When I was growing up in Danville, I was a big supporter of business. Scarcely a day would pass that I wouldn’t buy a bottle of soda at Logan’s Mobil or a candy bar from Thompson’s Rexall. It was easy to like business back then. Wally Clark at Logan’s patched my bicycle flats for free; Thad Cramer at Thompson’s never minded my paying for a comic book and candy bar with 51 pennies. It’s not as easy to like businesses these days. In any given week, I’ll read about a corporation giving the heave-ho to 1,000 workers and a raise to its executives. The average American company has not covered itself with glory.
Not long ago, I read a story on the Internet about a man who sued a corporation for causing poison to leach into his well and give his family cancer. Before the case could go to trial, they reached a settlement. The man was given an undisclosed sum of money in exchange for the business not admitting its guilt. Everyone knew the fat cats were guilty as sin, but the man and the corporation were forbidden from discussing the matter. I know you shouldn’t trust everything you read on the Internet, but I believed it the minute I read it. It sounded like something a corporation would do.
I only wish such power had been available to me in the fourth grade, when I was hauled to principal Noel Peters’s office for disobeying a teacher. I imagine how I might have worked matters to my advantage were I a corporation.
Noel Peters: “Mrs. Cramer said that you disobeyed her. Is that true?”
Me: “I will neither confirm nor deny that accusation.”
Noel Peters, reaching for his paddle: “Bend over and grab your ankles. I’m giving you three whacks.”
Me: “That is unacceptable. I am essential to our economy. If I am hurt, my employees will suffer. (I had just hired my brothers to help me shovel snow.) I will agree to a modest punishment, provided I do not have to admit any guilt. Furthermore, no mention of this incident or agreement can be mentioned to anyone, including, but not limited to, my parents.”
I would admit to nothing, the whole matter would be forgotten, and I would go back to being a smart-aleck. In other words, I would enjoy the privileges extended to American corporations that violate the law, pay a small penalty, confess no guilt, and forbid all involved from disclosing their malfeasance so others might be warned.
In the early years of our marriage, my wife and I saved $5,000, which we invested in stock. Without our knowledge, the broker sold our stock, purchased stock in another company, and with consummate skill proceeded to lose every dollar we had invested, all while charging exorbitant fees. Meanwhile, the stock we had originally purchased rose to record heights. When we phoned the brokerage firm to report the crime, they refused to return the money we had lost through their broker’s deceit. We were discouraged by an attorney from pursuing the matter, given the expense and difficulty of holding a corporation accountable. That was 30 years ago, and we’re still waiting for the company to acquire a conscience and pay us what our shares would have earned had they not been sold without our consent. It was our first investment in corporate America, and matters haven’t improved since then.
To be a corporation today is to lay your head on a silken pillow. Let’s consider just one of them, the National Football League, which last year made $9 billion in profit and is projected to top $25 billion by 2027. It’s a good thing the NFL is a nonprofit entity, or it would have to pay taxes like the rest of us. If you want to be disgusted to the point of nausea, read Gregg Easterbrook’s essay, “How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers,” in the October 2013 edition of The Atlantic. Then explain to me why Central Indiana taxpayers bought a $720 million football stadium for a man worth $1.6 billion and still have to throw money at him every year. Ain’t God good to corporations!
Friends, we have missed the boat. As of today, I am no longer Philip Gulley, private citizen. I am now Philip Gulley Inc. No more pesky taxes for me, no more heeding the rule of law, no more respecting the common man or struggling to pay the bills. I am now a corporation, bigger than God Almighty—who, let’s be honest, has been living in the same old place for eons without a raise or a promotion. Don’t let that happen to you! Become a corporation. Be beholden to no one, too big to fail, suckled on the taxpayer’s teat, waited on hand-and-foot by politicians eager to make your slightest wish the law of the land.
Let the paid mouthpieces of corporate America, hereafter referred to as Congress, castigate the “takers,” meaning anyone not wealthy enough to donate to their campaigns. Ah, the takers: the mothers ankle-deep in grease at McDonald’s, making $7.73 an hour. Shame on them for bankrupting our nation. Never mind that their boss, CEO Don Thompson, pulls down $9,247 an hour; it’s the poor who are ruining us, earning such a pittance we taxpayers have to chip in government subsidies for them to feed their families. If they got busy and became CEOs, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
In the last presidential election, we were warned about these takers, but I fear more the parasitic class attached to America’s underbelly: the 1 percent of our nation who own 40 percent of its wealth, and those in Congress who sanction their greed. No country built on such disparities can long endure. No democracy is robust enough to survive such inequality. Whenever a few hold all the marbles, the many will grab the pitchforks (provided pitchforks haven’t been outlawed).
Now Governor Pence, his eyes cast bravely toward that happy land of corporate donations, has resolved to eliminate the personal property tax for corporations, a $1 billion gift from Hoosier taxpayers. If ever there were a man paving a path of gold to the White House, who lets neither common sense nor decency stand in his way, it is our governor. Had I not witnessed his inauguration, I would have thought he had been sworn into office resting his hand on Atlas Shrugged. I wish he would open the book on which he made his promise, and read about the guy who preached good news to the poor.
Illustration by Ryan Snook
This column appeared in the April 2014 issue.