.
You have to learn to look past the personal and particular of any given issue and look to the principle, the form and function. Once you can do that, you will see what I am trying to explain. And once you see it, you will understand how and why we are in such trouble. You will also understand that we will not extract ourselves from this trouble unless we return to the principles of Natural law.