By now everyone knows that Mitt Romney has said, “Corporations are people,” and lots of jokes have been made about it: “Let my corporations go!” — Moses, and so on. Paul Krugman gives Romney the benefit of the doubt, giving him credit for meaning, not that corporations are flesh-and-blood folks, but rather that “corporations are organizations that consist of people.” Krugman then takes Romney to task soberly for his ideas about what happens to taxes on corporations, since these are not taxes on the corporate entity per se but only on its profits — the part that workers and suppliers don’t get. But I wonder if even Krugman is cutting Romney too much slack here. Our Supreme Court has held that money is speech in their ruling that restricting the money one can spend on political advertising is an unacceptable restraint of free speech. If a metaphor can be reified by five conservative justices to the point of holding that what is actually money counts in the real world as speech, why isn’t it natural for those of a like turn of mind to feel free to reify the metaphor that corporations are (legal) persons to the idea that they should count in the real world as individuals deserving of all the rights and privileges of actual people.
[Update 8/14/11 I think the bad links are now fixed. Thanks, SSH. Several commentators, and Eugene Volokh in an email, have pointed out that the Supreme Court decision holding that restricting political advertising expenditure is restricting free speech does not represent the unique occasion on which authorities have held that restriction of some non-speech behavior – for example, marching – counts as a restriction on free speech. In other words, the decision was not based on reification of the metaphor “money is speech’; rather the metaphor was a product of the decision. And of course neither I nor anyone else can know what was in Mitt Romney’s mind when he said “Corporations are people.” Points taken. PK]