By Tom Ehrich

Corporations want to be "people" when it comes to freedom of speech, specifically the ability to make political donations to candidates who promise to do their bidding.

And the freedom, allegedly having to do with religion, to deny health care to their employees.

But they don't want to be "people" when it comes to having a conscience, morality, patriotism or the civic obligations of citizens.

They want to lobby as "people" for special tax breaks, government contracts, and exemption from regulation.

But they want to behave as profit-making companies whose only ethical obligation is to maximize profits and reward shareholders, as well as pay extravagant executive salaries along the way.

Pollution falls on the corporate side. So does the growing practice of "inversion," namely, seeking to reconfigure themselves as foreign entities, perhaps through reverse acquisition, in order to avoid US taxes. No ethical or citizenship duties required.

Some want to continue trade with the nation's enemies, even though their actions complicate foreign policy. It's only business, not personal, they say.

I can hear the ghost of John D. Rockefeller trumpeting his corporate privilege as he sent a private army to massacre striking miners in Ludlow, CO. Business for him was highly personal for them.

Consider the massive restructuring of the American work force. Fewer factory jobs, a shift to service jobs, and now fewer service jobs, as companies enjoying American benefits transfer jobs overseas to save a few bucks.

Companies prowl the landscape looking for merger and acquisition opportunities -- not to improve product quality or to serve customers better, but to improve profits by laying off employees now considered redundant.

Companies force older employees out just before well-earned pension benefits are set to kick in. Companies and governments raid pension funds to prop up bad business decisions, and then they blame retirees for being greedy.

Sure, actual persons often behave just as unethically. But they can't hide behind corporate skirts while doing so. Their bad-neighbor behavior is out for all to see.

Wealth confers obligation. Good fortune -- much of it just plain luck -- must lead to gratitude and sharing. Those who enjoy the benefits of citizenship must do their part as citizens -- vote, pay taxes, help the less fortunate, be ethical employers.

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