The corporation, like the church and monarchy in earlier times and places, is the dominant institution. It’s all-pervasive.
It wasn’t always like this.
In the early days of the American republic, legislators granted few corporate charters, and only after debate. The privilege of incorporation was granted selectively and predominantly to enable activities that benefited the public, such as the construction of roads or canals—infrastructure projects that the states did not have the money to build themselves.
And the states imposed conditions: limiting charters to a fixed number of years, setting limits on commercial interest, denying them ownership of stock in other corporations, or prohibiting political contributions intended to influence law-making. The power of large shareholders was also limited by scaled voting, so that large and small investors had equal voting rights. Owners were held personally responsible for violating laws.
According to legal historian Brian Murphy, America’s Founding Fathers saw corporations as corrupting influences on both the economy and on government. The American Revolution against the colonial British Empire was invoked because of the tyranny of the East India Company, which led to the Tea Party revolt. They viewed the company as a “state within a state,”...