Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Stretch?

According to Suetonius, the emperor Caligula wished that the Roman people had only one neck. I’m less demanding than “Little Boots.” Reading the latest news about how the Feds were fining UBS $1.5 billion for rate fixing, I found myself wishing that the corporations who crashed the economy had at least one neck. The regulators probably give each other high fives over the giant fines they impose, but the actual perpetrators escape responsibility when the fictional person of the corporation and the stock holders get flogged.  

The Occupy Wall Street folks bitch about corporatism, but it seems to me that this diagnosis is wrong. It isn’t the legal person of the corporation that commits the crimes; but the group of individuals who control corporations, usually the CEOs and their henchmen. The limited liability that the official owners of corporations enjoy is not the fundamental problem—the greatest malefactors don’t necessarily have much of a stake in the companies they rip off in the course of ripping us off.  Plutocracy and its abuses are not about fictional persons but about real persons with real necks.  The limited liability that keeps these necks safe is not a legal loophole, but the political and cultural power of wealth concentrated in a few absurdly rich families.

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