The enormity of what is happening in America begins to impact consciousness. Who could not applaud ordinary-extraordinary, every day Americans delivering the mail, counting the votes, saving the infected, those showing up and just doing their jobs, waiting patiently in voter suppressed lines for unconscionable hours while braving a pandemic to exercise their fundamental democratic rights?
Without believing in “Deus Ex Machina” constructs, it’s clear that the pandemic (not the crime but the cover-up) changed everything leading to last week’s dramatic and drawn out elections. To respect and honor such sacrifices, this moment summons an equally creative and productive enormity of solutions delivering on behalf of all America’s stakeholders.
Last night, President-elect Biden challenged America to unite and subdue coronavirus, confront, and dismantle systemic racism, and restore civic society decency. Each of these worthy goals can be achieved in large part by empowering and trusting the American people with the means to achieve them.
In this pursuit, “Building Back Fairer” tools of the trade abound. Defining and delivering truth to power, the foundational policy for fair and aspirational economies and societies that work for all is built around rising organic self-reliance transforming by flattening differentials between weakest and strongest, most precarious and affluent links. This starts with broadened and deepened, local stakeholder worker ownership undergirded by workplace democracy practices. Much harder to ignore, bypass or disenfranchise an equal equity share empowering a determined voice and deciding vote.
Globally, inspiring new practice and performance examples, metrics and vision on how to achieve this already inform. Harvard Business School professor, Rebecca Henderson, in “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire” (published April 2020 – Hachette) and former NY Federal Reserve board chair and Freelancers Union founder, Sara Horowitz, in “Mutualism: Building The Next Economy From The Ground Up” (published in Q1 2021 – Random House), provide overarching and compelling mission diagnoses, prescriptions and constructs for deliberate and consequential socioeconomic transformation. Freeing “humanity@work” from skewed shareholder primacy values and visibly unfair plantation economy preconditions become the first curves to flatten during a global pandemic.
Systemic racism baked into unleashed “free” trade negatively impacts rarely transparent or fair labor markets especially for those commoditized and arbitraged, marginalized, and disenfranchised, outsourced and outshored. As a first antidote, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) and 1worker1vote movement recently combined forces to focus on fair trade principles and practices infusing the global cooperative community and start this two-way process on small and medium enterprise levels.
The shovel-ready United States can be viewed as a massive, tens of thousands of tons aircraft carrier navigating blue oceans in pursuit of a better world. Even a one-degree change in higher values-aligned and purpose-driven directions can upscale everything through untold, exponentially rippling waves of impact becoming tsunamis, rolling pebbles starting avalanches. Bipartisan-honored, tried and true American self-reliance and self-help principles inclusively combining individual entrepreneurship with community solidarity can move this process forward.
As a first example, we can start by empowering America’s frontline healthcare, homecare and emergency response workers unfailingly and unflinchingly risking their lives to save others while deprived of the most basic institutional and material PPE (personal protection equipment) support. For the incoming Administration as part of a first reform construct when appointing “a supply commander to oversee production and distribution of testing — and, when ready, vaccines — as well as materials such as masks and gowns”, why not concurrently help launch the creation of nationwide regional and municipal shared services cooperatives networks, democratically owned and governed by both users and suppliers, so that those with most at stake can take firmer PPE control of their own lives?
A model to do this has already been framed by volunteers from the American Business Council, Catholic Charities USA, Urban Manufacturing Alliance, Michigan’s Minority Supplier Development Council, SEIU-UHW and others. In addition to making sure frontline workers get the right & best quality PPE on time & at lowest cost, the federal government should also be capable of advancing and connecting “made in America” manufacturer supply chain communities and specifically from local MBE social enterprises in frontline ecosystems paying the highest COVID-19 human cost. Build back fairer through individual self-reliance.
Second, instead of blaming USPS workers, part of America’s most diversified workforce, for mail-in ballot delays resulting from short and long term legislative and operational postal obstructionism imposed by partisanship, why not liberate the U.S. Post Office to fulfill its intended mandate by empowering its workers? America’s founders saw the Postal Service as an essential vehicle for other rights, especially the freedom of the press: one of the first postal laws set a special discounted rate for newspapers. But they also understood that a national post unifies a nation, allowing its citizens to stay connected with their federal government fairly and freely guarantying equal last mile delivery no matter where or to whom within all geopolitical boundaries and “without fear or favor”.
Time to liberate USPS by offering its workers opportunity to become worker-owners with a voice, a vote, equal equity through ongoing collective bargaining agreements and still tethered to the entire nation’s through an equally bipartisan federal golden share. Such restructuring is already possible via a hybrid union-cooperative framework represented to date by private sector U.S. union coops in business sectors such as healthcare (includes homecare and nursing), food desert grocery stores, fishing, logging, energy efficiency, solar installations, child care, transportation, design printing, window manufacturing, agriculture, education, biking, software systems, marketing and communications, and soon medical cannabis. Scale exists and industry focus is broad and varied. Build back fairer with no last mile destination left behind starting with a nationwide conversation through www.USPS.Coop.
A USPS union coop could borrow structural ideas from California’s pending Cooperative Economy Act (“CEA” https://cooperativeplatform.org/) advanced by enlightened Labor (SEIU-UHW), an idea whose time is more relevant than ever (https://1worker1vote.org/anchoring-americas-solidarity-economy-helps-to-heal-pandemic-inequality-challenges/). Instead of other states worrying about the recent passage of Proposition 22 in California sold to an unsuspecting public by predatory gig economy companies, better to perceive how Mother Nature demonstrates poison and its antidote growing side by side.
In full pandemic venom, Prop 22 “denies workers full benefits, true minimum wage guarantees and stability”, promised by its perpetrators to extend invasively nationwide to other state governments “particularly through a provision requiring amendments to pass with a supermajority of seven-eighths of the Legislature”. Sooner rather than later, CEA supporters in California and other states will get to fill the social contract vacuum abandoned by California’s gig companies to “devise a system that allows for both direct employment and flexible hours…sensible legislation that extends meaningful protections to gig workers while providing flexibility and a path to the stability that employment guarantees”. Prop 22 props up its own built-in demise with CEA as a surging antidote example sharing fairer rewards and risks at a time when building back fairer for underserved communities in both Red and Blue states represents an unconditional operational necessity.
A Separate and not Equal society has no choice but to set up comparable institutions producing two competing results until Wall Street and Government realize that American socioeconomic apartheid is the part of the house divided against itself that cannot stand, either morally or profitably. The pandemic underlines this truth even more clearly. Make no mistake – Prop 22 is just the latest socioeconomic apartheid flavor of the month. “From Reconstruction to the New Deal to the civil rights revolution, conservatives have long felt genuinely victimized by the prospect of equality”. The markets have already moved to a more fair direction.
The Impact Alpha newsletter reports that, “Urgent action to mitigate the climate emergency is pro-business. Crushing the pandemic is pro-business. Eliminating racial bias is pro-business. Biden’s plans call for investing trillions in manufacturing and innovation, infrastructure and the clean energy future, the caregiving and education workforce, and to advance racial equity. That is helping make the transition to a low-carbon and more inclusive economy the markets’ new growth story. Impact investing and environmental, social and governance, or ESG, strategies have attracted new capital – and outperformed – despite the Trump Administration’s attempts to turn back the tide.” Even market conservatives should want to follow this money.
Stakeholder capitalism stimulus packages could see the Federal Reserve steward debt and transitional equity stakes in large-and-small-scale social enterprises where workers own and govern their workplaces. “The result will be a capitalism that would be familiar to Americans in the 1950s, with norms that balance shareholder interests with broader social concerns and a more interventionist regulatory state” (Peter Orszag op-ed for Bloomberg).
America’s two main political parties are not far behind. David Brooks stabs at this emerging reveal, “It’s not policies that cost Democrats. The core Biden policies are astoundingly popular. It’s that they’ve built a cultural blue wall that keeps the other half of the country out, no matter the circumstance”… We now have two parties whose best version of themselves is as working-class parties. Maybe the next few years can be a partisan competition over who is best for Americans without college degrees”.
Again, it’s back to the future building fairer culture benefitting from nationwide political competition between Republican and Democrat populism under an excruciating pandemic lens. Let the markets help to see whose proposals, policies, formulas, anecdotes and metrics appear not only more authentic but also more transformative, proving their mettle and character primarily in terms of facilitating tangible collective wealth, power and freedom to individual workers. Not upwards or downwards but in situ, enlarging a rising middle class of local stakeholders.
This showdown will mean more federal involvement in industry but going beyond the conventional bandages of worker training, wage subsidies and tax breaks in favor of sustaining cures such as infrastructure and worker ownership banks funding R&D industrial and innovation policy with stakeholder equity and democratic governance front and center. Perhaps a flattened, more inspiring, inclusive and fair shared ownership culture can bridge anachronistic and antagonistic Red & Blue partisan divides?
America is fast approaching the day when robots will be issued with birth certificates and periodically reissued with drivers licenses and voting registration. Robots that will be rented out to factories and businesses by their individual owners and taxed accordingly. An equity-industrial formula more market forces centric than universal basic income or tuition free education focused, but potentially equally effective in tandem.
Coop Cincy (www.coopcincy.org) and its CareShare model (www.careshare.coop) show how it’s possible for socially enlightened models to fulfill the worker ownership promise teased out more frequently than before in mainstream media. “Within the next decade, we expect worker- and employee-owned companies to grow in popularity thanks to three mutually reinforcing trends: First, renewed interest in ensuring the economic viability of local communities suggests that Baby Boomer owners about to retire are increasingly likely to want to sell to workers. Second, evidence is mounting that worker- and employee-owned enterprises outperform their competitors, especially during economic downturns… Third, as a result of strong performances by worker- and employee-owned companies, it is becoming easier for workers to overcome arguably the biggest hurdle to worker buyouts: financing. (Why the US Needs More Worker-Owned Companies – Harvard Business Review – August 2018).
Still another tripartite virtuous cycle, build back fairer opportunity to consider: why not solve America’s affordable housing crisis, inhuman transportation commutes for those who can’t afford to live where their jobs are crisis, and current downtown pandemic-seized commercial office glut crisis together? Converting underutilized and vacant downtown commercial office real estate into safe, sustainable affordable housing solves multiple socioeconomic problems concurrently. Offering in-place, comprehensive infrastructure solutions with massive job and technology opportunities to convert and restore in a pandemic preparatory context without replacing represents multiple win scenarios.
Marketplace Humanity has entered an era of competing and collaborating to flatten curves. Two of the ten commandments to defeat the biomedical virus, in addition to a universally available and affordable competent vaccine, include turning down the gain on unchecked partisan cultural fevers and crushing embedded inequalities. No longer a choice but a necessity, pandemic-failing cultures and societies continue to obstruct progress at risk of their own functional dissolution as surging death and infection counts export wealth and wellbeing to more agile, responsive, and productive economies.
COVID-19 redefines globalism by irrevocably altering how fragile societal cohesion and interdependency parameters impact performance and by how accelerating cross-border and silo-dismantling collaboration produce emergency cures and breakthroughs. Benchmarked GNP results already showcase festering socioeconomic inequalities derived from incompetent, zero-sum cultures dividing into performative geopolitical winners and losers, the United States currently chief among the latter.
Biden-Harris “Build Back Fairer” can turn this around for an America still believing in market forces but needing to harness their power through additive momentum rather than polarizing binary confrontation. The post-election emerging bipartisan economic populism mosaic shows how the qualities of humility, tolerance, compromise, and solidarity can intersect with innovation and creativity of all kinds and from all locales and sources to reconstruct the founding constitutional idea of a rising American whole greater than the sum of conflicted parts.
All infrastructure and economic development policies must aim squarely in the “build back fairer” quadrant to bring this mandate to life urgently and organically first in the most broken places.