Organizations: function, power
February 17, 2010
Greenwald manages here to pack tightly several assertions, which are better considered separately. His first point is that
organizations are created to further the interests of people, and should thus be given powers appropriate to the task.
This point is valid. The cavalier derivation of the next point, however, as a supposed consequence is completely false:
one of those powers must be the possibility to broadcast ideas, unrestricted by the government
This represents a complete misreading of the nature of broadcasting of ideas, as discussed before. Concisely: broadcasting ideas is always restricted (by the scarcity of attention) and is certainly regulated by the government in our society in ways that are much more comprehensive and intrusive than any rule of campaign finance (by the government sanctioning of mass media ownership). Thus, while the power to disseminate ideas should be granted to some organizations to some degree, the appropriate way to do so is using a first-principles examination of the criteria for granting such powers (based on the interests being represented), rather than by appeal to dogma.
Greenwald touches on two other points that are tangentially related to the issue of the power of organizations: personhood of organizations, and constitutional rights. Greenwald sees the extension of “person status” to organizations as being essential to them retaining power, since it is only persons that are given powers by the constitution, and without such a constitutional guarantee (he implies), the government would overrun organizations by enacting oppressive laws.
These points encompass the three misconceptions in Greenwald’s view that I addressed in previous posts: it relies on, and supports, an extra-political status for the constitution; it assumes that speech can be unregulated; and it supposes that granting powers for the powerful is a way to guarantee power for the weak. In reality: the constitution guarantees what the courts decides that it guarantees – i.e., it guarantees nothing to the powerless; speech is highly regulated by government, for people and for organizations; and granting certain powers to the powerful comes at the expense of the weak.
Therefore, powers of speech for the weak should be insured by explicit regulation of speech – regulation that should be set explicitly as democratically controlled public policy. The resulting rules should aim to match the objective sought, rather than rely on a patently false equivalence between people and organizations or on absurd attempts to empower the weak by granting more powers to the powerful.