“But corporations are not people,” Madison said.
“Well of course they aren’t,” Grampa countered. “Nobody said they were. It’s just that they are treated like people under the law.”
“But why?” Madison persisted. “Why should a business have a right to free speech?”
“It’s mostly about contracts,” he explained. “Imagine if to enter into a contract, every stockholder had to sign the paper. It would be impossible. By treating a corporation as a legal person, a lot of things like that become straightforward.”
“Do we have to discuss this over Christmas dinner?” Jenny asked.
Madison ignored her plea. “Well sure, that makes sense. But how do we go from there to corporations having religious freedom so they can be assholes to their gay employees? Or them having freedom of expression so they can dump money into politics to rig the game in their favor?”
Grampa shook his head, “It’s just a logical conclusion. Are you saying you know better than the Supreme Court?”
“No, Grampa. I understand that the court makes decisions based on the laws and precedents we have. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change the laws. Or amend the constitution if need be.”
“I don’t see the harm of leaving things the way they are,” Grampa said.
“Seriously?” Madison replied.
“The political money thing does seem to be a real problem,” Phil said.
Jenny shot him her withering look and he immediately turned his attention back to slicing the ham on his plate.
“Did you know that corporations can keep their ownership, headquarters, and pretty much all other information about them completely secret? Anyone can google your name, Grampa, and find out where you live from a dozen different sources. If they spend a few bucks, they can get your credit score, figure out how much you make, and learn how big your mortgage is. But if you try to figure out who is behind a private corporation—or even where they actually physically are—it’s completely impossible.”
“That doesn’t sound right,” he said.
“It’s true. My friend is a freaking computer genius, and she could not find anything about this company I’m investigating for a story. There’s a company with like a trillion dollar’s worth of stuff spanning the entire globe, and it’s a complete ghost,” she said.
“Is this about the warehouse?” Jenny asked.
“What warehouse?” Phil asked.
“That’s confidential, mom,” Madison said.
“Then we don’t have to talk about it at Christmas dinner,” Jenny replied sternly, raising an eyebrow.
Phil laughed. Then added, “But seriously. What warehouse? What are you two talking about?”
Madison sat in silence a moment. “Well I guess there’s no harm,” she said. “You are all sworn to secrecy, though. I don’t want you talking about this to anyone. Is that clear?”
“Perfectly clear,” Phil said.
“Grampa?” Madison asked.
He sighed. “Fine. What’s the big secret?”
“I am working on a story about a secret organization with high-level ties in the government. The cell in this city has a huge warehouse outside town that they are stocking with food, water, medicine, guns, money, you name it. And I have reason to believe there are literally thousands of other cells all over the world just like this one.”
A silent pall fell over the room. Everyone stared at Madison, who looked back at them quite seriously. Then Phil laughed.
“Oh my God. You totally had me going there,” he said, still laughing. “It’s fine. You don’t need to tell us what you’re working on.”
Grampa and Jenny were now laughing as well, and Madison decided to join in. Even as the words were leaving her mouth, she regretted saying them, and if everyone thought she was kidding, that was just fine with her.
“The whole capitalist system is terrible,” she said, when everyone had settled down.
“Are you a communist now?” Grampa asked.
“Here we go again,” Jenny muttered.
“I don’t think we should have a totalitarian government, if that’s what you mean,” Madison said. “But the system we have right now is terrible, and I have to imagine that there’s something between this hellscape and the Soviet Union.”
“Hellscape? Things aren’t that bad,” Grampa said. “You listen to too much mainstream media.”
“If people get really sick, they go bankrupt. If they lose their job, they can’t go to the doctor. If a kid has the misfortune of being born in a poor family, it’s next to impossible for them to not be poor themselves. The top zero point one percent of people in this country make about two hundred times what the bottom ninety percent make. How is that fair or just?”
“People who work hard and build something great should be compensated for that,” Grampa said. “If you don’t let people get the rewards, then people will stop building new businesses.”
“Will they, though?” Madison said. “I mean, if they get paid five million instead of fifty million, you think they’re going to go, ‘Oh fuck it, five million just isn’t enough! I’m going to be a janitor.’ Seriously?”
“Madison, language!” Jenny scolded.
“I think the markets make the best choices,” Grampa said. “If the labor market decided that salary was right for that CEO, because he was able to negotiate it with this board, then so be it.”
Madison sighed. “There’s no market deciding these things, Grampa. It’s a ruling class of oligarchs dividing up the pie amongst themselves and ignoring the needs of the proletariat. Things haven’t been this bad since the 1920s.”
“So you are saying the people are going to rise up and we’ll have our own Bolshevik revolution in this country?” he asked.
“One can only hope,” Madison said.
“Are there more rolls?” Phil asked. “Or do I need to rise up and go to the kitchen to liberate some?”
Jenny glared at him.