Class Privilege

Class Privilege

How Law Shelters Shareholders and Coddles Capitalism

By Harry Glasbeek


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  • Errol Sharpe Book Prize, 2018 (Winner)

Capitalism’s agenda is the endless pursuit of private accumulation of socially produced wealth. In our system, the corporation—created by law—is meant to hide this agenda, to distract us so that flesh and blood capitalists can do what they like. But when the workings of the corporation are examined, they reveal a betrayal of the very values and norms that, for their legitimacy’s sake, capitalists in our parts of the world purport to share.

Harry Glasbeek highlights one of capitalism’s weak spots–the perverting economic, political, and ethical roles played by the prime instrument of private wealth accumulation: the legal corporation. Once the corporate mask is ripped off, those who hide behind it become visible. Stripped of their protective garb, the capitalist class will be just as naked as the rest of us are when we face their corporations.

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A must read!

– David Jacobs, The Taylor Report

Harry Glasbeek has written an accessible guide to how the law creates and sustains class privilege through corporate capitalism. Shining a light on controlling shareholders, this book exposes how, through law, the real human beings behind the corporate veil are shielded from accountability for social and economic harms. In demystifying this technical knowledge, Glasbeek identifies practical points of leverage and legal principle that can be harnessed for real change.

– Fay Faraday, social justice lawyer, visiting professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, and Packer Visiting Chair in Social Justice, York University

Glasbeek cleverly and completely exposes the imaginary ideological clothing of the ersatz corporate royalty and shows how the real mechanisms of modern market society work to concentrate capital.

– Howard A. Doughty, The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal

Through his consistently forensic use of legal methodology, real conceptual sophistication, and via a wealth of data, Glasbeek comprehensively—with fury, irony, disgust, and humour—reveals how corporate capitalism is no more and no less than a system that privileges the shareholding class. Challenging the bases of toxic class privilege—the edifice that is the corporation, and the subservient complex of bourgeois law—this majestic text reinvigorates the belief that a better world remains within our grasp.

– Steve Tombs, professor of criminology, The Open University, UK

Harry Glasbeek lays bare the legal underbelly of the corporation. With clarity, insight, and wit, he reveals law’s one-sided protection of capitalism’s beneficiaries, illuminates the unjust and devastating consequences for people and planet, and shatters the corporation’s sustaining myths. Elegantly written, engaging, and persuasive, Class Privilege is a must-read for anybody seeking to understand the world in which we live, especially in this time of spiralling corporate power.

– Joel Bakan, professor of law, University of British Columbia and author of The Corporation: the Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power

Harry Glasbeek not only reveals how the economy really works, but also provides the key to analysing other economies and the global capitalist system.

– Frank Pearce, co-author of Toxic Capitalism: Corporate Crime and the Chemical Industry

Harry Glasbeek’s meticulously argued and supremely convincing book exposes one of the great political and economic deceptions of our time: that the corporation is somehow autonomous from the people who own and profit from it. Class Privilege literally tears away the corporate veil with finely crafted analytical precision that allows us to see exactly how shareholders hide behind a machinery of economic growth and human waste that is quickly pushing us to extinction.

In demystifying this dehumanizing machine that we call the corporation, Glasbeek shows us how we can be truly human again: by taking back control of our lives and livelihoods from the wealthy minority who hide behind the corporation. This book does not trivialize or oversimplify the enormity of the task that confronts us in beginning to dismantle corporate power; by not shirking from a full exposition of what needs to be done, Glasbeek gifts us with a clear set of instructions that tell us where to start.

– David Whyte, professor of socio-legal studies, University of Liverpool, UK and co-author of Corporate Human Rights Violations: global prospects for legal action

With this extremely timely and immensely readable book, Harry Glasbeek does for the lay reader what he has done for generations of his law students. Deploying loads of fascinating cases from Canada and around the world with great felicity, profound insight, and charming wit, he lifts the veil of legal jargon to explain in the clearest terms how corporations and states intertwine through laws and regulations, courts and tribunals, to allow corporate executives and directors, shareholders and investors, to systematically screw workers, consumers, and citizens, and to accumulate wealth and power at the public’s expense.

– Leo Panitch, senior scholar and emeritus distinguished research professor, York University

With deep insight and biting humour, Glasbeek exposes the ideological myths of corporate law, which allow flesh and blood capitalists to voraciously pursue profits without responsibility for the inevitable harms their activities impose on the rest of us. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how law belies its promise of equal justice for all and instead protects the interests of the few.

– Eric Tucker, professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

In this profound and fascinating book, Harry Glasbeek rips the legal mask off the ‘corporation.’ In highly readable prose, he shows how the law hides and distorts the true role played by shareholders, shielding them from responsibility as they ruthlessly acquire the riches we all produce. Every progressive should read this book.

– Linda McQuaig, author of All You Can Eat: Greed, Lust and the New Capitalism

This book is a contemporary Mirror for Magistrates for all professionals and regulators who could expose the falsehoods, fictions, and fallacies of corporate law and regulation but choose not to. It is the current honest politicians’ and ethical citizens’ guide to corporate capitalism and the reform of its unethical and unsustainable values. It highlights the legal incentives for controlling shareholders to be careless with others’ lives and wellbeing. It illustrates how limited liability and separate legal personality confer immunity for their dishonest conduct. It illuminates how they lead to unfair inequalities in wealth. It sets out in plain and urgent language the necessary reforms to make controlling shareholders, like other citizens, responsible and accountable for their actions refuting the arguments that this is too hard.

– Neil Andrews, professor of law, Victoria University, Australia and past editor of the Australian Journal of Corporate Law

Class Privilege provides a stunning critique of corporate capitalism and the controlling shareholders hiding behind the bourgeois legal categories of corporate personhood and limited liability to reap massive financial rewards whilst routinely evading responsibility for the many and devastating harms generated by their corporation. Glasbeek’s work is a much-needed corrective to the ‘thinking capitalists’ and their state enablers who desperately plead their case for saving corporate capitalism and to the corporation’s many academic cheerleaders who naively cling to the belief that we can somehow rid the corporation of its predatory instincts so that it might finally realize its social and economic benefits.

Class Privilege is a must-read for those who find themselves questioning the legitimacy of the modern corporation and for those currently struggling against the capitalist status quo in the hopes of realizing a better, more just alternative.

– Steven Bittle, associate professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa


Introduction Confronting Flesh-and-Blood Targets
Part I The Corporation: Law's Gift to Capitalists
Chapter 1 A Corporation Is Born
Chapter 2 Cooking the Books
Chapter 3 Gaming the System
Part II The Shareholder: The Privileging of a Class
Chapter 4 The Shareholder as Gambler
Chapter 5 The Shareholder as Toxin
Chapter 6 The Shareholder as Victim
Part III The Corporate Actor: Piercing the Veil
Chapter 7 The Ideal of Individual Responsibility
Chapter 8 The Ideal Abandoned
Chapter 9 Too Hard to Find? The Anecdotal Riposte
Chapter 10 Too Hard to Find? The Empirical Riposte
Chapter 11 The Role of Limited Liability
Chapter 12 Social Welfare
Chapter 13 A Step off the Road to Serfdom