Recent work on the issue of corporate personhood
December 22, 2021
Forthcoming in Law and Society Review is David Gindis' review of Susanna Kim Ripken's book Corporate Personhood, both of which emphasize the complexity of the concept itself, wrapped up as it is in economics and ethics as well as law, political science, and sociology. From Gindis' abstract:
Susanna Ripken is an astute and fair-minded observer of today's corporate personality controversy. The premise of her impressive book is that the corporate personhood puzzle is as complicated as it is vexing because corporate personhood is inherently multidimensional, in a way that mirrors the fact that the corporation is at the same time an economic institution, a legal actor, a cultural artifact, and a political operator, whose actions can be morally praised or condemned. To produce a comprehensive picture of the corporation we need to weave together the different facets highlighted by economics, law, sociology, political science, philosophy, ethics, and other disciplines. So too must we proceed, Ripken persuasively argues, when dealing with corporate personhood. No single discipline is in a position to answer all the important questions corporate personhood raises. An interdisciplinary conversation is required.
The abstract for Ripken's book itself follows:
The topic of corporate personhood has captured the attention of many who are concerned about the increasing presence, power, and influence of corporations in modern society. Recent Supreme Court cases like Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, and Masterpiece Cakeshop - which solidified the free speech and religious liberty rights of corporations and their owners - have heightened the controversy over treating corporations as persons under the law. What does it mean to say that the corporation is a person, and why does it matter? In Corporate Personhood, Susanna Kim Ripken addresses these questions and highlights the complexity of the corporate personhood concept. Using a broad, interdisciplinary framework - incorporating law, economics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, organizational theory, political science, and linguistics - this highly original work explores the complex, multidimensional nature of corporate personhood and its implications for corporate rights and duties.
Readers may also be interested in a recent paper by David Gindis and Abraham Singer titled "The Corporate Baby in the Bathwater: Why Proposals to Abolish Corporate Personhood Are Misguided," forthcoming in Journal of Business Ethics:
The fear that business corporations have claimed unwarranted constitutional protections which have entrenched corporate power has produced a broad social movement demanding that constitutional rights be restricted to human beings and corporate personhood be abolished. We develop a critique of these proposals organized around the three salient rationales we identify in the accompanying narrative, which we argue reflect a narrow focus on large business corporations, a misunderstanding of the legal concept of personhood, and a failure to distinguish different kinds of constitutional rights and the reasons for assigning them. Corporate personhood and corporate constitutional rights are not problematic per se once these notions are decoupled from biological, metaphysical or moral considerations. The real challenge is that we need a principled way of thinking about the priority of human over corporate persons which does not reduce the efficacy of corporate institutions or harm liberal democracies.