Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
On Monday, a federal jury sentenced the former owner of the now defunct Peanut Corporation of America to 28 years in prison for his role in one of the largest salmonella outbreaks in US history.
The outbreak happened in 2008 and 2009. It was blamed for nine deaths and hundreds of cases of salmonella, and it triggered one of the largest food recalls in US history.
The 28-year sentence is the stiffest punishment that a producer has ever received in a case of foodborne illness.
But Stewart Parnell wasn't charged with killing or sickening anybody, even though the outbreak was connected to at least nine deaths across five states.
No, even though his actions led to the equivalent of a killing spree across multiple states, he was charged for 67 counts of defrauding customers.
But this case is actually even more basic than fraud. At its roots is the simple motivator that has tainted business dealings since the beginning of time: greed.
As District Judge W. Louis Sands explained about the case: "these acts were driven simply by the desire to profit and to protect profits notwithstanding the known risks [from Salmonella]. This is commonly and accurately referred to as greed."
And that shouldn't be surprising to anyone -- for-profit corporations exist first and foremost to make money.
Even the framers of the US Constitution knew that. James Madison wrote in 1817...
"There is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ... corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses."
And for over a century states maintained control over corporations and corporate power in order to keep that "source of abuses" in check.
The framers of the Constitution had just fought the Revolutionary War to break the hold of the monopolistic British East India Company over the colonies and were suspicious of overwhelming corporate power.
But they also knew that the newly-founded country wouldn't be able to grow without manufacturing and domestic corporations that could facilitate that.
And so from the very first days of our country, local, state and federal legislatures retained the power to limit corporate activity while still encouraging entrepreneurship.
Much of that power was based in "revocation clauses" -- the ability of the state to revoke the corporate charter. "The corporate death penalty."