The story of the $6-Billion Man isn't a tale told of scientists, but of judges and lawyers. It concerns how a paper entity, a corporation, is being turned into a human being enjoying all the rights and privileges of a citizen, but few of the citizen's responsibilities.
Outfits like Dow Chemical are sending their lawyers into court to cash in on the modish desire for deregulation -- they want to keep federal safety and health inspectors off the premises. And lawyers are arguing that General Motors is a person in the same sense you and I are people and that health inspectors violate Mr. Motors' Fourth Amendment constitutional rights against search and seizure.
When the Environmental Protection Agency avoided getting a search warrant and, instead of irying to walk onto the plant grounds, took aerial pictures, Dow went to court and claimed its privacy had been invaded. General Motors has gone to court claiming its Fifth Amendment rights to due process have been violated by Federal Trade Commission efforts to study the economics and competition -- or lack thereof -- in the automobile industry.
I'll bet you didn't know that GM, far from being the world's largest manufacturing corporation, is just the guy next door. Corporations, without usurping the rights of human beings, already enjoy a privileged position human beings don't. The owners of a corporation cannot be held personally liable for the crimes their employes and agents, i.e., the corporation's executives, may commit in order to further the corporation's interests. As individual property owners, we humans are legally liable for the way we use our property. Be it in the form of money or anything else, if we injure another with it we must pay and/or go to jail. The owners of corporate persons, the stockholders, get off scot free.
Severing ownership of property from the responsibility for its use and abuse is an enormous privilege. The rationale for granting it is that it encourages people to invest by making it less risky and more convenient.
On top of absolving stockholders of any liability for any crime committed on their behalf, we've moved to protect corporations in more ways than anybody but a Wall Street lawyer knows. They include such things as Workmen's Compensation laws, which have made it harder for injured employes to sue negligent corporate employers for the loss of an eye or an arm. The government even offers corporations low-cost insurance to compensate them for having their property expropriated by revolutionary governments such as the one coming to power in Iran.
For the government to get a search warrant to enter your house and examine its contents, some judge has to be persuaded that there is probable cause evidence of a crime will be found.
That's a perfectly acceptable standard for the protection of an individual human being's rights, but applied to a corporation, it's a public-health and safety disaster. It means there can be no active government program of prevention. It means nothing can be done until the eye is poked out, the hand chopped off, the liver poisoned.
The courts gradually are moving toward accepting the argument that you have to treat Anaconda Copper or Alcoa like the boy next door. Judges are as susceptible to fashionable thinking as the rest of us and deregulation is the vogue right now, as much of it should be. But deregulation that leaves us naked to being poisoned, radiated, blinded, balded, maimed and mutilated by enormous organizations over which we have abandoned all control is nothing short of screwy.