The People Beg to Differ, Mr. Romney: Corporations Aren’t People

The political world is abuzz with a heat-of-the-moment comment by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that is starkly revealing.

Here's how The Huffington Post reported it:

Pressed by an attendee at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday as to why he was focusing on entitlement reforms as a means of deficit reduction over asking corporations to share part of the burden, the GOP frontrunner shot back:

“Corporations are people, my friend… of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings my friend.”

Great that we've gotten that cleared up. Romney has taken the view codified by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case, which says that corporations are people when it comes to our political system, and since money is their vocal chord, government can't tell them to lower their volume so other voices can be heard.

But Romney's basic point is an economic one, that corporations are just part of a virtuous cycle of which we are all a part. Money goes in, money comes out. “The Circle of Life” plays in the background. Everybody benefits.


In the real world, the answer to Romney's question — “Where do you think it (what corporations earn) goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets?” — is certainly not “people's pockets,” at least not people as you or I would think of them.

You've heard us say this before. In April Dave Johnson gave us this chart from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which is as clear as it gets on the question of whose pockets corporate wealth is going:

The pattern of concentrated wealth at the top that is not going to “the people” has only gotten more entrenched in the months since the end of the recession, as this chart from one of Robert Borosage's “Ignorance Index” posts shows:

Last October, I relayed an analysis from tax expert David Cay Johnston that the total wages earned by American workers fell by a total of $313 billion from 2007 to 2009. That's a 5 percent cut, and is measured in 2009 dollars. Meanwhile, the average wage of the very highest-income Americans increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009.”

The top 400 taxpayers, Sam Pizzigati notes, averaged $270.5 million each in income in 2008. Meanwhile, as these charts from Mother Jones show, the income of the top 1 percent has more than tripled since 1979, while the incomes of middle-class and working-class people have remained stagnant.

Actually, Mr. Romney, most of what corporations earn goes to a few people, and that is why until a few days ago it was almost as if the Roaring '20s had returned to Wall Street while much of Main Street was mired in the 1930s.

The concept of corporations being just one of us, at a time when so many of us are struggling to make ends meet and struggling to be heard above the din of lobbyists and inside-the-Beltway pundits, is grossly insulting. In our world, corporations are a beast apart—sometimes beneficent, too many times not, but always in need of being reminded who the real people are and to whom they should serve. It is a world with which that Romney and his fellow presidential candidates should get acquainted.

UPDATE: The question that provoked Mitt Romney's “corporations are people” response came from a member of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a branch of National People's Action. The New Bottom Line has a story and video on the confrontation.