21 March 2018
Michael Leven
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Businesses are people, and we’re the solution, not the problem
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Lately, it seems that the only form of acceptable hate speech left in America is hostile invective heaped upon entrepreunuers and innovators by a vocal minority of pundits, and increasingly, political leaders who should know better. At the core of the great American experiment is the fundamental belief that the freedom to create and build businesses serves us all.  The greatest of our founding fathers, George Washington, once wrote, “A people who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see, and who will pursue their advantages, may achieve almost anything.” If there is a secret to America’s success, it is this. 

Alarmingly, the great ideas of our founders are being forgotten by some of our nation’s most prominent leaders. Throughout American history, the enterprise of commerce, and those who practice it, have been celebrated as the engines of prosperity. Yet in today’s national dialogue, they are too often vilified as the source of our ills. For those of us who have taken risks, put our family’s financial well-being on the line, lived in near-poverty during the hard times so that our employees would be paid, or toiled on the frightening brink of failure fueled only by the hope of someday creating something great, this all comes as a painful slap in the face.

A case in point was Elizabeth Warren’s introductory speech at a fundraiser for President Obama in Boston. “Corporations are NOT people," she pronounced. "People have hearts. They have kids. They get jobs. They get sick. They love and they cry and they dance. They live and they die. Learn the difference."

The audience ate it up.

Perhaps President Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate and former constitutional law professor who well knows the legal case for corporate personhood, would clear up Warren’s condescending attack. But he didn’t.  And recently, he added to the insult, telling an audience in Roanoke, VA, “if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” 

The idea that businesses are people isn’t a new concept. Indeed, it’s been around for almost two hundred years as a matter of law.

As far back as 1819, in Dartmouth College v Woodward, the US Supreme Court has recognized corporations as having the same rights as every other American citizen to enter into and enforce contracts secured under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Years later in a separate case, The Supreme Court returned to the corporate personhood well again, saying this:

"Under the designation of ‘person’ there is no doubt that a private corporation is included [in the Fourteenth Amendment]. Such corporations are merely associations of individuals united for a special purpose and permitted to do business under a particular name and have a succession of members without dissolution."

But the concept of personhood for corporations isn’t merely established law. It’s common sense.

Who starts a corporation but people? Who started Apple and IBM and McDonalds and Dominos Pizza and Facebook but people. And who starts the local auto body shop and the local Italian restaurant and the local charitable organization or church but people.

Corporations hire people, and feed families, they do charity work and community service. Of course corporations are people.

So why did Warren say what she said?  Is it inexperience? Is it a lack of substantive contact with American business? Or a deliberate attempt to somehow strip corporations of their humanity?

Any why didn’t our President clear the air, and the record?

That is for others to decide.

But for the entrepreneurs who have built, run, and grown small businesses, we don’t need more anti-corporate rhetoric these days. Instead, we need a better understanding from our nation’s leaders of what makes businesses work and what doesn’t. We need to recognize what inhibits growth and what stimulates it.

We formed American Institute for Growth to be an advocate for small businesses – because small businesses that grow into big businesses are the engine that powers our American economy and embody the “spirit of commerce” George Washington praised. The time has come for the job creators to have a voice, in the halls of power and throughout this great land, that government will not solve what ails our economy and is actually making things worse with its unprecedented regulatory assault on the free enterprise system.

In the end, corporations - and the people who run them and work for them - are not the problem with our economy. We are the solution.

Michael Leven is the President and COO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Richard Jackson is the Chairman and CEO of Jackson Healthcare, LLC. Both men are new members of the American Institute for Growth, a nonprofit organization focused on developing free market solutions to America’s economic and employment challenges.
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