Sparrow's Reviews > Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights

Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann
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Jun 25, 11

bookshelves: on-a-dare, punching-tour, law, disturbing, reviewed
Recommended to Sparrow by: Brian
Recommended for: Nadia and Molly, so that we may gossip meanly about it together
Read from May 23 to June 25, 2011

Maybe I should wait to write this review until blood stops pouring out of my eyes, but where’s the fun in that? Skimping on exclamation points never helped anyone. I’m not going to tell you that big corporate conglomerates are the good guys; I’m not even going to tell you that I totally agree with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment during the Lochner era (though the reasoning from those interpretations has resulted in a lot of what I consider good outcomes - like how the government can't arrest people for using contraception or being gay). But, I am going to tell you that Thom Hartman makes so many basic (wrong) assumptions about the Constitution in Unequal Protection that it makes the book completely irrelevant to any discussion of actually limiting corporate influence over Amernican government. It might be my loathing of historical fiction talking, but this book totally sucks.

There are parts of it that don’t suck, but where it doesn’t suck, more recent legal developments have made it obsolete, or sucky assumptions have infested the non-sucky-parts. Sorry, Mr. Hartman, I mean this with all due respect, and you are obviously a much more influential person than me, so I hope that instead of taking offense, you will invest in a constitutional law class.

The basic assumptions I see causing so much confusion in this book are the following:

1. That the Constitution guaranties any blanket rights;
2. That including corporations in the Fourteenth Amendment makes their treatment under the Constitution similar to humans; and
3. That it is possible to limit corporate rights without increasing government rights.

There are many, many other assumptions and errors in this book, but those seem like the ones that are most fundamental to the premise of the book and that most make this book irrelevant to any real solution. I’m going to discuss those assumptions in the order I listed them.

First, it’s important to be clear that the Constitution doesn’t guaranty any blanket rights. It doesn’t guaranty that you can say anything you want to say, carry guns, be free from searches or slavery, have a jury trial, or vote. What the Constitution does is limit the government. Congress can’t pass a law that infringes on speech; Congress can’t pass a law that infringes on your right to carry guns; the federal government can’t unreasonably search your stuff. The Constitution formed the federal government; it didn’t form anything else, so it doesn’t govern anything else.

States gave up some rights when they signed on to the Constitution, so in some ways it applies to states. Through the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court has applied the other amendments to the states, so they are an exception to the rule that the Constitution only governs the federal government. Like the federal government, state governments can’t infringe on certain rights. While the Constitution identifies rights, it doesn’t guaranty that people always have those rights. I can infringe on someone’s speech, and, unless there is a statute prohibiting my infringement, get away with it without punishment. My boss can infringe on my speech, with a few limited exceptions. Goodreads, as another example, can take down my reviews if it wants to, and I have no recourse other than getting really, really mad and talking shit about it.

So, my point is that you’re a Supreme Court Justice, and you’ve got this case in front of you. Some doofuses (Congress) wrote a statute, and it says, “Any person who dumps more than five teaspoons of toxic waste into the Mississippi River has to pay the neighbors one-hundred jelly beans per teaspoon of toxic waste.” So, now BP has dumped six teaspoons of toxic waste into the Mississippi, and it’s claiming that the statute doesn’t apply to it because it’s not a person. Do you think Congress meant to include BP when it said “any person,” or not? Was Congress thinking about who was doing the dumping, or was it just thinking about punishing anyone (or thing) that dumped?

It is the same with including corporations under the Fourteenth Amendment. The focus of the Amendment is to restrict states from infringing on certain rights. So, then, are states not restricted as long as the rights they’re infringing are the rights of corporations? Maybe. But, then what if states decide than only corporations can buy property? So, you form a corporation, buy property, and the state can search it any time it wants to. Or, don’t worry, if you already own property, you’ll be granted a free corporation in your name by the state, and your property ownership automatically transfers to that new corporation, but the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t apply to your property. I’m not saying that would necessarily happen, but if a state can perform warrantless searches just because the land it is searching is owned by a corporation, that seems like undermining the basic purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment to me. Its purpose is to restrict state power, not to grant rights to anybody.

Second, including corporations under the Constitution doesn’t guaranty that the government treats them the same as humans. Maybe that is just self-explanatory. All it means is that states and the federal government don’t get a free pass in whatever the limits on their power is, just because they are dealing with a corporation. The criticisms Hartman makes of the Santa Clara decision are true in many points (specifically, in his pointing out that it doesn't actually do what the basic premise of this book is claiming it does), but I completely disagree that a solution to corporate abuses is to allow states and the federal government to have complete freedom in governing corporations. Saying that states can’t deprive corporations of property without due process does not mean that corporations are similar to humans. I won’t go into the equal protection clause now, but it would, likewise, be weird to me if it didn’t apply to corporations. And neither of those clauses make corporations similar to humans, they only restrict state power.

Third, the way to limit corporate rights is to increase government regulation of corporations. Somehow, that idea gets glossed-over in this book. The reason I feel this avoidance from the book is because he references Jefferson a lot and the idea that Jefferson would have wanted to replace corporate rule with agency rule is totally outrageous to me. I mean, Jefferson was like a Clarence Thomas-style nut about anti-regulation, as far as I have ever read. To me, you can't be proposing government regulation and citing Jefferson as your founding-father backup. That's the way to get a zombie Jefferson stalking your home, looking for blood.

Anyway, maybe Hartman is assuming that applying the Fourteenth Amendment to only humans would increase regulation, but that seems far from correct to me. This year, I accidentally organized a panel at a conference that turned into recruitment for a militia hoping to destroy American infrastructure. I’m not kidding – at one point a speaker put up a slide on U.S. military strategies for fighting asymmetrical warfare. It was very troubling. Flannery was there, she’ll tell you. When people asked the speaker what her plans were for rebuilding society after she’s destroyed it, she carefully avoided saying that she wants to return to a hunter-gatherer society (which is what she wants to do, I believe). This review does an excellent job of discussing how unrealistic that idea is. There is a similar dissonance in Unequal Protection, where Hartman carefully avoids telling you that his solution to the evils of big business is to create big government.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s a good solution. I have been saying for years that we live in a feudal society, in which corporations are our feudal lords, and I completely agree with Hartman on that point. I do not, however, agree that the alternative is democracy. Hartman sets up the dichotomy that we could live in a democratic society, but a feudal society has supplanted it. I think that is false, and that feudalism and democracy are not mutually exclusive. I think you can have a democratic feudal society, and that is probably what we have. I think the alternative to Hartmann's feudal society is a socialist society. Personally, socialism, which I would argue is just another variety of feudalism in which government officials act as feudal lords, sounds way better to me than Hartmann's feudalism, but it is not very popular with real Americans, so I can see why Hartman sidestepped the issue. I think that when a stronger government supplants strong business interests, the nominal purpose, at least, is the public good. When business interests rule, that is not even a nominal purpose.

The real problem Hartman flatly (and wrongly) denies is in corruption. When regulators are giving BJs to corporations, there is a problem. And, I think it’s pretty clear that regulators are, for the most part, giving BJs to corporations in America, but also in other countries. The solution to this isn’t allowing more government abuse (as in, giving states the right to bypass the restrictions of the Fourteenth Amendment), it is to give the government more regulatory power over corporations. It is to require rich people to pay enough taxes that the agencies that catch corporate crimes can actually do their jobs.

Sorry, Brian. This book practically killed me. There is a sentence towards the end of this book that I can’t find now about a constitutional-law scholar who said he practically passed out when he read what Hartman’s ridiculous proposals were. That guy. I feel like that guy. I LOLed. I could go on about the errors relating to equal-protection analysis, and the founding fathers, and the restrictions on international treaties and tribunals, but you’ve probably already left the review by now. I’ll just tell you that this is a completely unreliable source of information about constitutional law. It is incorrect in ways that are both fundamental to the nature of the Constitution and ways that are trivial, but misleading. Completely exasperating.
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Reading Progress

05/29/2011 page 4
1.0% "This book is already making me very nervous, Brian."
06/20/2011 page 78
24.0% "The problem with the argument here is that Marshall declared judicial review in a case where he decided in favor of Jefferson's interpretation of the Constitution. True, the Constitution doesn't explicitly discuss judicial review, but it also doesn't state that Congress has supreme interpretive power."
06/20/2011 page 79
25.0% "" . . . his notion of who 'the people' were was more in line with Hamilton's and Adams' than with Jefferson's and Madison's." That is so misleading. THAT IS SO MISLEADING. To all of those guys "the people" meant white dudes. The constitution NEVER had a wealth requirement, and to all of them "the people" meant as defined by the Constitution. !!!"
06/20/2011 page 80
25.0% "I swear this book is going to make me blow a gasket. "In 1918, Marshall used the power he had given himself and the Supreme Court to alter the states' power to regulate or dissolve corporations." OMFG Supremacy Clause. The states, individually, never had the power to destroy federal institutions." 12 comments
06/20/2011 page 94
29.0% "Slaughter-House?! Seriously?! Slaughter-House? That's going to be your citation for the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment? Just go ahead and talk until blood starts pouring out of my ears."
06/23/2011 page 121
38.0% "This is a misreading of court doctrine related to the Equal Protection Clause (Liggett v. Lee, 288 U.S. 307 (1933), used rational basis scrutiny, as is normal with economic activity)."
06/23/2011 page 139
43.0% "Wait a second. . . . Did Joe McCarthy just become a hero in this story?"
06/23/2011 page 139
43.0% ""In other words, treaties can supersede all federal, state, and local law, and all court decisions, with the single possible exception of constitutionally defined rights." Incorrect." 2 comments

Comments (showing 1-50 of 104) (104 new)


Sparrow I got one at the library. Thanks, though!


Stephen Great review, Meredith. I agree with much of what you said and ranted a bit in my own review. I guess in the end, I was impressed enough by the one concept of removing the corporation from the political process that I settled on ranting about what I hated, but still gave it 4 stars on the strength of that one idea. That idea, as Hartmann put it, "Denying [CP]…will allow the passage of laws getting them out of undue influence in politics…Federal, State and local governments will be able to enforce laws, if the citizens want, that require corporations to operate to the benefit of the states and the communities in which they are incorporated and do business."

I liked that.



with the


Manny Nice to hear the other side of the story presented in such a responsible and balanced way! As I keep saying, you should try and find a way to turn pro. Your prose is at least as readable as Hartmann's, if you don't consider that too backhanded a compliment :)


message 4: by Brad (last edited Jun 25, 2011 03:38PM) (new) - added it

Brad Excellent review, Meredith. I haven't read this book yet, though I have entered Brian's challenge, and I look forward to reading your review again when I am done. And I am with, Manny. I would love to see your reviews, particularly of political books, in a wider forum than just here amongst us e-friends.


message 5: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jun 25, 2011 05:25PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s a good solution. I have been saying for years that we live in a feudal society, and I completely agree with Hartman on that point. I do not, however, agree that the alternative is democracy. Hartman sets up the dichotomy that we could live in a democratic society, but a feudal society has supplanted it. I think that is false. I think the alternative to the feudal society is a socialist society. Personally, socialism sounds way better to me, but it is not very popular with real Americans, so I can see why Hartman sidestepped the issue.

I haven't read the book yet, but I can say that Hartmann doesn't sidestep the issue in general. He's advocating socialist policies in the context of a mixed economy and isn't afraid of using the bogeyman term of socialism, just like his weekly guest on his radio show, the great Bernie Sanders, the only US Senator in history to positively identify himself with the term.

Also, I'm really not sure where the dichotomy between democracy and socialism is coming from, but Hartmann's certainly not making it.


message 7: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 25, 2011 07:44PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sparrow Thanks, you guys! I am thinking about trying to get this one article published that I wrote this year. Funny enough, it is about how many treaties are unenforceable as a practical matter within the U.S.

Stephen wrote: "That idea, as Hartmann put it, 'Denying [CP]…will allow the passage of laws getting them out of undue influence in politics…Federal, State and local governments will be able to enforce laws, if the citizens want, that require corporations to operate to the benefit of the states and the communities in which they are incorporated and do business.'"

I think you are talking about the Citizens United idea of saying that "people" in the First Amendment includes corporations. Correct me if I'm wrong about that. It's a little weird because this book came out before a case that restricted corporate political speech in a really confusing, specific way. Then, Citizens United overturned that case.

My understanding is that Citizens United doesn't prevent Congress from limiting campaign contributions or corporate political speech. My understanding is that Congress just has to be careful about how it does so. It's kind of a catch-22, though, because it seems unlikely that a Congress that is largely sponsored by corporations is very likely to limit that sponsorship. I'm pretty rusty on my Citizens United, but that's my understanding.

Bird Brian wrote: "Strong work, Meredith. I knew I could count on you to give it to me straight. The opposite of a feudal society is a socialist society? I'll have to think about that one; there are obviously some de..."

I didn't intend to say that the opposite of a feudal society is a socialist society. I mean that I don't think it's possible to limit corporations unless there is a correspondingly powerful government regulatory agency that takes its place. I think there is a sort of seesaw of power between government and business. There was a quote in the book about that even, but I've taken it back to the library now. Something from a president about how instead of having too much government control of business, we have too much business control of government. I think finding a solution has to be about balancing those two powers.

I don't mean the USSR. Webster's defines socialism as "any of various economic political theories advocating collective government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods." I think that's different than Soviet communism in that it doesn't talk about evenly portioned redistribution. I only mean strong government regulation of production.

I wasn't sure how detailed to get about all of the assertions I made, so I know some of them might not make sense. Feel free to ask what I meant about any of them.


message 8: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 25, 2011 07:45PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sparrow MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "Also, I'm really not sure where the dichotomy between democracy and socialism is coming from, but Hartmann's certainly not making it."

I am not surprised that he is more vocal in other forums about socialism being a solution. And I didn't mean to say that he sets up a dichotomy between democracy and socialism. I think he sets up a dichotomy between feudalism and democracy, but I think the real dichotomy is between feudalism and socialism. I don't think feudalism precludes democracy because I think it is an economic theory, rather than a political theory. I don't think feudalism prevents people from casting ballots. Yes, people are biased and don't receive all of the information they should, but I don't think feudalism requires that or that eliminating feudalism guaranties that it wouldn't continue to be like that in America.


Sparrow Actually, I do think the third alternative to the government/business struggle for control of production is, like Ms. Keith and my celebrity-environmental crush, Derrick Jensen, advocate: eliminating production altogether and returning to a hunter-gatherer society. But, in order to do that, you have to kill, like, 5 billion people, so that doesn't seem worth it. I can't think of another good alternative, but I guess maybe that's the goal.

(Oh, and I fixed the link. Damn quotation marks in Word always mess me up!)


message 10: by Duffy (new)

Duffy Pratt There is a pretty basic exception to your statement that the constitution does not grant rights, and that is the abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude in the Thirteenth Amendment. That's a prohibition that applies directly to people within the jurisdiction of the United States, and not simply a limitation on the power of the United States or the States.

The discussion of feudalism confuses me, and it may just be my misunderstanding. I've always thought of feudalism as primarily being a hierarchal system of allegiance. I don't see how it can be consistent with democracy. In areas where people are bound by allegiance, there's no room for the power of a vote, at least not to the extent that the vote can override the oath.


Stephen Meredith wrote: My understanding is that Citizens United doesn't prevent Congress from limiting campaign contributions or corporate political speech. My understanding is that Congress just has to be careful about how it does so. It's kind of a catch-22, though, because it seems unlikely that a Congress that is largely sponsored by corporations is very likely to limit that sponsorship. I'm pretty rusty on my Citizens United, but that's my understanding."

Meredith, I actually wasn't specifically referring to the Citizens United case as I really view that as a "tree" rather than the entire "forest" of corporate and union involvement in political process. The concept that Hartmann discussed that really resonated with me (again, the only one because I think his reasoning was otherwise flawed) was creating a playing field in which corporations and unions can be eliminated completely from the political process (political contributions and political advertising, whether on issues or candidates). Not trimming the edges, but clearing the forest entire.

Now, I am not advocating that, only saying that I would like to hear more debate on that subject and try to understand the pros and cons because it is such a radical step and I am not sure of all of the ramifications. I am an individual freedoms guy in general (you can spell that libertarian in most cases), and this concept of Hartmann's is like kryptonite to my normal worldview (which is generally that "Even well meaning governments do most things worse than people and need to be tightly controlled in there interaction with the governed").

I think that is why I found Hartmann's central idea so compelling. Despite my pre-conceptions against the concept, it struck a chord in me that made me want to know more. I can't really ask for more from any book I read than to make me think and ask questions, even if the way it gets there doesn't quite work.


Whitaker Meredith, brilliant review. Superb, brilliant review! I particularly enjoyed reading your analysis of the US constitutional situation. Very enlightening. Thanks.


Sparrow Duffy wrote: "There is a pretty basic exception to your statement that the constitution does not grant rights, and that is the abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude in the Thirteenth Amendment. That's ..."

I don't agree because the Thirteenth Amendment itself provides that you may be enslaved as punishment for a crime. I really agree with (what I perceive to be) Hartman's view of prison reform. I have only looked at a couple of cases on this, so I haven't thought about it a great deal and could be wrong, but I don't think it's okay to allow people to become slaves of big corporations just because they are in prison.

Hmmm. I can see what you're saying about feudalism, and the dictionary is calling it a political system. Maybe I would disagree that we have feudalism as a political system, then, but I do think that our means of production is a system of lords, vassals, and serfs, so I'm not sure what you would call that if not feudalism.

I'm not saying that our voting system is unbiased or uninfluenced by corporations, but I don't think a democracy exists where people get all the information on issues entirely without bias from business or government.

Stephen wrote: "The concept that Hartmann discussed that really resonated with me (again, the only one because I think his reasoning was otherwise flawed) was creating a playing field in which corporations and unions can be eliminated completely from the political process (political contributions and political advertising, whether on issues or candidates). Not trimming the edges, but clearing the forest entire."

I guess I just never felt like I understood what his plan for this was. I certainly don't think amending the Fourteenth will do this. Did you understand what his plan was for this?

I have to admit, I didn't read very thoroughly after about halfway through. He kind of lost my trust with his take on Marshall and Jefferson. I think characterizing Jefferson as being in favor of a socialist-type control of business is ridiculous.


Sparrow Thanks, Whitaker!


Stephen Meredith wrote: "I guess I just never felt like I understood what his plan for this was. I certainly don't think amending the Fourteenth will do this. Did you understand what his plan was for this?"

No, I'm with you Meredith and did not see a well defined plan from him. I just thought the "idea" of limiting corporations and unions from the political process had some appeal. How we do it, if we can and even whether we should are still very open questions for me. I would just like to hear more on the subject and give Hartmann credit for raising it.


Sparrow I guess, it still makes me nervous because I think big corporations that do a lot of harm usually end up getting around the regulations, and it's their smaller competitors who suffer. That might not be inevitable, though. I definitely think it's a problem how much business influences government right now. Ick.


Stephen Meredith wrote: "I guess, it still makes me nervous because I think big corporations that do a lot of harm usually end up getting around the regulations, and it's their smaller competitors who suffer. That might n..."

I could not agree more with that. It makes me nervous as well and I am not sure if there is a workable solution, but it is certainly a good topic to open up for discussion.


message 18: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 26, 2011 09:26AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sparrow Yes, definitely good to talk about it. I think there are a lot of workable solutions, but they are unlikely to come about because of the catch-22. I know people say there can be the same problem with socialism and corruption, but I just keep thinking that in most socialist countries people can go to the doctor and not walk out with crushing debt. And I don't really believe they are less actually represented in government than we are. Maybe I'm wrong.

I think that without eliminating union and corporate right to participate in the political system, there could even be laws requiring systems for participation - I'm thinking, like, that there could be a law that creates a website, and corporations would be required to provide a list of board members who voted for the campaign donation or for the ad that refers to political issues. It could be a political information auditing system. I think that could be a start and wouldn't eliminate the right to speech, but would still connect the political statement to humans. It would probably get pretty bureaucratic, but it seems like any agency regulation of business is pretty necessarily bureaucratic, and I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.


Sparrow Thanks, Abigail! I can't say I know a ton about the topic myself - or, not as much as I should, anyway, outside of the first semester of constitutional law.

It's an important topic, I think, if only because denying that the word "person" can include corporations could be as financially advantageous to corporations as saying it can. And because I think the solutions are probably much simpler than Hartman describes.

I am reminded of the quote that made me fall in love with Chief Justice John Roberts:

The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations. We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.

Ah, puns! So dreamy.


notgettingenough It might be my loathing of historical fiction talking, but this book totally sucks.

Oh, another historical fiction hater. How nice.


message 21: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Klappenskoff Brilliant.

People are pretty quick to treat corporations as people when it comes to saying they should be taxed, even if they're now taxed at a different rate.

Could you clarify what you mean when you use the word "feudalism" with respect to current society?

Also, I'm not sure I understand how Americans use the word "socialism".
When I studied politics, we were taught to differentiate between "socialism" (the public ownership of the means of production) and "social democracy (private ownership within a system of government regulation).
Socialism according to this definition is almost the opposite to private ownership and free enterprise.
I can't envisage many Americans, no matter how left-wing, opposing private ownership.


message 22: by Sparrow (last edited Jul 19, 2011 01:10PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sparrow So, I went back to try to make it clearer. I was still pretty caught up in the book at the point that I wrote this. I was talking about Hartmann's references feudalism, and I think his definition of feudalism is pretty different than what I would consider feudalism because he is only referring to business controlling government, I think. My high school economics teacher was convinced that feudalism is the greatest form of government in the sense that it is basically equivalent to a generalized definition of socialism - where leaders are obligated to care for the livelihood of dependent workers. So, I think you could apply that to a business model of government or a regulatory (agency) model of government: it just changes who the "leader" is. Workers in a business-controlled system rely on business for their livelihoods, workers in a more socialized system rely on government to control distribution and provide for their livelihoods. That's the comparison with feudalism I would make.

The problem with the business model is that the leaders are not obligated to care for the dependent workers, and have incentive to create working conditions that are cheap enough to be bad, but not cheap enough to prevent production - conditions that are arguably optimal for the leader, assuming money is that leader's only concern, but not optimal for the worker. I think you can run into this when business rules or when government rules, so the trick is to get a balance between the two.

I think it is possible to make a valid argument that it is not ever possible to have a true democracy, where people actually make individual decisions, unbiased by those in power. So, I think it is better to have a system where those in power are at least supposed to say they care about the good of the people. I am, of course, agreeing with Hartmann that those who are truly in power right now (at least in the U.S.) are those who have substantial interest in large corporations. And I guess I think that those who control production are those with power, so I think that the production aspect of feudalism dictates whether it appears as a democracy or not. This all makes sense in my head, but maybe not as much written out.

Brian - if you're still on this thread, I just read something today that says that California interprets its constitutional free speech provision to be a blanket protection. The article was noting how silly that idea is, but I guess they think it's possible.

(and I guess in general, I should say I'm referring to the U.S. Constitution, which hopefully I made clear. States can do silly things if they don't conflict with federal law.)


message 23: by Sparrow (last edited Jul 19, 2011 01:45PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sparrow ha! Yeah, I've seen that episode. So funny.

That's the problem with a blanket protection - ultimately the idea of protecting the nazi guy's free speech infringes on your ability to control your own speech as an employer, so it's not really possible. I think that's why the article was saying it's silly to try to say that it exists in California. It also might be different now there, but each state has its own free speech interpretation of its own constitution, and as long as it is different than the U.S. constitution, it can provide more protection against government intrusion.


message 24: by Ian (last edited Jul 19, 2011 02:27PM) (new) - added it

Ian Klappenskoff Thanks, M.

I'm not sure I agree with Hartmann's view of feudalism.
I think you need to focus on the relationship between the ruler and the ruled (rulee?).
I see feudalism as top down or, in some cases, benevolent dictatorship.
In a representative democracy, the legitimacy of the State derives from the people, even though once elected governments act in pretty blatant disregard for the people.
The legitimacy of socialist states was supposed to derive from the fact that they were representative of the working class.
However, they quickly deteriorated into a ruling class of their own ("the New Class").
The problems were exacerbated because there was no democratic electoral process to confer any true legitimacy on the state.
Only in the case of democracy is there any sense of ownership by the people in the State or "ruler".

A few tangentially relevant points:

Corporations and businesses adopt the language of partnership and joint venture with suppliers, customers and other companies, but they don't usually think of partnering with their staff.
They insist on a vertical (almost feudal) hierarchy.
They still "lord it over" staff.

The other point is the extent to which workers have been coopted into ownership of corporations by the superannuation or retirement income process.
Most superannuation funds are used to invest in public corporations, so that the investment can ultimately fund the worker's retirement income.
This makes workers mini-capitalists and complicit in the acts and fate of corporations by sleight of hand.


Sparrow Well, I think the other comparison Hartmann is making is in the influence corporations have over government. Workers don't have influence over corporate management, true, but also, corporations have huge influence over political decisions, so in that way, the feudal nature of the corporation translates to the larger structure of government.

Hartmann doesn't talk about the idea of socialism as an alternative in the book. That is a contrast I'm making. I think it is behind what he is saying, but I think he also makes it sound like if we just changed the interpretation of the 14th Amendment, we could go back to an idealistic democracy where corporations are limited in such a way to allow direct representation of the government for the people. I think that suggestion is misguided and unrealistic to the point of the cause and result being totally irrelevant to each other.


message 26: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Klappenskoff The influence derives from money and donations.
He who pays the piper calls the tune.
This is mercantile, not feudal.

I agree with the point you are making in your second paragraph.
If a company couldn't make donations, it would find a way to donate by passing the funds onto executives or directors or shareholders, so that they could make the donations.
My review tried to make the point that if the influence of money on government was the appropriate evil or mischief, the law should deal with that problem, regardless of whether the perpetrator was a company or a natural person.
The evil is the conduct, not the identity of the perpetrator.


Sparrow I agree in the sense that money contributes to corruption, but I think it's pretty difficult to limit the influence of money on politics. I know they've tried to create laws to equally fund parties, but it's pretty complicated and doesn't usually end well. I think limits usually make it so that more corrupt politicians have an advantage in their willingness to get around the rules. But, not having limits has similar problems.


message 28: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Klappenskoff I'm with you on this one, I am an anti-anti-corporatist.
I could never adopt a stance that turned its back on corporations, just because they are corporations.


message 29: by Ian (new)

Ian "I think that when a stronger government supplants strong business interests, the nominal purpose, at least, is the public good. When business interests rule, that is not even a nominal purpose."

It is this point, but sort-of in reverse, that I have the hardest time getting accross to my more conservative friends who see smaller government as a virtue untue itself; they say things like "that's too much power to put in someone's hands, so we shouldn't allow governement to have it."

I try to explain that if you weaken government, then that "power" you've taken away from government doesn't just evaporate into the wind; that power is transferred to somebody else--i.e., large businesses--somebody who doesn't even nominally have your best interests in mind. At least if government has that power, you can vote in new people to exercise it better. But if government doesn't have that power, somebody else will step in and fill the void. And if that power is transferred to, say, your employer, your landlord, and your utility company (and other employers, landlords, and the like, so that even quiting your job and getting a new one doesn't change the underlying situation), then you're just screwed, because those people don't care about your best interests, certainly not on paper and probably not in practice.

Does that make sense?


Sparrow Exactly!


Sparrow So, I was telling Miriam earlier, last night I got to edit this really great article that is about we should consider corporations "people" under the Genocide Convention because if we do, they could receive sanctions from the international courts for benefiting from the Sudan conflict.

It is SUCH A COOL ARTICLE! Everyone should get themselves a copy of Oregon Law Review's 90:2 edition! I think it will be out in October? You were all probably going to pick it up anyway, but I just wanted to make sure.


message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

Post when it's out and I will. There's nothing more delightful than curling up under a blanket with one's beloved and discussing the finer points of the Oregon Revised Statutes*, except perhaps the same with Oregon Law Review.



*Really. We're pitiful that way. I seem to talk about nothing but ORS 676.150 anymore.


Sparrow haha! Are you pro- or anti-ORS 676.150?

I'll post the link to it when it's out. It's a two part thing, and Harvard or Georgetown, or somebody is publishing part II. So exciting!


message 34: by Ian (new)

Ian "Oregon Revised Statutes" ... that's a pathetic way to name your code.

In California we have things like the "Government Code," the "Unemployment Insurance Code," the "Public Utilities Code," the "Civil Code," the "Penal Code," the "Business and Professions Code," and ... my personal favorite ... the "Revenue and Taxation Code."


Sparrow It is so hard to look up California law. And isn't the criminal code some other crazy version of law? What's that dude's name who it's named after?


message 36: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 26, 2011 10:42PM) (new)

Let's say I'm not anti, but it's worded in some very unclear and open-ended ways that are a) wasting money; b) creating mistrust and hostility; d) causing confusion; and d) causing people to disregard it, which erodes the utility of law in general.

Ian, we also have the Oregon Administrative Rules. Plus, we have no Tarasoff law.


message 37: by Sparrow (last edited Jul 26, 2011 11:37PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sparrow It's true that there's no Tarasoff law, but the governing case in that issue indicates that if someone has control over someone dangerous and has reason to know they'll do harm to a specific person, they probably do have a duty to warn.

I mean, Oregon duty to warn is weird, though, so it might not come out that way.

The ORS is weird, too, but isn't law all about wasting money? No? Crap, have I been doing this wrong? It's why they need to vote lawyers into the legislature. Clean up those messy laws.


Whitaker This is probably the wrong place to put this, but I don't know anywhere else I can ask this. I keep reading comments from Americans essentially criticising Obama for not getting the debt ceiling raised. I've read such comments before in relation to things like Medicare and the gay marriage.

My question is, why do people seem to think the office of the President has a lot of power? Unless I'm misreading the way the American political system works, unless Congress is stacked his/her way, he/she basically has to negotiate with the other party to vote for something that he/she wants to pass. If enough members of Congress needed to vote to pass a law aren't willing to compromise or accommodate, the president is basically powerless. Am I missing something here? I don't get it.


message 39: by Ian (new)

Ian The American public tends to give the President too much credit for things that go well and too much blame for things that go badly. It's stupid, but that's the way it is.

Still, in this case I think more and more people are blaming Congress for the debt ceiling crisis. Most people recognize that Obama has offered a reasonable compromise (in fact he's one of the few people who's genuinly trying to compromise) and that it's congressional extremists who are responsible.


message 40: by Sparrow (last edited Jul 27, 2011 09:06AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sparrow It's an interesting issue in American government, I think, and probably a lot of things contribute to it. Right now, my understanding about the way it is working in the negotiations is that Obama is the most powerful representative of the Democratic party and Speaker of the House John Boehner is the most powerful representative of the Republican party, so they are both getting a lot of criticism because the negotiations are absolutely crazy. The Daily Show has been pretty funny about this lately.

There is a strong sense, though, aside from just the practicalities of the negotiations right now, that the office of the President has more power than it was originally designated. In large part this is because to combat the Great Depression, Roosevelt created a huge regulatory agency structure that is all part of the executive branch. So, really, Presidents are now in charge of a much larger part of government than they were in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

Also in this century, the Commander-in-Chief powers have become less restricted because the judiciary has a strong military-deference doctrine, which has allowed presidents to involve the country in conflicts that aren't declared wars by Congress. I think this gives Presidents a substantial power that the general citizenry can sense, even if we don't know why we feel like so much power exists in the office of the President. But, because we feel like they have this power, we also hold them responsible for issues that technically they might not be responsible for. Ultimately, I think that gives the President even more power just because public perception expects it.


message 41: by Miriam (new) - added it

Miriam Yes, Whitaker, your understanding is correct. I think many Americans imagine that members of the President's party will just go along with him, when in fact most are more concerned with pleasing their constituents and donors so that they can get re-elected.

if I owned a little ice cream stand and hire somebody, and then he turns out to be a lunatic neo-Nazi, I can't fire him when he won't shut up about his ideas, and nobody wants to come buy ice cream at my place any more?

Right =) You notice how our state economy, it is not doing so great?

Seriously, you might be able to fire him on other grounds, but not explicitly because he was a neo-Nazi, because then he could sue you. You'd probably want to argue that he was neglecting his job duties. However, you could have put in the initial hiring paperwork that you could fire him at any time without providing a reason; that's what many CA employers do now.


Books Ring Mah Bell I'm not sure what I love more here... your review or the thread. Well done.


Sparrow Thanks, Bells!

Miriam, that is so crazy to me! I think that presents a huge conflict with the U.S. Constitution because there is all this stuff about how employees in their official capacity speak for employers. So, really, an employee misrepresenting the speech of an employer is infringing on the free-speech rights of the employer, no?

Plus, it eliminates the at-will employee. Probably most contracts just recognize that the employees are at will, which is pretty typical anyway.


Sparrow But, to be honest, Oregon free-speech law is really weird, too. C'mon, states!


message 45: by Ian (last edited Jul 27, 2011 09:45AM) (new) - added it

Ian Klappenskoff Whitaker, as you know, I am not American, but I think some of the power and influence of the office of President derives from the constitutional right of the office of President to veto legislation.
The President has the power to send legislation back to Congress unsigned.
It therefore cannot come into force.
As a result, the legislation cannot be passed unless it is acceptable to the President.

The veto can only be overcome by a the vote of two-thirds of the House and Senate, or in reality a change that is acceptable to Congress and the President.
Because the two-thirds majority is so dificult to achieve in any political climate, the veto right (the right to say no) ends up being a right to force amendments.

This means that a President from one party can influence the content of legislation, even from another party (i.e., when their own party was in the minority).

Any President running for a second term would have to be careful that they did not lose office, because they constantly overrode the "mandate" that Congress felt it had obtained from the people.
Of course, whether there was an actual mandate is a moot point as well.


message 46: by Miriam (new) - added it

Miriam a huge conflict with the U.S. Constitution because there is all this stuff about how employees in their official capacity speak for employers. So, really, an employee misrepresenting the speech of an employer is infringing on the free-speech rights of the employer, no?

That's an issue I'm not familiar with. I suppose there must be some stipulations regarding speaking in an official capacity versus merely expressing personal opinions? Although in real life if I am at a business and someone working there says things that are offensive to me I tend to just not go back, because from my point of view as a customer it is about my experience and not the official position of the company or whatever.

I think employees are definitely entitled to whatever opinions they want and shouldn't be able to be fired for, say, belonging to the Republican party when the boss likes the Greens. But I'm not sure I think people are entitled by freedom of speech to express their opinions in the workplace -- are you really even entitled to be talking about anything non-work-related at work? Shouldn't you instead be working? I'll have to think more about this.


Sparrow Right. I mean, on the federal level, there are protections about employees, so, like, basically if a public employee is speaking in his/her official capacity, the employer can discipline the employee, but if the employee is speaking as a member of the public on a matter of public concern, the employer can't. Maybe there's something similar with California. But, since it's a state, it's probably confusing.


message 48: by Alex (new)

Alex Miriam wrote: "...I think many Americans imagine that members of the President's party will just go along with him, when in fact most are more concerned with pleasing their constituents and donors so that they can get re-elected."

Obama's primary motivation (in advent of 2012 Presidential Elections) is also to be reelected.

In general American Governing system is built on understanding that politician's desire to be re-elected is the "politically healthy" one.


Sparrow Alex wrote: "In general American Governing system is built on understanding that politician's desire to be re-elected is the "politically healthy" one."

I don't think this is a very popular sentiment in America, though. I think it's something we reconcile ourselves to, not something we endorse.


message 50: by Alex (new)

Alex I don't think this is a very popular sentiment in America, though. I think it's something we reconcile ourselves to, not something we endorse. "

There is no viable alternative (within the principles of democratic elections) to this motivation (to be elected).
Political suicides are not going to help - because after such people (casting locally "unpopular" votes) will fail to get reelected and their elected replacement will be eager to undo the unpopular legislation (if it passed) to please their electorate.


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