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Thoughts on corporate speech

January 22, 2010

Story’s here.

  1. I agree with Volokh et al. that “corporations aren’t people” is weak.  Corporations are tools created by people to do stuff, and you can’t argue that limiting them won’t inhibit the ability of people to do stuff.  (You can say that maybe we should inhibit certain abilities, but painting corporations as faceless monoliths is inaccurate.  Also remember that nonprofits also count as corporations.)
  2. Also as per Volokh, politics, at least a politics as expansive as ours, is a zero-sum game.  If corporations lose, then other folks gain.  What sort of folks?  Lobbyists, academics, journalists, celebrities, and the individually extremely rich.  Taking the broad view, then, nixing corporate speech will increase, not decrease, individual inequality in political influence.
  3. All that said, I’m concerned about the practical effect of increased corporate political influence.  By and large, profit-seeking corporations only have one reason to get involved with politics, and that is rent-seeking.  Google will want subsidized free broadband, GM will want protectionism, and Goldman Sachs will want implicit government guarantees against collapse.  Of course, even if corporate speech is muzzled there’s nothing to stop them from hiring lobbyists, so the marginal effect of this decision may not be that great.  A longer-term solution would be to limit the government’s ability to grant economic rents, whether by drawing back its powers to begin with or by agitating voter sentiment against corporate welfare.
  4. This really shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  Corporations regularly donate to both parties, and in 2008 Obama received more corporate donations than McCain.
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