We all grew up with the story of the Boston Tea Party. In the late eighteenth century, a group of American Colonialists dressed up as Indians, took over a docked ship in the Boston Harbor and dumped its cargo of tea into the bay. This was one of the early acts of rebellion which contributed to the American Revolution against England. However, the back story to this incidence has very deep ramifications for us today!
In 1602, the British Parliament gave a charter to the first publicly traded corporation in the world. It was called the Dutch East India Company and as the name implies, it opened up a very lucrative trade in spices as well as incense, herbs, silk, opium and tea between Europe and India.
Because of the way it was structured, it had legal powers that rivaled those of a sovereign country. "As the first historical model of the quasi-fictional concept of the mega corporation, it possessed quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, strike its own coins, and establish colonies." [ Wikipedia ]
By the time the Colonialist had begun to develop their own independent economy, about a hundred and seventy years after the Dutch East India company had received its charter, the company had become so powerful that it dominated India and many surrounding countries with its political and military power. When the Dutch East India company found that its prices for tea were not competitive in the new Colonies, it went to the British Parliament and demanded that their tea sales in America not be taxed.
Of course, when England gave the Dutch East India that blatant tax advantage, not only were the tea merchants in the Colonies upset, but so was the general public. And so, while chanting, "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTION!" and after dumping a valuable load of tea into the Boston Harbor -- the American Revolution sputtered to a start.
Now, skip ahead in your memory to a time right after the Revolution had succeeded. The wise -- and highly educated -- Founding Fathers gathered to attempt to set up a new democracy founded on a system of laws. Based on their cumulative knowledge of current and ancient political history, they created the powerful legal documents that, to this day, are the basis for our country's self-governance.
It is difficult to define a fine line between government and industry. Difficult because of the infinite variations of and between their interactions. The ideal balance between the two requires an unbiased infusion of mutually respectful equality.
Excerpt From RECLAIM DEMOCRACY :
" When American colonists declared independence from England in 1776, they also freed themselves from control by English corporations that extracted their wealth and dominated trade. After fighting a revolution to end this exploitation, our country's founders retained a healthy fear of corporate power and wisely limited corporations exclusively to a business role. Corporations were forbidden from attempting to influence elections, public policy, and other realms of civic society.
Initially, the privilege of incorporation was granted selectively to enable activities that benefited the public, such as construction of roads or canals. Enabling shareholders to profit was seen as a means to that end. The states also imposed conditions (some of which remain on the books, though unused) like these:
Corporate charters (licenses to exist) were granted for a limited time and could be revoked promptly for violating laws.
Corporations could engage only in activities necessary to fulfill their chartered purpose.
Corporations could not own stock in other corporations nor own any property that was not essential to fulfilling their chartered purpose.