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The Almighty Buck

The Corporate Death Penalty 183

There's an interesting column on SiliconValley.com from Dan Gillmor (IMHO, one of the few smart columnists out there) about a probably-unimplementable idea: Killing illegal companies. The notion appeals to me though -- but even more, the idea of bad companies wearing electronic tracking bracelets amuses me. *grin*
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The Corporate Death Penalty

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    So you really do believe in having a free market at the cost of everything else?

    You people amaze me...

    If resorting to this kind of "communism" saves my tech-illiterate grandmother from being screwed over by a bunch of internet criminals, I'm all for it.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    FIRST get a journalism death penality. But on the other hand a coder who codes for a living has a right to code. There would be great danger for any two people who worked for a company to start their own software company. How many times have you had a design issue disagreement with upper management? Form a new company to do it your way and you will be shut down for your obvious criminal activity? "Their twenty lawyers vs your 1."
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why would you want to punish the corporation instead of the executives?

    Because the death penalty of a human being is abhorrent to the most of the civilized world.

    Killing a company doesn't take a life from anyone. Preventing a rotten executive from starting another company and making him to earn his money like the rest of us (working for someone else) can only be a good thing.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Your analogy is incorrect, employees of a company aren't comparable to spouses or children, they are comparable to parts of the body, or even a conjoined siamese twin. The spouses and children would be other companies or people who rely on the infrastructure or products that company produces. I don't necessarily agree or disagree with the conclusion you draw from this analogy, it needs to be more closely thought out.
  • This column is about emotions and abstractions, and goes nowhere as a result. First he sets himself against the death penalty for a reason which, as stated, is indistinguishable from squeamishness, from being unwilling to deal with the sometimes sad result of expecting humans to behave as though being civilized came naturally. (It doesn't, you know: it's a highly artificial and rather fragile game we play, and the one thing that gives us any claim to being any more than just another animal.)

    It seems odd, then, that he sets out looking for an analog to the death penalty for corporate entities. This whole exercise seems out of character for someone too emotional to consider the eugenic benefit of weeding the worst elements from our human population, but even in this less personal domain he can't maintain a rational point of view for long. Soon we are mired in second thoughts and rationalizations, and ultimately he falls so low as to use the cheapest cop-out in the colunist's bag of tricks: he leaves it up to us to write and tell him what to think.

    I don't know why the big noise shashdotties think this guy is so cool. Oh, wait, you only said he was pretty clueful for a columnist. Okay, he might be, at that. You just have to remember that the most clueful of columnists plus fifty cents still won't buy you a cup of coffee most places.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Actually, Nicotine is more addictive than crack. Crack, being cocaine, is technically not addictive, but creates dependency very fast. Heroin is a good comparison for nicotine, since both are physically addictive.
    In any case, nicotine is way more addictive than either one of those drugs. Indeed, it's probably the most addictive drug commonly available, by a long shot.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Don't let George Bush know. He'll kill the lot of them (if he could). So long as they don't pay him off nicely (many corp.'s are in the clear on that one).

    p.s. - bonzoesc, you pretend that the individuals who make up a company are the same as the company. In the case of a corporation, this is most defintitely not true under law nor in practice. One of the greatest problems facing those dealing with corporate abuses is separating out the idea that a corporation is its own entity different from the people who run it. The corporation, as too few recognize, literally has a life of its own. And this can be taken from it - quite effectively - if our laws would allow it (or practice would ever permit it to occur).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 26, 2001 @09:05AM (#196740)
    Require a permission to start up a company.

    A common practise in Europe but probably quite unfamilar to you Americans.

  • Oh, c'mon -- Microsoft, no matter how guilty, is by no means worthy of receiving a death penalty. They cheated and the played the game dirty. But they were still playing the game. Their real, direct actions were not particularly offensive. They did not have people assassinated (Shell). They did not defraud the public, causing death (big tobacco). They did not cause extreme environmental damage (Exxon). There's no big international conspiracies. There is no direct ill-will toward the public. The corporate structure -- while highly competetive and extremely aggressive -- never acted to endanger or seriously defraud the public, besides FUD, which isn't that bad.

    I dislike MS as much as the next guy, but really, we need a little more perspective. There's real evil being done in the world -- but it ain't coming from the world of computer operating systems.

  • I think there is an important point here -- how would you even charge a corporation? Every bad action would only be traceable back to the individuals who made up the corporation. Even if it means they hired bad individuals, and told them to do bad things, someone chose that hiring and told people what to do.

    So how do you give due process to the elimination of a corporation? I believe in due process, as much as corporations tend to manipulate it, and I wouldn't want to give it up.

    Another possibility is that you simply make it much easier to charge the individuals in a corporation for their actions. But this has a lot to do with a lack of will on the part of the government, and unfortunately that's very hard to change. There seems like a lot of places where there have been large corporate conspiracies -- and there are specific laws about conspiring across state lines and what-not. But they only get used against organized crime, not organized corporate crime. I blame that on the prosecutors (and of course their bosses). More laws won't get the current laws enforced.

    One way to help would be to eliminate much of corporation's right to privacy. I believe this would be quite reasonable, and if it was a true public disclosure then third-parties could raise objections and civil suits against the corporations and individuals when the government (predictably) ignores abuses. And if you want to keep privacy, fine, you just don't get limited liability.

    I'm not sure how that would effect trade secrets -- not something I'm particularly happy with anyway, but without secrets it's not easy to gain advantage from novelty, and novelty (i.e., invention) is good.

    Still, there's a good comprimise in there somewhere.

  • Trying to impose a "death penalty" on something that is no more than words on a piece of paper is just plain silly.
    It's not at all silly. A death penalty for a piece of paper is simple: burn the paper. And, along with that, destroy any legal implications that paper gave. That's what this is all about. When you are taking away the corporate charter you are simply taking away the special rights that were given to that piece of paper and the imaginary entity it implied. You are taking away the pretend entity that could go to court, win and lose cases, pay taxes, have gains and losses, etc. Nothing else has been destroyed.

    How do you fight the imaginary monster that's underneith the bed? Easy, stop believing in it. That's how you kill a corporation too.

  • by bhurt ( 1081 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @09:24AM (#196744) Homepage
    I find it humorous that *any* concern to the people who would be harmed in a corporate death penalty, or in any corporate fine. No such considerations are ever given to *human* criminals who are punished. How often do you hear a judge say something like "I know you committed this crime, and you've admitted it, and normally I'd sentence you to life imprisonment for it, but since you have a wife and family who are depending upon you for financial support, and parents and siblings who would be emotionally harmed by your incareration, I'm going to commute you sentence to 60 days of probation"?

    I'm a NAIC club member and stock investor. I'm also an employee. *Both* of these attributes have a certain amount of risk involved- the company I am working for may go out of buisness, or may simply downsize me, with little or no warning. The stocks I buy may declare bankruptcy, or plummet in price so far that the stocks may as well be worthless. You can't avoid risk, so you manage it. You don't put all your money into one stock, you diversify. That way if one company bombs, it doesn't take your entire portfolio with it. You keep you skills current, live in a city with many job opportunities, and keep technical contacts up, so when you loose your current job you can get another one. Risk is a fact of life.
  • Give me a break. I have never stolen anything that the RIAA or the MPAA was willing to sell to me (and I actually wanted). The flip side though is that there is a lot of music/movies that I would like to have (and would gladly pay for) if they were made available. For that kind of stuff, I have no problem downloading it off the net or getting it by another means because it isn't available at all.

    My problem with the RIAA and the MPAA (and MS for that matter) does not stem from them wanting to be compensated for thier work. My problem comes from them wanting to control every aspect of the usage of their product, including when and where I might choose to listen to a song or watch a movie that I have already lawfully purchased a license for. They have no business (or right) to make that kind of intrusion into my personal life! The real fight with the MPAA and RIAA is about who's going to control what movies you watch, what music you listen to. Do they get to decide for you, or do you get to decide for yourself. It's getting very near to the point now where the only choice is to either consume what they present to you, or throw out your TV, your stereo, and your computer.

    Finally, it's pretty obvious you do not understand what's at the foundations of the open source movement. As a scientist, I am well aware of the value of being able to look over someone else's work, and perhaps improve on it. That's how science works best, and that simple philosophy is what is at the core of the GPL. People like RMS (and I'm not saying I agree with him 100%, but he does make a good case), believe strongly that the best way to advance technology is to do so scientifically, with peer review. The good ideas are kept by consensus and the bad ideas are thrown out and technology advances. That process breaks down when companies like MS decide that they know what's best for everyone and then hide behind IP laws to avoid judgement about their ideas. Not to mention that I think MS (and the MPAA and RIAA) are just power hungry bastards more interested in maximizing profits than advancing technology and making everyone's lives better (which is something that a corporate charter is supposed to address before approval, if I'm not mistaken).

  • There's a four part radio series called "Corporation, Corporation" that details the history of corporate law. A corporate death penalty is actually not a new thing. Prior to the twentieth century, corporate charters could, and frequently were, revoked if the company broke serious laws.

    If you get a chance to hear the program, I really recommend it. I don't think there's a copy online anywhere, but it's for sale on tape at 100fires [100fires.com].
  • I can think of serveral instances in which corporations might deserve the "corporate death penalty." (I should probably note here that I do not support for the capital punishement, but since the journalist has used the term "death penalty", I guess we're stuck with it). Most of these instances involve a wanton and deliberate disregard for human life. Conspiracy to commit fraud might also be appropriate.

    A question must be asked though-- did the crimes of the corporation stem from the actions of management (in which case, prosecution of the management might be more appropriate), or was the structure of the comapny such that the criminal actions were "par for the course," so to speak?

    Of course the government has long used the RICO and conspiracy statutes to break up criminal organizations... These statues have long been criticized for puuting too much power in the hands of prosecutors.

    Gilmore's musing "Perhaps, after the civil litigation was resolved, the remaining assets of the company -- at least those that were legally gained -- might go on the auction block, with the proceeds going to taxpayers." disturbs me as well. The government should not have a "profit motive" for attacking corporations. It should prosecute corporations for crimes, but should do so in accordence with the seriousness of the alleged offense, not merely because that corporation has assets it covets.
  • It's an interesting article, and such...

    But I'm a little bit confused by the contradiction this has with slashdot's typical editorial policy.

    It appears that what this Avant! was guilty of was intellectual property theft. But on slashdot we're frequently innundated by editorials that claim IP laws are outdated and unnecessary.

    Forgive me, it's just so hard to keep track of what I'm supposed to be for and against. :(

  • Then tie the restrictions to federal regulations of interstate commerce or federal funding of state-run programs.

    I generally don't care much for usurping state soverignty with the money card, but it is a tool that can be used for good aims as well as ill; we must be judicious about it is all.
  • The first I heard of this idea was during the FTAA summit in Quebec City a few months ago.. on a televised debate on CBC Naomi Klein [nologo.org] shouted out that multinationals that do things like employ children and poison local drinking water should face the 'death penalty'. Imagine what the world would be like w/o Nike and Monsanto. It struck me as odd at the time, but haven't we all called for Microsoft's demise before? and afaik, they don't even employ child laborers. ;-)
  • The 'Ltd' or 'Limited' suffix used in the UK indicates a limited liability company. It is used by companies that are not publicly traded; publicly-traded companies use 'plc' (public limited company). I think both kinds of company are corporations.
  • A real Libertarian would be opposed to the very existence of corporations, as they are a creation of government for the avoidance of responsibility.
    Think about it.

  • As for the argument that corporations are created by the State, and are thus subject to destruction by the state (kind of like Bill Cosby's stand-up routine where he says to his kid, "I brought you into this world, boy, and I can take you out of it."), that's also just plain wrong. Just because the State has to approve the creation of a corporation does not mean the State created it--that's the same as claiming the State creates all houses because it has to grant building permits.

    You can kill the corporation without taking any assets. Merely remove the corporation status and expose everybody who has stock in the company to *personal* liability. Watch it dissolve, with no action from the state beyond removing the protection the state gave it.

  • Limited liability corporations are a GOOD thing.

    As it is now, owning stock is purely an asset, never a liability. This way people can invest in companies without worrying about the liability. And that assumes that they know about the liability; how well do you know the board of trustees of every company you own stock in? Even then, a system like this has huge potential for abuse, e.g. corrupt management that can commit crimes for their own personal good and then pass the blame onto naive shareholders who have been duped into thinking management was "nice".

    Also, remember companies can also go bankrupt without doing anything illegal or even "mean", and lately on NASDAQ we've all seen plenty of them go that way.

    Who wants to buy those stock options in their tech startup NOW?
  • In the U.S., corporations do, but proprietorships and partnerships don't. So it sort of depends on what you mean by "company."
  • The entire idea of "corporate death penalty" is ridiculous.

    For a corporation to do something illegal, *INDIVIDUALS* have to do something illegal.

    Prosecute the individuals.

    What possible justification under a rational Constitution could there be for putting innocent people out of work just because their paychecks have the same logo as people who broke the law?

    Corporations aren't trying to break free of anything; people are trying to break free. Examine why they feel the need to do that, and address it.

    -
  • Adbusters has been advocating the use of laws that already exist to revoke corporate charters. These laws are already in the books in Canada and in the US.

    [nod] And -- no big surprise -- corporations and their politician lackeys have been quietly working to get rid of those laws. When the US created the "corporate person" (in it's most common present form), we created an entity who has no long-term goal, and whose only short-term goal is by definition to accumulate financial resources.

    Despite the usual corporatist rhetoric, that goal does not always jive with the interests of humans affected by corporations -- be they by-stander, customer, employee, or even stockholder. And now corporations are trying break free of one of the few things that might even theoretically control them.

    Do we really want to share the planet with unkillable clumsy giants?

  • stantial share of the profits? Just because they call this profit sharing arrangement "taxation" doesn't make them any less guilty. If tobacco is the evil they say it is (and it is, to be sure), why don't they ban it outright?

    Just because they do it for some drugs doesn't make it a good idea for all of them. It's a bad idea for all of them. It's one thing to harangue people about how bad something is, it's another to pass laws forbidding it. The second choice tends to lead to increased social chaos. (Another poster said: "Somebody had to put all that chaos in there." This is how it is put there.)
    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Yes, limited libility certainly has it's points. Perhaps what is needed is a limited limited liability.

    To my mind the rationale for limiting the liability of the investors is that they don't have any direct control over the corporation. This, however, does not apply to the boards of directors or to the CEO, or any of the top level of the management. Perhaps these are the people in whom the liability should vest. Just denying it isn't working well.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Actually it's not so easy on the executives of the dead company.

    "I was the CEO for Itchi Co. and I'm looking for work"
    "Ahh and reason for losing former employment?"
    "Itchi Co got killed"
    "Next!!!"

    But then if you rip off your company enough it won't matter.. retire.. of course you can never ever come out of retirement.. ever.. pirod.
  • Urm you are confusing Bejamin Franklin with Jefferson again, sonny.
  • by nyet ( 19118 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @10:36AM (#196763) Homepage
    Nice Troll.

    Since you are so fond of Jefferson, I have a quote for you.

    "If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from any body. Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices."
    - Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Isaac McPherson, August 13, 1813
  • If you were to "kill" corporation X, what happens to its assets? What happens to your grandmother who lives off a pension that is heavily in X's stocks and bonds? Just liquidating a company gives you its book value, which is generally nowhere near its market capitalization... What happens to the employees?
    Same thing that happens to the stay-at-home wife and kids of a convicted murderer when you imprison their only means of financial support. Do you suggest that we shouldn't imprison convicted murderers?

    Criminal corporations just have a lot more dependents than criminal individuals do, that's all.

    --

  • The person to whom the investor entrusts his money...the mutual fund company. If the mutual fund company invests in bad companies, the fund loses money. Just like now. Right now, I'm having a hell of a time finding funds that don't include Microsoft and show good growth, and I will not tolerate investing in Microsoft, even if it IS profitable.

    Every investor is responsible for their own investments. If you proxy the mutual fund to invest for you, you better trust them to make good decisions. If you don't trust them, do it yourself.
  • I'm new to investing. Thanks to the kind advice of my betters, maybe I'll somehow figure out how to make a paltry sum someday...certainly not as much as market gurus like yourself, but I'll manage to eke out a pathetic existence somehow.

    Even when I do, though, you'll still be a real asshole.
  • Look, swami, are you going to refute the POINT of my original post, or are you enjoying your ad hominem attacks too much? We've already established that I don't know dick about stocks. How much more would you like to belabor the point?

    I'm going to go cry myself to sleep now, you bad scary person. I don't know HOW I'm going to continue living my life knowing you don't like me. I guess I'll just have to find a way.
  • That's the argument used anytime someone suggests doing something that businesses wouldn't like...

    "Global economic collapse"

    Bullshit. There'd still be a market for products, there'd still be people willing to make those products. They might not be willing to invest in any company that comes along, and they might demand more information about the day-to-day policies of the company, but they wouldn't refuse to invest at all.

    Especially in this situation. If they took 'reasonable' measures (as defined by a judge) to ensure that the company wasn't breaking any laws, they wouldn't be guilty of contributory infringement. You need to either intend to break laws, or intentionally turn a blind eye to it.

    So they'd be right where they are now, with their investment money at risk, but not their freedom.

    I'd personally welcome laws like this. Everyone I know who supports Microsoft in the monopoly trials owns MS stock. They're hoping MS gets away with monopolistic and restrictive trade practices and outright law breaking simply because their stock will go up. With any decent laws they'd be held partly responsible in any judgement and they'd be trying to clean MS's act up, instead of encouraging it.

    They're advocating ignoring gross injustice because it benefits them, but they'll be crying later when some other company (which they don't hold any stock in) does the same things.

    I advocate leveling the playing field, making everyone follow the laws, and compete on the merits of their business. That's the capitalist way. If companies like MS can't compete in fair markets, they don't deserve to be in business.
  • You mean the right of the employees to associate in what the court has now told them are illegal actions? I suppose that's what RICO [ricoact.com] is for...
  • Starting nitpick: I think you're confusing 1984 and Brave New World. BNW had state-controlled eugenics, but the couples in 1984 made babies the good old fashioned way.

    Also, neither ford nor firestone can be charged with murder, because one of the burdens of proof (motive) is not met. Neither entity *wanted* people to die, so it's not murder.

    However, there exist various laws which do the trick, Criminally Negligent Homicide comes to mind, perhaps even Manslaughter, as you mentioned.
  • Of course you then imply that corporations should have no rights as entities, only for the people that run it.
    Either corporations are treated as "persons" under the law, with both the rights and responsibilities of persons, or they should be treated with no more rights than a random association of people.
    The whole idea of incorporation is to transfer the risk of an enterprise from the individual shareholders to the corporate entity. This has allowed corporations to have a life separate from their shareholders and has been the greatest reason that the United States has such prosperity.
    But this has not been without problems. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court granted corporations "personage" in 1800's, the rights and responsibilities of corporations has been the subject of debate. If they are to have the rights of persons, then they have the responsibilities of persons.
  • So, let's say your grandmother's pension plan is invested in a mutual fund that owns stock in a "death row" company. You think she should be liable? Come on.

    Just don't extend the "corporate" protection to violations of criminal law, and make the executives responsible. That's way easier, and more reasonable.

    You're forgetting that your average American stock-owner is some middle-class person with a family, not some rich fat white guy in a smoky room.

    Also, what happens to multi-national corporations, which are probably the ones you hate most? If a company is incorporated in a different country, does business in forty nations, and is traded on four exchanges, who has jurisdiction? How do you execute it? What do you do about the resulting war (trade war or real war)?
  • by tbo ( 35008 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @11:25AM (#196773) Journal
    Jesus, I can't believe the crazy "logic" that has led people to consider something like a corporate death penalty. Corporations are imaginary--they are a legal fiction. I have never seen a corporation, nor have you. The only reality is people. Trying to impose a "death penalty" on something that is no more than words on a piece of paper is just plain silly.

    As for the argument that corporations are created by the State, and are thus subject to destruction by the state (kind of like Bill Cosby's stand-up routine where he says to his kid, "I brought you into this world, boy, and I can take you out of it."), that's also just plain wrong. Just because the State has to approve the creation of a corporation does not mean the State created it--that's the same as claiming the State creates all houses because it has to grant building permits.

    If you were to "kill" corporation X, what happens to its assets? What happens to your grandmother who lives off a pension that is heavily in X's stocks and bonds? Just liquidating a company gives you its book value, which is generally nowhere near its market capitalization... What happens to the employees?

    Corporations, in many ways, are similar to democracies, except the shareholders are the citizens. Even though we have a democracy, we don't punish citizens for the acts of the government they may or may not have voted for (the punishment of poor governance is generally enough). Likewise, we shouldn't punish shareholders for the actions of the corporate executive.

    A much simpler and more reasonable solution is to make executives liable for any violations of criminal law committed by their company. The legal entity of the corporation should still offer protection against civil liability (e.g., getting sued for not honoring warranties, etc.), but not against criminal prosecution (suit for manslaughter for knowingly selling excessively dangerous products without proper warning to consumers).
  • i've read that until the late 1800s, when the supreme court made a ruling whose details escape me, corporations were obligated to serve the public interest. corporations that did not live up to their contract with the public had their charters revoked by the federal government; this happened regularly. i believe that since that ruling virtually no corporations have lost their charter, though a few trusts have been broken up.
  • The company might have *started* as a criminal ripoff, but did it create any value of its own?

    If so, then the corporate death penalty starts to sound uncomfortably like a suggestion to kill all of the children of rape. They might have grown up into a widely respected teacher or judge, but they are still ultimately the consequence of a violent criminal act.

    Even if this company was nothing but a ripoff, the same argument can be applied to far more organizations than you might think. Is West Virginia a state? (The US Constitution clearly states that states can only be carved out of other states with the latter's consent, but West Virginia was born out of the Civil War.) Is Hawai'i a state? (It was an independent kingdom until American agitators created an excuse for annexation). What about the country as a whole - our "Founding Fathers" were all guilty of treason to the Crown.

    Even if we only focus on corporations, how many of the Fortune 500 started out questionably? A lot of the uproar over global enforcement of IP rights reminds me of the old saying about the guy who checks under the bed for hiding lovers....

    That said, I think that a corporate death penalty can be warranted by a company's ongoing bad acts. If a person continually puts himself above the law he can be jailed. But what can you do about a corporation? Given the choice of jailing all of the executives (many of whom will be powerless to change the behavior) and a clean corporate execution I prefer the latter.
  • Good example. Another one is the campaign [heed.net] to revoke Unocal's charter.
  • Tbo, first you write:

    "Jesus, I can't believe the crazy 'logic' that has led people to consider something like a corporate death penalty. Corporations are imaginary--they are a legal fiction."

    Then you go on: Just because the State has to approve the creation of a corporation does not mean the State created it.

    You contradict yourself. Only the State can make a "legal fiction." Without the State the corporation is a mere bunch of investors, otherwise known as a partnership. Those investors can talk all they want, but their legal fiction doesn't exist until the State says it does.

    Unlike your house and building permit example, where the house is a real thing that exists independently of any State action.

  • While the corporate death penalty sounds like a good idea on the surface, take a look at the precedents it sets. Basically, you have the US government stepping in and abridging the right to freedom of association.

    No you aren't.

    A business partnership is an example of free association. A corporation is an entity created by the state. They're two entirely different things.

  • In the UK there is a specific crime called "Corporate Manslaughter" in which a company can be held liable for causing a death, and is subject to an unlimited fine. Fine in theory, but in practice the conditions that the company must meet to be found guilty are very tough, so very few companies are prosecuted, and even fewer are convicted.

    There were plans to replace it with "Corporate Killing", with a different criteria, but these have not come to pass.

    The best idea I have seen for this is to create an obligation on a specific boardmember of the company (the Chairman by default, but one can be appointed) for acts carried out by the company, and if the working practices we inadaquete then he is liable for manslaughter, and he can go to jail. Defences were that the rest of the board were told that the working practices were flawed and that they decided to do nothing about it (in which case they are on the hook), or that he was ignorant of the practice (which is easy to disprove). Ignorance via not listening does not count - if the safty man does not provide a conduit for these issues to be raised then he is on the hook.

    It makes it in Mr Safety's best interest to bring up safety issues at board meetings, makes it imperative that he gets to know of safety issues, and provides the best motivation for the board to deal properly with safety issues.

    Dunno how this would have panned out for Ford/Firestone, but I suspect that some people would have been going to prison.

  • "If shareholders could lose more than just their investment, and worse yet, be held criminally liable for behavior over which they had no control, then there would be a terrible disincentive for investing and our financial system would come to a screeching halt"

    The incentive to invest would be the returns just like it is now. The main difference would be that the shareholders would keep a closer eye on their corp to make sure it behaves.

    furthermore Shareholders do have control over the corporation and it's actions (fi they don't then who does?). If they are negligent in their responsibilities and let their corporation actually cause harm or death they should be held criminally responsible. A corporation is like a dog. If I let my dog out and he bites somebody I can be charged with a crime and my Dog can be taken away and killed by the state. It should be exactly the same with shareholders and their corporations.

  • Actually your analogy is not quite correct either. If you lose a part of your body or a conjined twin you could die or be maimed for life. Employees are more like hair or fingernails. Cut them off and new ones grow. Employees are disposable human resources which can be trimmed when needed and re-hired when needed.
  • Pack your bags then. All companies and all corporations require licensing which has to be approved by a state agency.

    What made you think you could start a company without getting permission?
  • Absolutely not.
    Every business needs to be registered no matter how small. You have to have at least a city business licence to conduct business and then depending on what kind of business you want to register you may have to go to the state level.

  • If my wife or child were executed for a crime they were innocent of then would I not be justified in hunting down the judge, prosecutor, executioner,......

    After all, "Anyone who deliberately takes another's life deserves no better his or herself."

  • > Specifically, deny corperations limited liability protections for their stock holders (and fine the shit out of people for doing nasty stuff).

    > Example: First, Phillip Morris would get sued into bankrupsy and beyond. Second, the debt would get passed onto the people who have held stock in Phillip Morris at the time of the abuses.

    Slight problem: stock holders are essentially anonymous (in French, the word for "publically traded company" is even "société anonyme"). True, under normal conditions stock holders are easy to find out, but what if:

    • For various reasons (tax, etc.), some stock holders actually chose to have paper certificates, rather than having their shares in a deposit. How will you find out those?
    • Someone might get an E*Trade account using a throwaway hotmail address, and fund it via money-order. If all goes well, he'll get his money + earnings wired back to him via Western Union. And if his shares get sentenced to death, he just forgets about that pesky account.
    • Or, more plausibly, the super rich guys usually set up pyramids of umbrella companies, "holdings", trusts, Liechtenstein letterbox companies etc that manage their portfolio. It can be non-trivial to trace this mesh back to the real owner, especially if some of the chain links are in countries with strong banking secrecy laws.
  • > Actually, I would expect that the courts would not hold non-voting stock responcible for the ations of the corperations.

    For many companies, all shares carry voting rights, even those sold to retail investors. I regular get voting bulletins from E*Trade for the various shares I hold with them. If you held paper certificates, you'd probably need to explicitly request the bulletins at some place (because they wouldn't know where to send them), but I'm sure it would be possible to vote those too.

    > Anyway, my point is that the courts could just access these sorts of things by requiring companies to keep records of voting and have a persons have attached to each vote.

    Ok, so you mean those people that actually made use of their voting rights.

    > A car company starts cutting corners on safety to undercut their compeditors on price, but they lie about the safety issues.

    One problem: usually the issues put up for vote are not directly related to any dodgy business practices, but are rather mundane: confirm the directors, share-holder rights plans, large mergers, etc. The decision of releasing the Pinto to market, although it was known to be explosion-prone was taken in a smoke-filled room behind closed doors, and not put up for shareholder vote. Voting shareholders would be responsible rather indirectly at best, by voting in place those executives that took the decision. Should shareholders be punished just because they happened to vote once for some completely unrelated item, such as secondary offerings, shareholder right plans, mergers, etc.? Loosing all invested capital is ok (that's part of the risk that investors take), but anything that goes beyond that is questionable, and difficult to enforce.

  • While it hasn't happened in ages, it is entirely possible for a corporation to have its charter revoked. Activists have been trying to get California [nader96.org] to do this to Unocal for the past few years [igc.org],

    No changes in law are needed, only a change in the attitude of the people and the state toward corporate criminals.

    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms | http://www.infamous.net/

  • Forgive me, it's just so hard to keep track of what I'm supposed to be for and against. :(

    You are an American. You are an individual.

    Think for yourself what is wrong and what is right? If X has spent time and money developing Y, then why should Z come along and steal/copy Y? That is theft, pure and simple.

    If you worked and earned enough money to buy a 60" Plasma TV, and somebody stole it, would you be totally pissed off or not?

    If you worked and developed an algorithm that enabled you to solved polynomial time problems in log-N time (something that could make you a billionaire), would you be totally pissed off if someone stole it and became a billionaire instead? Of course, Slashdot would love it if you GPL'd the code, and patented the code, and then only allowed free software projects to use your ideas, but if you could make billions? nah.

  • Of course I'm just a ignorant, savage american what do I know. All the smart people come from Europe and Canada.

    Many people argie that the death penalty reduces the state (and hence the people) to the level of the criminal, and I agree with this to some extent.

    I agree with you that getting Cable TV, etc, for committing a crime is abhorrent. I don't think that prisoners should have many rights at all (the punishment for a crime should be the removal of those rights that you abused when you committed the crime). Certainly not pool rooms, personal TVs, clean clothes, and the like.

    Now does the civilised world want prisons for those who violated the right to live (but where the state will not reduce itself to the level of the criminal and kill them, and certainly not put it on TV - that is sick and twisted, and a sign of the end of civilisation when entertainment involves death)? How about pits in the ground? A remote island where they can fend for themselves against viscous wildlife (Real Survivor - live on Fox)?

    Certainly prisoners who are expected to be released one day from prison should not be dehumanised, but rehabilitated so that they are not a threat once released. But should $70,000 per prisoner per year be paid for those prisoners who will die in prison for their crime? Why not make a large concrete lined pit, cover it with electric fencing, and stick those prisoners in there, with individual cells, and crappy food each day, so that they can muse and think about their crime every minute of the day?

  • Yes, I agree that a corperation without limited liability would not be very diffrent from a partnership, but it still seams reasonable to force the corperations to (a) "qualify" for having limited liability (i.e. be an essentual company like power) and (b) give up something *verY* importent (like 50% control).

    Can partnerships trade stock easily? It would seem reasonable to have some companies with frequently traded stock and without limited liability, i.e. Tobaco companies.
  • Actually, it's the stock holder who you really want to feal the crack down since they are the only ones who would really change things. Clearly, the executive of a company should be liable for their actions too, but I think that should be considered discting from punnishing the company.
  • by Weezul ( 52464 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @10:31PM (#196798)
    You think that people should be able to just throw money arround without regard to it's consequences? If I drop a heavy object from a great hight and it kills someone then I should be held accountable for my poor safty precausions. If I pay some idiot to carry heavy blocks arround when their is a high probability of dropping them and killing people then I should be held accountable. Why dose the fact that I have money and I can find someone dumb enough to do my bidding mean that I can get away with murder or manslauter?

    No, stockholders are the owners of their companies and they should ultimatly be held responcible for it's actions. We would have a very diffrent system of investment without limited liability, but our world would not collapse. Instead, the wall streat jounal would offer analysis of the risks involved in purchasing stocks. Yes, there would be "innocent" investors occasionally hurt because they accedentaly invested in a bad company, but there are "innocent" drivers occasionally convicted of manslauter after they "accedentally" ran over and killed someone. They might be a good driver most of the time and have very good intentions, but that one night they made a mistake and the way we prevent those mistakes is by punnishing them harshly.

    Also, you are bitching and moaning about "self serving politicos who run around excoriating all these evil companies," but I do not see you running arround compaaining about all the "self serving politicos who run around tring to crusifing people for driving accedents." We have a very good judicial system and those "self serving politicos" should be using the same laws to deal with companies as with individuals.

    If I'm a snake oil salesman who sells you poison for "relaxation" then I should go to jail and get sued for wrongful death. The same laws should apply to Philip Morris.

    BTW> The real "libhertarian" pssition is that there should never be any limited liability period, but I'm moderat/practical so I propose that a few especially dangerous companies which are especially neccissary should be given limited liability, but I want to see society charge a reasonable price for limited liability and the only reasonable price is sacrificing a significant portion of control.
  • by Weezul ( 52464 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @10:26AM (#196799)
    Yes, I think it would be a good idea to decorperate many of our current corperations for various reasons. OTOH, I feal that people should have the right to organize and carry out activities without the fear of the governemnt telling them to go home because they are unfassionable this year. It's importent to remember that this revoking a charter was likely a creation of post-feudal europe, i.e. all the power was centralized arround the king.

    Luckily, there is a simple comprmize which allows both the freedom to carry out activities without governement intervention and allows the people to restrict the actions of dangerous companies/.orginisations. Specifically, deny corperations limited liability protections for their stock holders (and fine the shit out of people for doing nasty stuff).

    Example: First, Phillip Morris would get sued into bankrupsy and beyond. Second, the debt would get passed onto the people who have held stock in Phillip Morris at the time of the abuses. Third, once a few very rich people lost their houses no one would ever invest in a company they suspected of being dishonest, harming the enviroment, killing people, etc. It would also mean that companies would need to "sell" their "harmless nature" to their investors.

    Now, there are essentual companies (like power) which would become impossible under this scheme. The solution would be to allow these essentual companies to give up 50% control to publically ellected officials in exchange for limited liability protection for stock holders. This would be a really good deal for the companies since these ellected officials would typically belong to diffrent parties and thus disagree, but it would still give the public the necissary ammount of control over the company.

    (BTW nice quote)
  • That's really interesting. I've never met a libertarian who believed that the US should even have an office of the Surgeon-General.

  • So, let's say your grandmother's pension plan is invested in a mutual fund that owns stock in a "death row" company. You think she should be liable? Come on.

    Absolutely!

    The point being that your grandmother would not find that kind of risk acceptable and would very quickly pull any and all money from any such business. Or even pay money to dump stock (selling stock at a negative price anybody???)

    In all seriousness, investing in any business is a very risky proposition, and the role of a publically traded stock corporation only help to insulate average investors from those problems.
  • > Require a permission to start up a company

    What do you think a business license is?! (Permission to do business, granted by the government)

  • you should do both - the corporation is owned by it's shareholders - why should they benefit from code illegally ripped off from a competitor? surely that money/value/equity/whathaveyou belongs to the shareholders of the competitor. In this case there is a parallel civil case trying to right exactly this wrong.

    (disclaimer - I've been in the past a happy customer of both companies in this dispute)

  • There already is a Corporate Death Penalty and it's called the Democratic Party.
  • While the corporate death penalty sounds like a good idea on the surface, take a look at the precedents it sets. Basically, you have the US government stepping in and abridging the right to freedom of association. More than likely the shareholders of the corporation weren't complicit in any crimes, yet they would be punished without due process in a criminal proceding. That's *very* unconstitutional. Class actions against shareholders are constitutional because they are civil and not criminal cases. (Anyone want to expand on that a bit?... I think I'm on the right track there but IANAL...)
  • Yes, it would prohibit freedom of association, in exactly the same way that sticking someone in prison deprives them of the right to vote and of freedom of movement.

    To strip someone of some of their rights when they have broken the social contract in certain ways is commonplace. This simply puts crimes committed under the umbrella of a corporation in the same class as crimes committed when acting as an individual.
  • from the article:
    • For many purposes, corporations have been declared people by our laws and judicial system. They are not people, of course. They are creations of legislatures and entrepreneurs and lawyers. They do not have the same inalienable rights you and I have.

    AFAIK, corporations are not the same as individuals in our judicial system:

    • "The individual may stand upon his constitutional rights as a citizen. He is entitled to carry on his private business in his own way. His power to contract is unlimited. He owes no such duty [to submit his books and papers for an examination] to the State, since he receives nothing therefrom, beyond the protection of his life and property. His rights are such as existed by the law of the land [Common Law] long antecedent to the organization of the State, and can only be taken from him by due process of law, and in accordance with the Constitution. Among his rights are a refusal to incriminate himself, and the immunity of himself and his property from arrest or seizure except under a warrant of the law. He owes nothing to the public so long as he does not trespass upon their rights.

      Upon the other hand, the corporation is a creature of the state. It is presumed to be incorporated for the benefit of the public. It receives certain special privileges and franchises, and holds them subject to the laws of the state and the limitations of its charter. Its powers are limited by law. It can make no contract not authorized by its charter. Its rights to act as a corporation are only preserved to it so long as it obeys the laws of its creation. There is a reserved right in the legislature to investigate its contracts and find out whether it has exceeded its powers. It would be a strange anomaly to hold that a state, having chartered a corporation to make use of certain franchises, could not, in the exercise of its sovereignty, inquire how these franchises had been employed, and whether they had been abused, and demand the production of the corporate books and papers for that purpose. The defense amounts to this: That an officer of a corporation which is charged with a criminal violation of the statute, may plead the criminality of such corporation as a refusal to produce its books. To state this proposition is to answer it. While an individual may lawfully refuse to answer incriminating questions unless protected by an immunity statute, it does not follow that a corporation, vested with special privileges and franchises, may refuse to show its hand when charged with an abuse of such privileges.

      Hale vs. Henkel [findlaw.com], 201 U.S. 43 at 47 (1906)
    yeah, it's an old case, but I don't believe it's ever been overturned. If someone says differently, please provide a case site.

    ---
  • In NZ once you have been charged with certain offences, then under the Companies Act you are not allowed to become a director of another company. The Govt maintains the list of company directors. Don't know how US law handles it. But I imagine its fairly generic. Everyone starts with the right to own a business, but if you commit personal crimes, or are convicted of crimes in a business then you lose all rights to run a business. Seem pretty fair to me.

  • by Jonathunder ( 105885 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @09:17AM (#196824) Homepage
    There is precedent for doing this.

    corpwatch.org has a well-researched article [corpwatch.org] by Russell Mokhiber discussing cases going back more than a century of states revoking the corporate charter of corporations found guilty of crimes. The state granted the charter in the first place, giving "birth" to that corporation, and what the state gave it can take.
  • There's no reason they shouldn't start another business. The idea is that they should not profit from their illegal acts. If they want to start over from scratch, without any of the assets they invested in the illegal company, more power to them.
  • What was Avant!'s crime? They stole intellectual property. Since when is stealing intellectual property considered a crime on Slashdot? Shouldn't we be applauding Avant! for taking a principled stand by refusing to recognize archaic and unjust intellectual property laws?
  • As others have posted here, for legal purposes a corporation is an "entity" - that's what "incorporate" means... "to form or embody"

    Therefore, it makes logical sense that something that is created entirely by the State can be killed by the State (lets thank god 1984 isn't here yet, when the State starts making babies, the same logic will apply =( ).

    Note that a corporate death penalty can be taken to mean a couple of different things. For example, if Microsoft lost its case and was sentanced to death, does that mean:
    1. Microsoft and all its subsidaries have their charters revoked and are auctioned off?
    2. Microsoft as a holding company is dissolved and all of its subsidaries are now free, independant entities (wow - kind of like when a slaveholder died in the pre-Civil War south?), or
    3. title to all of the above falls back to the State, which can do any of the above as it pleases (as in the case of a person who dies, doesn't have any dependants or relatives living, and leaves no will.


    A similar but unrelated question is "when should the corporate veil be pierced for investors in a corporation that commits criminal acts?" Shouldn't the investors/shareholders - who are the OWNERS be held responsible for the actions of the organization they are a part of? People would THINK a lot more on Wall Street if they were, and perhaps the mindless and ruthless actions of Transnational Corporations would be help back somewhat if the investors knew they would be liable (criminally or civily) for them...


    Hmm.. another question, should/could Firestone or Ford be charged with murder? Manslaughter? If proven that they had knowledge of the fatal consequences of their actions and as a corporation did nothing about it - perhaps. Also... cigarette companies? Can they be charged with murder, since they're aware as a company that they are more or less responsible for thousands of deaths each year? Makes me wonder if Florida is a death penalty state...


    So yeah, they should be treated exactly as people. =)


  • Actually, there is a death penalty for companies. If a company owes enough money, they go bankrupt, are liquidated, and the company ceases to exist.

    European law is much harsher on bankrupt companies than U.S. law. US law allows for "debtor in possession" operation ("Chapter 11"), where the existing management remains in control of the company. (PG&E is in this state). In Europe, companies are brought into receivership earlier, the executives are fired, and their "golden parachutes" are void.

  • To strip someone of some of their rights when they have broken the social contract in certain ways is commonplace. This simply puts crimes committed under the umbrella of a corporation in the same class as crimes committed when acting as an individual.

    I find it somewhat frightening that corporations are often held to LOWER standards than people. I recal reading about a case where a corporation admitted that a factory fire that had killed several people had been not just preventable, but predicatable (to the point of "It was gonna happen eventually"). The company was fined. An individual would have been charged with manslaughter at the least.

    Its disgusting that courts give corporate entities all the freedoms of individuals (especially the "freedom of speech" to give huge campaign donations) but don't hold them to responsibilities the way real people are.

    Kahuna Burger

  • by KahunaBurger ( 123991 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @03:49PM (#196832)
    When a corporation leaves the law behind, the best thing to do is to open criminal prosecutions against the individuals who made the corporate decisions.

    While this would work (and is happening) in the specific case mentioned, it wouldn't in many others. The entire point of a corporation, in some ways, is to protect individuals from responsibility. In a large, multi executive company, the plausible deniability of any given individual is huge. Thats why most sexual harrassment cases are made against companies and rarely individuals. The individual offender wasn't warned so he didn't know it was a problem, and the supervisor didn't think there was anything he could do because the department manager didn't hear enough to take it seriously, and the vice president didn't make a policy because he wasn't even in that position when it started, and the executive vice president who was in that position certainly can't be held responsible for NOT doing something that long ago and is in London now anyway....

    In some cases, the corporate veil is more like an onion - you lift all the layers and then it turns out there's nothing there. So do you throw up your hands and say "guess there's no one we can hold responsible", or do you you declare the whole onion rotten and take what you can out of it?

    Kahuna Burger

  • by www.sorehands.com ( 142825 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @09:53AM (#196841) Homepage
    There is a law that allows the government to seize all profits and items used in a crime -- it's called forfeiture law.

    This has been used against individuals as part of the drug war. This has been used unfairly and unjustly. One person who had been arrested for drunk driving lost his car, though he was found not guilty. A woman lost her car, because her husband was arrested in it for getting a blow-job from a prostitue.

    The same penalty applied to a corporation could take all assetts of a corporation since it would be intermingled. No money -- no corporation.

  • And you're stealing money from the pockets off all those lowly pions who are part of that great corporation -- the RIAA, or MPAA, or MS

    How in the hell does DeCSS constitute stealing? If anything, the MPAA is stealing from its consumer base by imposing such asinine rules on what they can watch, when, and on what. I know this is the "typical Slashdot view," but it's the plain truth.

    As for the RIAA, I'll leave Napster out of the argument. However, they are royally fscking artists because they know they are a copyright cartel^W^W monopoly and thus can get away with it. (Ask Courtney Love). So basically, the RIAA is a monopoly that steals from the very people it is supposed to protect. (See last sentence of previous paragraph).

    And besides, are there not laws against the abuse of monopoly status in the US? Don't tell me that the MPAA and RIAA are not abusing their monopoly status. IMO they deserve one heck of a bitchslapping from the government.

    ---
    Check in...(OK!) Check out...(OK!)
  • What's to stop the individuals that make up a company from forming another one? Even if the government did track which individuals had been involved in an illegal company, it would be impossible to enforce, for the most part.

    Not that sending M$ to the chair wouldn't make me happy.

    Tell me what makes you so afraid
    Of all those people you say you hate

  • (kick AC up, plz)

    Corporate charters are required here, but there are at least 50 different agencies that issue them, which all have different rules about it.

    Tell me what makes you so afraid
    Of all those people you say you hate

  • And by the laws of most states, in situations where the corporation becomes a menace, the law often requires the states to take action and revoke the charter.

    In practice, this virtually never happens, since a corporation that's dead can't lobby or donate to a re-election campaign. And the news media in the US (or its corporate owners) has no desire to point this fact out to most citizens who may not even know about it, including possibly /. editors and SiliconValley columnists. But it's still the law.
  • Maybe... a lifetime ban on starting, owning stock in, or managing any company of any kind.

    That is the most disturbingly anti-enterprise thing I have ever heard. Seriously, what benefit would that provide? Are you saying that if one individual was involved in a corporation that later when out of business they should be banned from enterprise for life? Why should we deprieve them of their pursuit of happiness and property?

    This country as whole used to be dedicated to the idea of reform - a person commits an illegal act, is caught, prosecuted, convicted, serves time, and is released back into the community. That person has traditionally had a "clean-slate". This is rapidly going away in this society - and suggestions like your only make it worse!

    People who commit crimes ought to be prosecuted and put in jail if convicted for a reasonable term of time. Afterwhich they should be treated as any other citizen. This goes for all types of crimes and individuals..yes even the dreaded corporate-types! If they broke the law, send them jail, and then release them - full rights restored and all liberties enjoyed.

    I think it is beyond shameful how we treat our released criminals.. and what you suggest is the extension of our already shameful record on due process.
  • Because they deprived it from the others?

    Thats the point of jail. Take them there, hold them for x years, then let them out, free as a bird. Thats the way the system is supposed to work. And it works well.
  • The main purpose of corporations, as I under stand it (IANAL) is to be able to have enterprises where individuals can be protected from some of the personal liabilities. This has plusses nad minuses.

    The problem is that corporations seem to be handfled mostly under civil law, and not under criminal law. I think that Corporations could be subject to similar legal penalties as individuals. How, where, and why is another issue. Penalties certainly are the easy and sexy thing to discuss about this.You could have, for example:

    • Freezing of all assets for a set number of years. (Imagine this for someone like MS. Unable to do business for 5 years, all funds frozen)
    • Prohibited from conducting business (selling and distributing product) for a certain number of years
    • Fines
    • Split ups. such as in the MS case.
    Crimes that could be contemplated or considered include
    • all normal crimes already on the books, including fraud, murder, etc.
    • crimes against other companies, including corporate rape, murder, assault, etc. of another company. or for example, a country or nation. The current rape of the rain forests come to mind here. along with various incidents of genocide, etc given the many examples from WWII
    This is an area that requires a lot more thought.

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [eplugz.com] comic strip

  • When a corporation leaves the law behind, the best thing to do is to open criminal prosecutions against the individuals who made the corporate decisions.

    "Killing" a corporation sounds tough, but in fact, its only non-symbolic effect is financial. Whereas many criminal corporate acts call for stronger penalties, which by definition cannot be imposed on a legal fiction.

    On the other hand, the death penalty should be given a lethal injection rather than "expanded", even in jest.

  • Also... cigarette companies? Can they be charged with murder, since they're aware as a company that they are more or less responsible for thousands of deaths each year? Makes me wonder if Florida is a death penalty state...

    Since when did the cigarette companies start forcing people to smoke?

    No, at most the cig companies are liable for endangering folks back in the "good old days" when they ran ads saying, basically, "smoking's good for you!"

    As a libertarian, I believe people/companies should have the right to sell whatever they want, as long as they are truthful about the product, which cigarette companies are now made to be, with the surgeon general's warning stamped on everything. I mean, why should it be illegal to sell something people want to buy?

    In the immortal words of George Carlin, "Selling's legal. Fucking's legal. Why isn't selling fucking legal?"

    But that's a whole 'nother story...
  • by tswinzig ( 210999 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @09:03AM (#196871) Journal
    even more, the idea of bad companies wearing electronic tracking bracelets amuses me

    Yeah, but how do you fit them around those huge company ankles?

  • Carrying on from the success of Survivor, I think I've come up with the perfect new TV show.

    Corporate Survivor
    A TV network buys majority holdings in ten different companies. Each week, the management teams are given a set of challenges which can be handled in a variety of ways. At the end of the show, viewers get to phone-vote on which management team performed the worst and the majority holding is then used to fire them all. You could even have speciality series, picture "Corporate Survivor - Telcos" - though "Corporate Survivor - DotComs" would probably fail as the odds of any company making it the full ten weeks anyway are minimal.

    On an interesting level, it would decide once and for all whether the US public prefers ethical of financially successful companies (as many arguments claim that the current state of affairs is because most people ultimately want comfort over ethics).

  • by Morphy3 ( 227773 ) <morphy3@yah[ ]com ['oo.' in gap]> on Saturday May 26, 2001 @09:19AM (#196876) Homepage
    Better yet, lets start having government reviews of the companies that are already running, so they can decide which ones can stay running. Then, we can set up a "think tank" of government appointed citizens to decide which companies can start up. Of course, this council will need to full disclosure from the company, and maybe even a stake of its shares. Then, if a company does something politically incorrect, the government will put them out of business so we wont have to make the bad decision of buying their inferior product. This council (formerly the Council on Commercial Affairs, now known as the Ministry of Commerce, or "MiniCom" in newspeak) could then even decide which product in a market is the best for us! No more need for endorsements or unfair competition! This council will even anticipate our need for new products, and will personaly reward the innovators with a bonus on top of the MiniCom approved salary level. All workplace discrimination will _COMPLETELY_ disappear, as our unions will decide who is employed where, and at what level. As the evil corporate nightmare we have today disappears before our eyes, we will shower our thanks upon the wide politicians who boldly led us into this brave new world. Socialism - Why regulate industry when you can own it! Facism - Why own industry when you can control it! Communism - Why own industry when you can own the people! Vote Libertarian [lp.org] and vote for freedom
  • by MeowMeow Jones ( 233640 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @09:28AM (#196878)

    Why would you want to punish the corporation instead of the executives? It's just an imaginary thing anyway.

    I'm sure the executives at Avant! would have rather had the corporation killed than having to pay $27 million dollars out of thier own pockets.

    That's why you form a corporation in the first place. The primary purpose of a corporation is not to IPO. It's to tranfer liability from you personally to this imaginary fixture.

    Trolls throughout history:

  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @09:44AM (#196883)
    That Corporations, and therefore all companies have 'legal rights' in much the same way a living breathing person does. A corportation can declare bankruptcy, regardless of the fact that it's CEO and board took the money and ran. A coporation can also earn income and pay taxes (when it doesn't find a way to wriggle out of them via all the business-targeted loopholes in the tax code.)

    The real crime here is that while a corporation or a company is realy a posession even if it is owned by hundreds or thousands of people, it serves as a protective sheild for real criminal behavior.

    It is said that a society grows more corrupt the more laws it has. Well, rather than imposing new laws that punish a corporation or its members for wrongdoing, I propose instead removing laws and tax code that grant corporations 'person status'. Remove the laws and tax code that allow a corporation to profit instead of its owners. Remove everything that grants rights to a corporation, and I think you'll start to see a little better accountability.
  • I think the corporate death penalty idea could work, but is fraught with legal landmines. I think if it can be proven and ruled that a company is entirely based/founded on fraudulent or criminal behaviour, then it should lose it's corporate charter. Plain and simple. Avant! would seem to an example here, but I'm betting there are not that many cases this cut-and-dried.

    However, I'm willing to guess that there are tons of companies out there where perhaps a portion of their business could fall into the 'death penalty' area. What about those? Can you kill part of a company? What kind of legal rangling would we see in these cases?

    I dunno...this all seems tricky - and it's lunchtime. Mmmm.

  • by influensa ( 267570 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @10:17AM (#196889) Homepage
    See also: Adbuster's corporate crackdown [adbusters.org] campaign website. Adbusters has been advocating the use of laws that already exist to revoke corporate charters. These laws are already in the books in Canada and in the US.

    On the site is a .pdf of a phoney "Corporate Charter Revocation" form that some Canadian activists posted all around the headquarters of a mining company, and the stock market. The company's share too a dive.

    The reasoning behind real corporate dissolutions (besides the joke ones) is that corporations have massive power, have the same rights as natural humans and because of their massive wealth still manage to evade the laws. There is no real accountability from corporations. Having the threat of dissolution return could cause some of them to smarten up, ie. tobacco companies, Avant!, FireStone, etc.

  • Removing the "person" status sounds good, but this seems to be one case where the problem is a lack of legislation rather than an excess. There is no fundamental reason that a corporation should be treated as a person -- it's just that around 200 years ago many corporations were chartered for the first time, but there were no statutes governing how a corporation would come into court when a lawsuit was necessary (e.g., disputes over contract interpretation or unpaid bills). So the courts decided that the corporation would be treated as a "person" for the purpose of bringing or defending those civil cases. The problem is, there never has been been a clarification of where corporations stand in criminal proceedings -- and you can't put a corporation in jail so the "person" analogy really doesn't hold up. It's long past time to correct that, by restricting the "person" analogy to civil cases arising from the corporate business operations and providing that corporate officers are liable otherwise.
  • by mech9t8 ( 310197 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @09:23AM (#196895)
    ...it's called revoking a corporation's charter, and up till a hundred years ago was done when a corporation was found to be no longer serving the public good. There is currently a petition underway to revoke Phillip Morris' charter.

    For more on this, see the AdBuster's web site:
    http://adbusters.org/campaigns/corporate/tour/1.ht ml [adbusters.org]
    --
    Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.
  • by number one duck ( 319827 ) on Saturday May 26, 2001 @09:05AM (#196902) Journal
    There would have to be some legal limitation (a la bankcrupcy) on the surviving individuals once the corporation was killed. Maybe... a lifetime ban on starting, owning stock in, or managing any company of any kind.

    Otherwise, we already have a death penalty. Its called going-out-of-business.

  • A corporation isn't a human being and it doesn't deserve the kind of empathy you suggest. Corporations act with complete lack of empathy or human concerns only for the purpose of maximizing profits; that's the way we created them, and it's why they are predictable and useful.

    Now, if a corporation is useful despite its criminal beginnings, it should continue to operate. But benefit to society should be the only criterion for the existence of a corporation. After criminal wrongdoings at a company, the legal system can decide whether this was a problem just with the individuals or with corporate culture.

  • Going after big companies like Unocal or the tobacco companies is going to backfire: those companies have enough clout to get the laws changed.

    The approach that is needed is to apply charter revocation more in small, clearcut cases. Once sufficient legal precedent has been built up, there is at least a chance that one can go after bigger companies.

    It might also be worth waiting for a less right-wing supreme court. The current supreme court seems to be able to call "black" "white" and get away with it.

  • IANAL but wouldn't that violate freedom of association?

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