Soylent Green

A little while back I made a reference to the movie Soylent Green while writing on a very different subject. I’ve been thinking about that movie ever since so I might as well write about it. It must be around twenty years since I last watched Soylent Green on video so I only remember the general plot. Soylent Green was based on Harry Harrison’s 1966 science fiction novel Make Room!, Make Room!. I’ve read the book more recently. The movie and book share the same setting, an overpopulated, polluted, dystopian world and mostly the same plot, a detective is investigating a murder in the impossible circumstances of a dying New York City. There are a number of differences, though. Make Room! is set in the year 1999 rather than 2022. I guess the producers of Soylent Green thought that adding another 23 years might make the setting more plausible. Soylent green is not made of people in the book, it is plankton. The murder that the Charlton Heston character is investigating had nothing to do with the corporation or with the environment. The victim was a mob boss and the only reason the police want his murderer is because the New York mafia is afraid that a rival organization is moving in and they are putting pressure on corrupt officials to learn if this is the case.

The book is a whole lot more depressing than the movie. Harry Harrison works to make the world of Make Room!a world of poverty and misery, without any hope for improvement. All people have to hope for is the world might end. In fact, one of the characters is a crazy hermit who expects the end to come when the year ends. When 1999 becomes the year 2000 without incident, he can only despair. Water and food are tightly rationed and diseases of malnutrition, such as kwashiorkor are widespread in the United States. Cars, no longer working because there is no more gasoline, sit abandoned in parking lots, to be used as shelter by the large population of homeless people. Freight is transported by wagons pulled by people. Overpopulation is only getting worse, since the masses of permanently unemployed people have baby after baby to qualify for larger welfare benefits. It goes on and on.

There is, of course, a certain amount of preachiness throughout the descriptions of the miserable life of the future. At one point the Edward G. Robinson character discusses how the world came to be in such awful shape. He laments that if only people started to take overpopulation seriously about thirty years before (when the book was published), the world wouldn’t have been ruined.

These sort of sentiments were widespread throughout the sixties and seventies. This was the era of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and The End of Affluence. It was widely accepted that unless major changes were made, the world of the future was going to be nightmarish. We couldn’t afford have the luxury of an affluent lifestyle, or even basic freedoms if we wanted to save the planet. This sort of messaging was always in the background while I was growing up in the seventies and early eighties and I believed it. I worried about global warming, overpopulation, and the depletion of natural resources. I considered myself an environmentalist.

What changed? Well, if you look around, you might happen to observe that the world was not an overpopulated dystopia in the year 1999 nor is it likely to become one by the year 2022. As I grew older, I couldn’t help noticing that none of the horrible scenarios predicted by the environmental alarmed ever seemed to actually occur. We always had just ten years to save the planet. When ten years elapsed, we still had just ten years to save the planet. I also actually read some environmentalist literature and even got a degree in Environmental Studies. I took what I call my environmentalist wacko class. That helped me to learn just how anti-capitalist, anti-technology, anti-science, anti-American, and anti-human many environmentalists actually are. I have since developed the deepest skepticism about environmentalist claims of doom and gloom. I am on to them.

This is why I am a global warming skeptic. There are some who have suggested that I should defer to the experts. I am told that ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that drastic action is needed right now. I am not impressed. I happen to possess a functioning memory and very little of what these people are saying is any different than what they were saying forty years ago. Their solution to the crises is the same: the masses must live like medieval serfs while an all powerful government of the elite decide what’s best for everyone.

At some point, you realize that the boy cried wolf is a liar, especially when he seems to have an agenda which involves getting the villagers to hand over wealth and power to the only boy who can save them from the wolf only he sees.

 

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Corporations Are People

The title of this post is taken from the 1973 film Soylent Green, set in the dystopian, overpopulated world of 2022. The bulk of the world’s population subsists on manufactured food called Soylent Green. Charlton Heston plays a police detective charged with investigating the murder of a wealthy businessman. At the end of the movie, Heston discovers that Soylent Green is made from human remains and, seriously injured, he tries to spread the word that Soylent Green is people.

Corporations are not people in a physical or moral sense, of course. No corporation could be mistaken for a human being. Nevertheless, corporations are considered to be persons in a legal sense. Before I get into explaining this, I should begin by saying just what a corporation actually is.

Many people on the Left seem to think  that a corporation is some sort of alien entity that dropped down from outer space and is intent on using up all the world’s resources. While there are certainly corporations that act like that, that is not what a corporation is. A corporation is simply an entity that has been incorporated through legislation or a registration process established by law. A corporation is one of three ways in which businesses are legally organized in the United States, the others being sole proprietorships and partnerships. A sole proprietorship is owned by one person while a partnership is owned by more than one person. In each case, the owners of the business are entirely responsible for any debts or damages the business accrues and there is no legal distinction between the owners of the business and the business itself. With a corporation there is a legal distinction the  between the owners of the business (the shareholders) and the business itself. A corporation is a separate legal entity from its owners and this is where corporate personhood comes in.

Because a corporation is a legal person, the owners or shareholders can enjoy limited liability for the debts or damages incurred by the corporation. They are separate from the corporation and are not financially responsible for the corporation beyond what they have invested in it. There are actually some very good reasons why corporations are considered persons.

Suppose you own a few shares of Acme Widgets. This makes you a part owner of Acme Widgets, even if the shares you own are only .01% of the total number of shares. Now, suppose someone is injured when one of Acme’s widgets explodes and he decides to sue Acme Widgets for negligence. If the corporation were not a separate legal entity, or a person, you could be held partially responsible for Acme’s negligence and you could be required to appear in court, along with thousands of other shareholders. If the court rules against Acme, you could be required to pay part of the damages. If Acme Widgets goes out of business because their widgets keep exploding, you could find Acme’s creditors at your door, demanding that you pay your share of Acme’s debt. Also, that man who decided to sue Acme Widgets might find it very difficult to sure a thousand separate owners of Acme Widgets. Since the corporation is a legal person, it can be represented in court as a person, and found liable for damages, indicted for crimes, etc. Considering corporations as persons makes it much easier for the courts to deal with them.

This limiting of liability is the most important advantage the corporation has over other ways of organizing business. Because liability is limited, investing in the company is less risky. Were it not for limited liability, only the very wealthy, or reckless, would be able to invest in the stock market, and companies would find it much more difficult to raise capital. There are a number of controversial issues relating to corporate personhood, especially regarding just what rights corporations have compared to actual human beings, and like anything else, the concept can be abused, but the idea of corporate personhood itself is a beneficial one.

 

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