In the wake of the BP oil disaster, the relationship between big corporations and the U.S. government has become more than an academic curiosity. It sometimes seems that the two are so entwined that major corporations, such as BP, have more influence over the government than vice versa. Even before this most recent disaster, however, the U.S. has had a long history of tension between big corporations and the nation's government.
We talk with Richard Grossman, co-founder and former co-director of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD) and the co-author of the book, Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation. Grossman says that tensions between corporations and government in this country started immediately after the Civil War and have continued, as corporations' authority began to take precedence over municipal and state governments. The relationship comes with the laws around incorporation: Grossman says, "The very moment a corporation is chartered, it's enveloped in enormous privilege." He adds that, in a non-corporate system, characterized by educated and sovereign people committed to self-governance, leaders of the U.S. government would not "negotiate" with corporate directors. They would view corporate directors as subordinate, and corporations as creations of law. Our public officials would instruct corporate directors, which is currently not the practice.
Distinguished Professor of American Literature and American Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, David S. Reynolds, also joins the discussion to provide the historical background of tensions between corporations and U.S. government, citing the most well-known examples, including President Andrew Jackson's fight to rescind the Second Bank of the United States' charter during his presidency.