No corporate, commercial, private or governmental entity shall be licensed, accredited or incorporated absent a binding commitment to serve the public interest; nor shall any collective entity be accorded the rights and privileges attending citizenship, which are reserved expressly for individuals.
In 1919, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in the Dodge v. Ford case that Henry Ford had a responsibility to the shareholders of the Ford Motor Company to operate the business to profit shareholders, rather than the community or employees. More recently, the Citizens United case decreed that corporations are people. These cases comprise the endpoints of an arc that has seen the common good subjugated to the narrow material benefit of the few.
While it would be beyond naïve to expect that adoption of a broad new public interest standard (perhaps one in line with the principles underlying the new Benefit Corporation laws passed by 13 state legislatures) would lead corporations and their shareholders to embrace an approach to commerce that insists on emphasizing the “triple bottom line,” it’s critical that we overturn the Dodge v. Ford/Citizens United paradigm and insist that wealthy and powerful companies begin acting to the benefit of their communities instead of to their detriment.
The health of our nation’s commerce is obviously of value to all citizens, as each of us aspires, if not to wealth, at least to a measure of prosperity sufficient to ensure a basic level of financial security. In no way should this amendment be interpreted to suggest that shareholder interest is somehow unimportant. However, it is not the only value, and we must acknowledge that all spheres of our society suffer when our economic system ignores the interests of the public at large.