The Psychology of Corporate Rights
49 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2014 Last revised: 13 Dec 2014
Date Written: December 2014
Relying on the corporate personhood doctrine, the U.S. Supreme Court has increasingly expanded the scope of rights granted to corporations and other forms of collective entities. While this trend has received widespread attention in legal scholarship and the media, there is no empirical research examining how people think about the rights of corporations. We investigated this issue in a series of three studies, each exploring a different constitutional right (religious liberty, privacy, and freedom of speech). In each study, we examined people’s willingness to grant rights in several types of business contexts (i.e., a ‘closely held’ family business, a large national corporation, for-profit and non-for-profit companies) and to different types of targets (i.e., employees, owners, and the company as a separate entity). We also looked at whether perceptions of corporate (versus individual) rights are affected by political ideology. Our results demonstrate that people are significantly and consistently less willing to grant the same scope of protection to companies versus people, particularly if these companies are for-profit large corporations. This tendency persisted among both liberals and conservatives. We identified ideological differences in the relations between employee and company rights: these were positively related among conservatives and more conflicting among liberals. Importantly, we found some evidence that people grant rights to companies because they want to protect the rights of individuals. Taken together these results indicate that, psychologically speaking, individuals (and not corporations) are the appropriate recipients of rights.
Keywords: Rights, Corporations, Political Ideology, Moral patiency
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