The Boston Tea Party was one of the pivotal events in our nation's history. Angry colonists dumped chests of tea into Boston harbor to prevent its forcible landing. The English Parliament had granted exclusive distribution rights for the tea from England's overflowing warehouses to the East India Company, a chartered corporation. Its tea was so inexpensive that many merchants would be put out of business by the large global corporation. Although all this sounds familiar, it occured more than 200 years ago.
England over-reacted to the dumping. British soldiers occupied Boston and closed its harbor, causing great hardship. These actions helped bring on the American Revolution.
This experience with the damage that can be done when distant governments and large corporations are too friendly, made our founding fathers wary. They allowed corporations to be chartered by states only, not by the federal government. States were given the power to define corporations. In return for a charter, the corporation agreed to obey all laws, to serve the common good, and to cause no harm.
A series of court rulings over a hundred years ago, however, granted corporations greater rights than individuals had and made it harder for citizens and government to hold corporations accountable to their charters' stipulations.
There is a new movement, though, which seems to have started in the Boston area, to encourage citizens to use their power over the charter to hold corporations responsible for their actions and their effects on society.
In the good old 1950s, corporations paid almost 40 percent of the taxes in this country. The rest of us paid 60 percent.
In the 1980s, individuals paid 83 percent of the taxes while corporations paid only 17 percent, less than half of what they paid in the 1950s. Since corporations continued laying people off and paying a shrinking percentage of the taxes, we now have a serious budget problem.
One of the tactics corporations use to lower their taxes is funding elaborate promotional activities. Three recent examples of wretched excess in these tax-deductible business expenses provided the impetus for this essay.
Earlier this month, Time magazine carried a story about the special, multimillion-dollar, 20-car train that the world's largest cigarette maker is building to entertain smokers on five-day excursions to the western states. It will give away 100 free trips, including air fare and $1000 spending money.
Earlier this week, a Connecticut-based liquor company announced that it is leasing an island in the Caribbean as a marketing strategy. The island will be renamed after its brand of Tequila. It plans to choose government leaders by lottery, and to get into the United Nations by throwing a really big party. This project has been planned for two years and will cost millions of dollars.
And, reports of extravagant corporate hospitality are part of the hype leading up to this weekend's football game. Apparently over half the tickets are sold to corporations, and top executives from 350 of the Fortune 500 companies plan to attend. One large beer maker will have 600 guests. A television network has booked over 400 rooms in a luxury resort. Railroad companies are running special trains for their guests, pampering them with gourmet food served on fine china, crystal and sterling silver. Golf tournaments, dinners, parties and other elaborate amusements will help large corporations lower their taxes as they woo and thank their customers.
The income which corporations use for these promotional activities isn't taxed.
Even as they pay a shrinking share of the expenses for running this country, most corporations depend on taxpayer-subsidized raw materials like energy, grains, meat, lumber, and minerals, as well as export assistance and other benefits to make their businesses profitable. Many corporations also depend on enormous sales to the government.
Last year the portion of corporate profits that was paid out in dividends shrank to one of the lowest levels on record.
To learn more about the move to hold corporations more responsible for their roles in our society, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tea Party, WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1996-1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.