Is the United States a for-profit corporation?

A popular theory is that the United States is a for-profit corporation similar to McDonald's. A variety of arguments are used to try to support this claim. We intend to investigate those arguments, but first we need to get some fundamentals out of the way.

What is a country? What is a corporation?

A country, or nation-state, is a "public body corporate", a lawful entity consisting of various members. Countries are not incorporated with any superior entity – they are sovereign, answerable only to the political, economic and military force of other nations who dare oppose. In general, nations voluntarily follow principles of public international law in the interest of peace, order and mutual benefit.

A standard corporation, on the other hand, similarly consists of various members but is incorporated into, under and subject to a nation-state or state and its laws. The nature and necessity of such corporations is explored at length in Blackstone's Commentaries: Of Corporations.

People, men and women, human beings, whether citizens or not are not considered corporations under law, but natural persons. It is not possible to appear in law individually except as a natural person.

What is the United States?

The United States is a sovereign state with the Constitution as the foundational document and supreme law of the land. The United States entity, the same you see as a party in court cases, etc., was created implicitly by the Constitution. The United States is the highest entity that exists or can exist in the United States. The United States itself is not a standard corporation incorporated under any nation's laws (or its own), however the US may form and make use of various standard corporations internally.

Now that we're done with the formalities, let's debunk some pseudo-legal claims!

28 USC § 3002 Definition

The following definition is often claimed to be proof-positive that the United States is a corporation:

(15) “United States” means—
(A) a Federal corporation;
(B) an agency, department, commission, board, or other entity of the United States; or
(C) an instrumentality of the United States.

First we need to understand the basics of statutory word definition. If you read the top of the section carefully you will see the words "As used in this chapter". That means those definitions only apply within that chapter of the USC, which we see here. At a glance it covers about 124 sections out of many thousand in the USC. Moreover, the definitions only apply in federal proceedings that fall under that chapter. The same definition does not apply and is not used anywhere else.

So yes, for the purposes of that chapter, United States is defined as a Federal corporation. This argument is busted based on the scope of the definition alone – clearly something that applies in just one chapter of federal code can't override the entire nation. We can look further, though, to find the exact intent and reasoning behind the particular definition. From the description of the chapter we see it's related to federal debt collection procedure, which is a start.

How can we quickly find out more? We can search Google Scholar to see what the courts say. Clicking the first case and checking footnotes 8 and 9 sheds much light on the topic. Apparently the definition is related to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the intent is to limit the application to dealings with federal entities.

In passing the FDCPA, Congress evinced a clear intent to exclude private transactions — debts created under (and thus governed by) state law, and to which the United States was not an original party.

That explains that!

The District of Columbia

Some believe that the creation of a municipal or state-style government subject to Congress in the District of Columbia somehow changed the government and made everything, including the Constitution (the supreme law of the land, remember) subject to that corporation. This would be quite impossible and makes no sense. The created cannot supersede its creator. No legislation from Congress, no ruling from the Supreme Court, no Executive Order can destroy or replace the Constitution or the United States.

Where do the profits go?

Revenue collected by the United States is managed by the United States Department of the Treasury which has a number of responsibilities. Collected monies remain in the Treasury for use within the nation. Money cannot be removed except in accordance with US law under the Constitutional framework.

What say you? Do you think the United States is a "for-profit corporation"?