Ivan W. Parkins

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About Ivan W. Parkins:

Dr. Parkins is a retired professor of Political Science from Central Michigan University.  He received his PhD from the University of Chicago and is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.  Dr. Parkins served as a naval officer during WWII aboard the battleship Alabama.  He is a recent widower with three daughters, 3 grand children and 2 great grand children.  Dr. Parkins has written extensively, having authored 3 books and a newspaper opinion column for many years. 

Front Page

In This Issue:

· OUR NATIONAL POLITICAL TURMOIL

· “NOVEAU SAVANTS”  Wage Cultural War

· AN IMPORTANT FREEDOM  

      AN IMPORTANT FREEDOM

By Ivan W. Parkins

 

     Most Americans today are unaware that the legally created freedom to incorporate a for-profit enterprise is largely a product of Jacksonian Democracy (late 1820s-1840).  Incorporation permits a few people to create an organization having some of the legal identity and rights of a person.  A major advantage is that those who invest in the organization will then be responsible only to the extent of their investment, i.e. not be individually liable for all that the organization does.

 

      Blackstone lamented that the corporations had neither souls to be damned nor bodies to be kicked.  He, like Adam Smith, of Wealth of Nations fame, wrote in a period when profitable business was not the usual purpose cited to justify incorporation.  Those corporations that existed-- Professor E. Merrick Dodd wrote that he had found evidence of 310 in the United States in 1800--were largely for public or eleemosynary purposes.  They were created individually by acts of legislative bodies.  Historically, they had been cities, universities, etc.  In the early United States they included increasing numbers of banks, toll bridges and roads, and other often profitable enterprises, but were still created individually to serve an alleged public need.

 

     Persuading a legislative body to incorporate your particular enterprise usually required special influence, often bribery.  Jacksonian Democrats regarded that as a major injustice, even as a form of theft.  But, once in power, they found that the most practical solution was to make the incorporation privilege a right of everybody.  General incorporation laws were enacted, permitting any small group who met minimal qualifications and paid a small fee to incorporate their own enterprise.  That greatly facilitated raising capital for larger businesses.  The practice spread rapidly, here and in Europe.

 

     Railroads were our first great industrial corporations.  Often they were corruptly managed.  Substantial portions of our western lands were given to the railroads by the federal government as subsidies for their construction.  In spite of such matters, the railroads probably did as much as any other factor to facilitate rapid settlement, widespread homestead ownership, and general prosperity.

 

     By the late nineteenth century America was beginning to legislate seriously against monopolistic and other abuses of corporate enterprise.  Various forms of government intervention spread rapidly with WWI, the Great Depression/ New Deal, and WWII.

 

     Since WWII the older, nonprofit, types of corporate endeavor have become more significant, especially in American politics.  Universities, foundations, public interest organizations, research institutes, etc. have multiplied and grown rapidly.  The larger universities rival some federal departments in their largely taxpayer funded budgets and their technical resources.  Yet, public attitudes and laws usually treat these non-profit corporations very differently than incorporated business ventures, especially where their political activities are concerned.

 

     Why should the freedoms of non-profit corporations be greatly different than those of their for-profit counterparts?  Are not both legitimate means by which people, of different talents and ambitions, contribute to the welfare of society?

     OUR NATIONAL POLITICAL

TURMOIL

By Ivan W. Parkins

 

President Obama says that he was swept into the Presidency by the same public reaction that made a Republican, Scott Brown, the new Senator from the very blue state of Massachusetts.  Ridiculous?  Mostly so, but not entirely.  America’s confusion has roots deeper than most Americans, especially those who’ve become voters since the 1960’s are likely to be aware of.  We have suffered more antagonism than is necessary between private and public sectors.

 

In the PUBLIC OPINION QUARTERLY, fall 1944, journalism professor Frank Luther Mott wrote that the reason for so much to-do about the press is that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only President in the last fifty years to have ridden a big popular wave without corresponding support from a majority of newspapers. 

 

That was soon followed by The Commission on Freedom of the Press, composed mainly of leading academics, and by a SELL AMERICA Campaign organized by major business advertisers, and promising to sell America and its bulwark American business back to the people.  Neither of those accomplished much except to bracket the problem.  For a couple of generations the growing mass media, mostly print, had been deeply influenced politically by its corporate ownership and major advertisers.  Political parties were beginning to lose influence, but the media were political and heavily Republican.

 

Change was not far away.  Part of FDR’s success was due to the new medium, radio, and he used that very effectively.  Television was the rapidly growing gorilla. As a Democrat seeking nomination to the House of Representatives, in 1954, one problem I (we) faced was that the closest major television station with an audience of consequence was in Cleveland, and prohibitively expensive because most of its audience were outside our district.  Mrs. Dorothy Fuldheim, “First Anchor Lady of Television,” invited each of us for a brief interview.  Other than her courtesy, I was most impressed by the very shabby facilities of WEWS, then, the only major station between New York City and Chicago.  A larger surprise came later.  I had had good local press coverage, but seldom encountered persons who mentioned it.  Long after I had lost the election , however, I was still meeting people who remarked “I know you; I saw you on Mrs. Fuldheim’s program.”

 

By the 1960s, a sharp reversal in the partisan and economic slant of the press was becoming obvious.

 

After the 1936 election, a popular joke was that FDR had found a way to balance the budget.  He would sell Maine and Vermont (the only states that voted against him) to Canada.  Perhaps Nixon could have done something similar after 1972.  Only Massachusetts, plus D.C. and both Houses of Congress went against him.

 

The article below is a reprint from the Detroit News, October 9, 1992-editor