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Stanford Agora: An Online Journal of Legal Perspectives

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In the eyes of the law, the business corporation is a person. So, for example, the corporation can own property in its own right; it can sue or be sued, in contract or tort or any number of other causes of action; it can be prosecuted and punished for criminal activity; it enjoys various rights under the United States Constitution; and it is subject to tax liability. In these respects (and others), the corporation bears the legal attributes of an entity existing separately from the various natural persons who participate or have an interest in the corporation's activities. This way of thinking about the corporation has been settled for more than a hundred years. Nevertheless, since the corporate form became the preferred vehicle for business organization during the second half of the nineteenth century, controversy has surrounded the place of the corporation in American society. Whether viewed as a source of monopolistic privilege or as a vehicle for dangerous concentration of wealth, corporate status has long implied economic and political power without accountability. Accordingly, historical American fears of unchecked power repeatedly have fueled debates over the need for legal regulation, even as large-scale production led to unprecedented efficiency and profits.



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