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SJA813's avatar

In your opinion what is the most pivotal moment in history leading to powerful corporations?

Asked by SJA813 (143points) January 4th, 2011

Was it a certain year?

A war?

Specific law being passed?

Insider deals?

I’m curious to how you believe what it was and how it go to this point or if you feel things are as bad as they seem.

All answers are fair. I would like all opinions. Assuming they are on-topic and helpful though please, and thanks.

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21 Answers

mrlaconic's avatar

The signing of the federal reserve act in 1913

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous than standing armies… If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of currency… the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of their property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1743–1826

Summum's avatar

There have been designing men from the beginning. Wanting to control the entire world and its monitary systems. These men have planned for a long time to be where they are today and @mrlaconic is correct. The Federal Reserve was put in place and our money no longer was backed by Gold or Silver. This was the beginning of the American collapse and it will continue until we become a world order.

flutherother's avatar

It was the industrial revolution that paved the way for the rise of giant corporations and in particular the assembly lines of Henry Ford. People have always wanted power and instead of political power these technological advances created opportunities for economic power.

mammal's avatar

Difficult to say but i would go with the East India company, that was the organisation that conquered the Indian Subcontinent with an attutude of domineering trade practices followed by outright foreign occupation to ensure those practices continued to be extremely favourable.

YoBob's avatar

You seem to think that powerful enterprises bent on world domination are some relatively new development. Commerce, and the control thereof, have been central themes in the rise and fall of civilizations since the dawn of man. Throughout history there have always been ambitious men (and women) who want to rule the world, and the way to that end has always been about control of commerce regardless of whether you are a warlord, emperor, king, or corporate executive.

Now, if you are talking about the tiny little couple of hundred year blip in the grand scheme of human history that we currently occupy, then I think that @mrlaconic has it right.

Summum's avatar

Great answer Yobob these groups of men have always existed and they have passed down information from generation to generation keeping it going. They have secret hand shakes and meet all over the world.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

The Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886). It was the first case where corporations were considered “persons” under the 14th Amendment. We went from that to the “Citizens United” case in a little over 100 years. What a mess.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m with @mammal. It started in Britain, when some monarch or another granted a charter to the first company—perhaps the East India Company. From those first corporations, some of them monopolies from the beginning, grew the incredibly large corporations we see today. At one point, the East India Company ran all of India! Talk about large! Talk about monopoly!

So that first charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I was the most pivotal moment. Up until then, I believe that all concessions belonged to the monarch. This was the first time major concessions were passed into private hands.

Nullo's avatar

It was when someone realized that he could sell something for more than he paid for it. The unvarnished goal of businessmen ever since has been to make more money.

iamthemob's avatar

I’m going to second @Dr_Dredd‘s choice as a really solid point where we started to enable “supercorps.” I’m going to push it a little earlier with Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819).

Prior to the recognition of the sanctity of the private corporate charter, the public system seemed to be the norm, which meant more of a focus on the purpose of corporations being in the public interest.

With the acceptance of corporations being formed solely for the purpose of raising money for the shareholders (in essence), combined with shareholder limited liability and the separation ownership and management, you had the perfect recipe to raise massive amounts of capital by issuing shares of ownership to people who would have little knowledge or interest in the internal functioning of the business as long as share price rose. Essentially, the complete excision of a clear moral center.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@iamthemob Thanks. Forgot about that other case.

YARNLADY's avatar

I’m going with @Nullo on this one. Every business man since the caveman days.

iamthemob's avatar

I don’t know – the corporate structure is a fairly revolutionary structure. Buying/starting a business, going into a profession…even with multiple people…it’s pretty contrary to logic to consider such a thing if you really actually don’t want anything to do with running the business, or necessarily knowing about the product.

bolwerk's avatar

Corporations were probably always powerful at first,* so a lot of things came together beforehand – loosening of usury laws, corporate charters, the Florentine bankers, the rise of bourgeois trade guilds – but probably the pivotal moment was in the early modern period when corporate bodies were granted charters to control vast tracts of colonial property. The first “big businesses” in the modern sense were arguably things like the Hudson Bay Company, the Dutch East India Company, etc..

* Back in the old days, only powerful people could get them anyway. The idea of just registering one is relatively new.

Judi's avatar

Watch It’s a short video about how our economy was designed around consumerism. This shift in values from thrift to consumption elevated the value of corporations in our society.

sferik's avatar

A major turning point in American history was the 1886 Supreme Court ruling in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which applied equal protection of the laws to corporations. This was the first time that the word “person” in the Constitution was interpreted to include corporations. This shift guaranteed corporations the right to make political campaign contributions, ingratiating them with elected officials and giving them much greater influence over US public policy.

ETpro's avatar

@Judi Thanks for such a terrific link. Amen and amen!

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

The 1819 Dartmouth decision was an important, but incremental step toward corporations dominating our democratic government, but the 1886 Santa Clara County vs SPRR decision was an astronomical leap toward the end of popular democracy in the US because it essentially gave the same rights and protections of an individual to corporate entities with bottomless pockets. To me, this one wins hands down. What most Americans don’t realize is that the decisive evidence presented in the case by former Senator Conklin was fraudulent—based on lies per later testimony by Conklin’s private secretary and other evidence. Even so, the decision was never successfully challenged.

We, as Americans used to be much more sensitive to these things, even as an emerging democracy, experiencing the bare rudiments of self-determination. Our founding fathers new well the danger of banks and corporations to good government as demonstrated by Jefferson’s quote in the first post in this string. It’s true that the battle between individual rights and corporate dominance in America has been going on for some time, but that is no reason to surrender to it, as some peolpe in this string seem to have done. The increasingly disenfranchized American colonists of the 18th century certainly had more balls—and a lot more to lose than many of the more complacent posters here. I wonder if this was the mindset of the dispicable Tory of that era.

Someone here brought up the East India Company – possibly the most powerful corporation of its time. East India Company’s relation to the colonies inevitably brings to mind the TEA ACT of May, 1773 which touched off the infamous and (of late) grossly misunderstood Boston Tea Party a few months later, the details of which have either been misremembered or willfully spun by the people and press of this nation. But modern Americans are famous for being ignorant of their own history, so this is no surprise to the rest of the observing world. Therefore, allow me to remind those of you who still visit this thread of the situation in 1773.

The Tea Act, as enacted by the British Parliament, gave the East India Company (many of it’s most important stockholders were Parliamentarians) the EXCLUSIVE right to import tea duty-free into the American colonies—while all other importers would still pay tea duties. This was a blatant attempt to monopolize the tea market within Britain and her colonies by enabling the East India Company to sell their tea at heavily reduced prices, thereby driving smaller importers such as the family-owned New England shippers out of the American marketplace. In other words, this was a classic power play by a large corporation using its financial clout (in lieu of democratic mechanisms) to influence government to their benefit and would have been devastating to the many American importers whose businesses were dependent on the profitable tea trade which buoyed local economies from North Carolina to Maine.

Therefore, when three shiploads of East India Co. tea arrived in Boston Harbor in December, 1773, and protesters prevented the off-loading of the product as they had in three other colonies and demanded the tea be sent back to Britain, the Royal Governor refused. This caused the enraged protesters to toss the tea into the harbor, inciting military response which, among other instances, soon led to armed conflict, beginning in the same city in 1775 and an all out, eight-year revolutionary war beginning at Brooklyn Heights in August, 1776.

It seems incredible that a colony of predominantly agricultural people, most without formal education, could be so sensitive to the infringement of their rights to be free of such things as monopolies —and so willing to defend them. That is quite a sophisticated level of political awareness for a bunch of farmers and small merchants, especially when they were willing to put their lives on the line for such ideas. I wonder if today’s American citizen can measure up in any way to these people.

So, the Boston Tea Party was the result not of additional taxation, but of the REMOVAL of a tax burden to a large corporation while continuing to tax smaller businesses into non-existence, by law, giving unfair advantage to a large, multinational corporate entity. Passing the cost onto the consumer and driving American businesses out of the market exacerbated the progressive disenfranchisement citizens were experiencing from their representatives in Parliament. Taxation without representation? True, but the real problem was that any new taxes after the Stamp Act of 1765 had to be paid in pounds sterling which was rare and hard to get in the colonies, and not the more common colonial script —another stratagem to kill American business. Like Franklin later said, it wasn’t about taxation, it was about the devaluation and refusal of the Crown to accept colonial script. The Tea Act was the final brick in the wall.

So, today we have an arguably influential group of citizens who proudly call themselves the “Tea Party,” to highlight their anti-government, “revolutionary” stance on various political issues such as their perceived rise in exorbitant taxation without representation.

In their infinite ignorance, the modern “Tea Party” support and are supported by many corporations and corporate causes including congressmen who profess pro-corporate platforms, have accepted millions in corporate campaign funds and now are set to sell their votes to corporations in conflict with their duties as representatives of the people, just like the incumbents they replaced. However, this in perfectly in line with their platform which is a reaction to the professed Tea Party fear of a “government takeover” of the government itself (as in last year‘s pro-corporate insurance and pharmaceutical industries’ anti-National Health Care Bill best highlighted by their slogan to “Keep Government Out of My Medicare“)—in direct conflict with the spirit of the original Tea Party’s anti-corporate protests against dominance of their representatives in Parliament by corporations as clearly demonstrated by the protesters in Boston Harbor in 1773—today’s Tea Party’s namesakes.

Ironic, but not surprising in a country where nearly a third of the people are so devoid of general knowledge and their own history that they have come to believe that the political terms Democracy and Republic are mutually exclusive leading them to believe that they live in a Republic that was never meant to be a Democracy because Republics can’t be Democracies and vice-versa. Like the latest fad in willful ignorance, statements to this effect have become increasingly rampant all over the net in the past few years, including here on Fluther. This is very sad because it is so much easier to take something from someone if they are not aware they possess it, such as self-determination and a voice in their own government.

So, the the little-noticed and even less understood pro-corporate Supreme Court decision of last March should come as no surprise. Like taking candy from a baby.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

Extremely well-written, @Espiritus_Corvus. Great analysis.

I was pleasantly surprised by the recent decision in FCC v. AT&T, rejecting the idea of corporate “privacy rights.” Justice Roberts’ opinion stating “We trust that AT&T will not take it personally” was a nice touch.

mazingerz88's avatar

Hmm…turning point in history leading to powerful corporations-? What about really powerful corporations-? I dare say the answer could be that year when the stock market came into being is the major turning point. More and more powerful corporations were hatched since then…

Judi's avatar

A really great new video by the same people who did The Story of Stuff answers your question even better than that one did!

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