As a card carrying laissez faire capitalist pig (I actually don’t have a card but how cool would that be?) I want the state to leave business (mostly) the hell alone.
With that freedom, I also want the state to hold the individual responsible for their actions. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility." (I could have paraphrased Uncle Ben there but Ellie should get her due.)
I’ve always been uncomfortable with one of the more prominent purposes of corporations; to remove shareholders and decision makers from responsibility for the actions of the company… actions that they ultimately are responsible for.
The government’s function isn’t to support businesses, direct businesses, run businesses or to bail businesses out – it cannot do those things competently and the end result is the Great Recession they have regulated us into. No, its job is to stop people from harming other people and to punish them when they do… and that is the same job whether it is the individual acting alone or if they organize themselves into groups of thousands.
I understand that, especially when they are massive entities with tens or hundreds of thousands of employees, and many of the stockholders come by way of pension funds… responsibility becomes rather dilute.
But a corporation isn’t a living entity, it is a cultural fiction and responsibility should commensurate with actions. (is that an accepted usage of "commensurate"? I like the way it reads when pronounced with a hard ‘a’ but I think I may be colouring outside the lines with that one.)
If you’re the CEO who set the company on the path, or didn’t correct path when a problem was brought to your attention, the jail time or restitution is yours personally.
If you manage a pension fund and didn’t do your due diligence before or after buying stock, you personally should come under scrutiny.
If you are the deckhand who overheard a conversation and didn’t blow the whistle- well, there should probably be a little heat but you’re standing a long way from the fire.
Sure we still do see some folks sitting in the defendant’s chair but not enough in my mind. I lay the blame squarely on law when one of the greater functions of corporations is to take the fall if someone screws up. Sure they say that it is to shelter people when they aren’t responsible for the screw up but it has spread far beyond that and I think this distancing of personal responsibility may be the prime reason that these social groupings behave almost like the semi-conscious entity that Steve Barnes wrote about over on Dar Kush.
I wonder how different it would be if the first function of incorporation was to apportion responsibility for the business’ actions?
I’m thinking that businessmen would probably be a lot more cautious.