The Lesson From Lac-Megantic is that Limited Liability + Bankruptcy = Corporate Welfare

The original function of a corporation was to shield the personal assets of shareholders from personal liability for the debts or actions of a corporation. Most of the protections corporations enjoy today, including limited liability for shareholders which dates back centuries, were already in place by the 1950s. The insanity of corporate personhood has allowed bankruptcy laws created to protect breathing human beings from being tossed into prison because they got sick or got behind on the automobile payments or doctor bills to protect the non-breathing corporations.

Corporations hide their assets by shuffling them around between interlocking corporate ownership webs, and then claim poverty in bankruptcy court as MM&A and Rail World, the multinational corporation who owns them [Ed Burkhardt being the asshole-in-chief of both], has done. According to Canadian court documents, MM&A has just $18 million in assets in Canada. Documents filed in a Maine court say the parent company has between $50 million and $100 million in estimated assets in the US. In addition MM&A has a paltry $25 million insurance policy, the minimum they are legally required to have.

Common sense dictates that the court hold the company liable for all cleanup and victims' costs. If they go bankrupt, who cares. If the court needs to seize their assets, or the assets of the parent company, and sell them off, ditto. Unfortunately, in previous similar cases the court's decisions provide legal loopholes for corporations that allows them to escape what common sense rightly dictates the punishment should be.

The most recent estimates are that the cleanup costs in Lac-Megantic will be at least $200 million. On top of that MM&A faces at least 47 separate lawsuits by the families of those killed and at least 30 more from the owners of the properties destroyed. Those suits will certainly add many millions more to MM&A and hopefully Rail World's costs. Who pays the difference? We all know the answer - the taxpayers.

Nothing new here really, successive governments in Canada, the US, the UK and every common law country have for centuries passed laws that protect the rich from the clutches of the poor. That's capitalism. That's democracy. That's crap IMO.

Think about it, unlike the limited liability afforded corporate type persons, when a breathing type person causes huge damage by their actions that they can't pay to fix out of their current bank account does the breathable type person get protected? Do we the breathable get to say that the wages earned last year can't be seized or that homes can't be foreclosed on because they were paid for before our current bad judgement caused this disaster? No. But the past profits and dividends earned by the shareholders of the non-breathable types are protected.

Then there's the bankruptcy protection that sees senior debt holders, like the banks who have the leverage to demand that loans be secured by the corporation's assets meaning they, by law, get paid first. Consequently the banks will get paid off first by the bankruptcy court and the families, the property owners and cleanup of Lac-Megantic will get what's left.

These bankruptcy and limited liability laws that protect the banks and the speculators are a clear example of corporate welfare. The people of Lac-Megantic are by themselves powerless. Never in history have the elites voluntarily given up their privileges, and they won't now either. Perhaps one day before what we call civilization collapses the under-classes will pull back the curtain and see that the seemingly all-powerful elites are, like the Wizard of Oz, all smoke and no fire.

The 'corporate state' is at this point invulnerable to either democratic change or violent revolution, but it is vulnerable to folks ignoring it, vulnerable to being undermined by non-participation, to folks simply 'dropping out'. Perhaps the lessons of Lac-Megantic's will be the lens that focuses the many on the real weakness' of the few.