by Christopher Newfield

About Christopher Newfield

Christopher Newfield is Professor of American Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara. His most recent book is Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class.


In current usage, the keyword “corporation” is synonymous with “business corporation,” generally referring to a for-profit organization that can operate at the discretion of its owners and managers free of social and legislative control. The term is derived from the Latin corporatus, the present participle of corporare, which means “form into a body,” and appeared in English by 1530. A business corporation can own property; buy, sell, and control assets, including other corporations; pay or avoid taxes; write or break contracts; make and market products; and engage in every kind of economic activity. At the same time, the persons involved in a corporation have under most circumstances no liability for its debts. Since 1900, the corporation has been the dominant form for organizing capital, production, and financial transactions. By 2000, the corporation had become a dominant force in the global economy, the only alternative to the state as an organizer of large-scale production, a rival to national governments, and a powerful presence in the world’s cultures. Of the world’s hundred largest economies in 2000, forty-seven were nation-states and fifty-three were corporations.