Do Corporations Have Human Rights?

Intel’s defense in its EU antitrust case has taken the surprising line that the company’s human rights were violated. Over at Real Clear Markets, CEI colleague Hans Bader and I take a closer look. We conclude that Intel actually has a pretty good argument.

Corporations have human rights because doing so greatly reduces transaction costs: “suppose your company wants to buy some computer chips from Intel. You could have each shareholder sign the sales contract – good luck finding them all – or you could treat Intel as a person with the right to sign a contract, and the obligation to honor it. To deal with one person or millions? That is why corporations have legal standing as individuals.”

In short: no corporate rights, no modern economy. No exaggeration. There is a reason why legal conventions emerge as they do, even if they appear strange at first glance.

Iain Murray was kind enough to point out to me that the idea of corporate human rights has very deep roots. The 18th-century legal scholar William Blackstone, in his revered analysis of the English common law, wrote that corporations have the right “[T]o sue or be sued,, implead or be impleaded, grant or receive, by its corporate name, and do all other acts as persons may.”*

*William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Volume 1: Of the Rights of Persons, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979 [1765]), p. 463.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s