The Catholic Church.
I’m sure many different thoughts just zipped around in your brain, just from those couple words and a picture. But I’m guessing none of those thoughts were that the Catholic Church is technically a corporation.
Corporations go much farther back than our new fangled capitalistic idea of Corporate America would have us believe. They come from the Roman empire, from the Latin word “corpus“, meaning body, and were created so that a “body” of people could be grouped together with a common goal. Technically the Roman Empire itself was a corporation, Populus Romanus, and represented all the people living within its boundaries.
This concept of corporations slowly spread into European culture and municipalities, churches, and merchants groups gathered together to form corporations so that they could better protect their common interests. Corporations had the legal right to buy property, for the group, and the legal right to transact business, for the group.
Today we see a much different idea of what a corporation is. In business school, students learn that corporations exist to bring profit to their shareholders. And while yes, this is technically correct, the basic idea of corporations gets lost in this idea of profit only mentality. A corporation represents not only the people that put money into it, but also the people that are working for the corporation and people that are buying from a corporation.
Ultimately, if a corporation focused on how to create the most benefit for the group of people that it represents, profit would be one of many things that it would care about. The environment, human rights, transportation and infrastructure are all things that a corporation should care about, and that’s just the short list. A lot of people work in corporations and forget that they are a part of an organization of people.
There is a new type of organization that some people are trying to push through as legislation in some states. A Benefit Corporation would be an organization that allows itself to make business decisions that benefit its shareholders and stakeholders in other ways than just profit. There is also a nonprofit group called the “B Lab” (a little confusing) that helps along the road to becoming a Benefit Corporation by certifying that “B Corporations” are benefiting all the groups that it represents as best it can. Both of these two new pushes for corporations are helping the corporate world become a little less about profit and a little more about all the other things that should matter to a group of people.
The longevity of corporations may put a veil on what we are actually dealing with, but just like the Catholic Church, when we buy or sell, or work for or get fired from corporations, we are dealing with people. People are at the heart of corporations and if we can remember that we can begin to break from the delusion that profit is the only thing that matters in this world.