There’s a post by Brad Plumer at the Mother Jones blog that makes the following argument for the “corporate death penalty” (i.e. dissolution of corporate charters for companies that misbehave):
Wal-Mart, along with other corporate interests, gets involved in politics precisely to neuter the legal system that’s supposed to act as a “remedy”–trying to limit its liability from class-action lawsuits through tort “reform,” and trying to weaken workplace regulations, and so on. More to the point, the legal system as currently structured is inadequate for dealing with corporations like Wal-Mart. The company has shown no remorse for anything it has done, any of the workers it has mistreated, any of the laws it has broken, and considers paying fines simply a cost of doing business.
This is why many people support the death penalty for corporations. In the short term it would be disastrous for many people, not least the company’s 1.3 million employees, if Wal-Mart’s corporate charter was revoked and its assets auctioned off. But understandably, many people feel that drastic action is necessary to teach corporations that you don’t lock workers in the store after hours, you don’t treat undocumented workers like indentured servants, and you don’t let children operate heavy machinery just so that economists can gush over your “productivity growth.”
Now, there’s a problem with the logic of the argument—one that crafty debaters used to occasionally employ on purpose back in my days of collegiate geekery. I used to call it the “fiat shuffle,” and it works like this: You propose policy X for debate. Now, quite possibly X is politically impossible (right now) for one of any number of reasons, but that’s OK, because the folks proposing that we do it get to fiat (yes, among debaters, “fiat” can be a verb) that their proposal could be implemented.
The trick of the fiat shuffle is to then re-import the political barriers you’ve assumed away to argue for your position. So (to pick a round I vaguely remember being in): You propose that kids from affluent schools be required to switch places with kids from poorer schools nearby, and offer as an argument for the program that the more politically powerful rich parents will then be motivated to agitate for improvements in the poorer schools. Except, of course, if they’re powerful and motivated enough to do that, they’d be even more likely to use their influence to block such a program in the first place.
The same problem characterizes the example above. The problem with addressing corporate misbehavior on a case-by-case basis is supposed to be that they use their political power to gut the tort system. But somehow this is supposed to be a less serious problem than the company’s opposition to a remedy that, by Plumer’s own admission, would be “disastrous” for 1.3 million employees, not to mention millions more folks who kind of like shopping at Wal-Mart.