Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Opium for the masses and the Juristic Person

The corporate structure which is killing all we have ever held dear began with the opium trafficking of the British East India Company. Opium grown in India and shipped to China addicted tens of millions, and did as much to assist the Industrial Revolution as colonialism, slavery and colonialism combined. Opium, first known in lower Mesopotamia, was introduced to Persia and India (from Egypt) by Alexander (“the Great”) in 330 BCE. It was first introduced to China by Arab traders, about 400 CE. The Chinese learned to consider it barbaric and subversive. About 1700, Dutch sea-traders brought Indian opium to China and islands of Southeast Asia; it was they who introduced the practice of smoking opium in a tobacco pipe to the Chinese. In 1729 Chinese Emperor Yung Cheng issued an edict prohibiting the smoking of opium and its domestic sale (except under license for use as medicine), and in 1799 Emperor Kia King banned opium completely. But the British East India Company had other ideas.
The East India Company, a “joint-stock company” formed to import spices from the area now Indonesia, to England, came to symbolize the dazzlingly rich potential of the corporation, as well as new methods of business that could be both brutal and exploitive. It was formed on 31 December, 1600, by Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I, as the “Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies” - after sailors requested permission to sail for trade in the Indian Ocean. Its main rival was the Dutch and their Dutch East Indies, with an effective monopoly of East Indian trade throughout most of the 16th century.
Trading in cotton, silk, indigo, saltpeter, tea and opium, it traded with, then conquered, India, and became the mother of the modern corporation. In its financing, its structures of governance and its business dynamics, the Company was undeniably modern, and prefigured all the tensions exhibited by today’s global corporations. Not only was it the first major shareholder-owned company but it was also a pivot that changed the course of economic history. During its lifetime, the Company first reversed the ancient flow of wealth from West to East and then put in place new systems of exchange and exploitation. The Company, like the US government now, frequently reverted to barbarism: in 1701 the Company executed Captain Kidd for piracy – or rather because he was a successful competitor.
The main impetus for the Company’s origin was desire for spices; those with the spices, however, didn’t particularly want anything the British had, which was mostly just wool. Those who had the spices had few needs but would accept precious metals. The Romans having taken most of Britain’s precious metals, and Britain having little else to offer but transport, the resorted to the modern idea of creating a need. The British could have sold weapons and weapons training like the Portuguese, but considered that both insufficiently profitable and counterproductive.
In 1750, it seized control of Bengal and Bihar, opium-growing districts of the Indian sub-continent, and, despite Emperor Yung Cheng’s prohibition the smoking or domestic sale of opium, began shipping it from Calcutta to China. Britain had a huge trade deficit with China and so in 1773, the Company created a British monopoly on opium buying in Bengal. Tea from China was bought with opium from India; Indian and later British textiles (made from cotton grown in India) purchased slaves in west Africa, who were sold in the Americas for gold and silver, which was invested in England, where the sugar harvested by the slaves ensured a booming market for the tea from China. Soon enough, slaves, sugar, alcohol and other unnecessary vanity products found increased popularity. In trading slaves and more modern goods for forestry products, the British were but perfecting ancient skills and methods developed by Srivijayans, Arabs and the Brits’ own Viking ancestors. But drugging non-slave workers was new.
Soon 900 tons of opium per year was smuggled into China, and the proceeds were paid into the Company. By 1825, most of the money needed to buy tea in China was raised by the illegal opium trade. Opium smuggled into China approached 1,400 tons a year in 1838, and the Chinese imposed a death penalty for it.
When in 1757, Baron Robert Clive secured direct company rule over Bengal, then the richest province in India, he tripled the land tax - and a famine killed 10 million people (a third of the population). 20 million smallholders were dispossessed, indigenous industries were crippled by the company's exactions, and opium production increased. In the early 1900s, mill-made textiles from Britain devastated the once-mighty Indian textile industry. Indians didn’t really want wool, although the British insisted on their buying it anyway. Misery increased, but so did British profits.
But it was never enough. The company, seeking profit, not "trade", turned to armed conquest (the “Opium Wars”).

Medieval European churches had incorporated, and local governments (including the Vatican and the City of London Corporation), so that the incorporation could survive all particular members, and exist in perpetuity. The Stora Kopparberg mining community of Falun, Sweden is alleged to be the oldest commercial corporation in the world, dating from 1347. Many European nations chartered corporations (including the Dutch East India Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company) to lead colonial ventures; these corporations played a large part in the corporate colonialism which remains an essential part of globalization. The Mother of all Corporations, the East India Company eventually amassed more market power than Wal-Mart has attained, and outstripped even Enron in corruption. As has been said elsewhere, it made Union Carbide (of Bhopal fame) pale in terms of human devastation. It is not mourned, but neither have we learned from its history.
Today, a corporation requires a special legal framework. A body of law specifically grants the corporation legal personality, viewing it as a fictional, juristic, juridical, artificial, legal &/or moral person or personality (as opposed to a natural person). Corporate statutes give non-human entities the status of a person, and empower corporations to own property, sign binding contracts, and pay taxes. A feature of the corporation, however, is that the owners/shareholders enjoy “limited liability” they are NOT liable for the debts of the company, and can NOT be sued for the corporation’s actions. A question of diffused responsibility (for example, if a corporation is found liable for a death, how should punishment be allocated among shareholders, directors, management and staff?) remains unresolved. When a corporation breaches a contract or breaks a law, there’s insufficient accountability, as limited liability protects the owners and – get this - the corporation isn't a legal person subject to the law. At least, it can’t be sent to jail! There’s simply not the necessary accountability for corporate wrong-doing.
I’d read that this all started with the 1880s case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, before oral arguments began the Chief Justice said that "the court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does." Later opinions, misinterpreting these pre-argument comments as part of the legal decision, and giving corporations the rights of citizens without all of their obligations, missed, as I did, mention of a previous case, made when people as property was still legal, and the British Tea Company still at large. In Louisville, C. & C.R. Co. v. Letson, (1844), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a corporation is "capable of being treated as a citizen of [the State which created it], as much as a natural person." When “owning” a person became illegal, that that might apply to corporations was quite studiously ignored, and still is.



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