Building the New American Ownership Society from the Middle…Out

One Worker One Vote BlogNow that the elections are over and before the nation’s fiscal cliff becomes a roadrunner cartoon without a happy ending, how can “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” with more elected women reformat, reinvent and re-glue Humpty Dumpty America back together again? In fact, today’s transformational issue transfixing our immediate attention is twofold – whether the chicken or the egg comes first in the sense that as a political economy America benefits most from catering and kowtowing to the one percent or reconfiguring to expand out to the ninety-nine percent, and whether the “forty-seven percent” chicken and egg takers mooch from the fifty-three percent chicken and egg makers. One way to read recent electoral entrails is that a voting majority of Americans believe no chicken and no egg “hatched it by themselves.”

Everyone needs a fix in an economy that practices the most extreme forms of ubiquitous absentee ownership. Contemporary voters in urban and rural fly-over country clamor for an America unchained from disappearing weakened linkages between a rising middle class and those left behind no matter where, no matter who.An “economy built to last” juxtaposes real world budgetary priorities with credible-because-feasible deficit reduction measures that reflect imposing do-or-die challenges already at our doorsteps. This latter imperative, newly impacted by Hurricane Sandy’s exposed “Weather Security” infrastructure deficiencies, tightly connects disaster and climate responses superseding any siren calls of partisan politics to protect and empower highly-populated coastlines to reinvent the relationship between human activity and nature.

Protest and scheme as they will, the “business as usual” crowd on the losing Super PAC funding side of the November popular vote, including in nine out of ten swing states, can no longer dictate with any credibility whether the newly configured formula to rebuild America starts and finishes from the top-down as opposed to the middle-out. Looking at the cartographical red and blue demographic realities of America’s November 2012 electoral ground game, it’s hard to dismiss the conclusion that an echo from a previous, economic class Civil War has been fought and won anew with the moral battleground lines pretty much what they were 150 years ago.

Neo-reconstruction now begins with campaign-influenced results shaping how working class paycheck income is directly affected by reforming egregious tax loopholes benefiting a few at the expense of the many. Real systemic change working class people can believe in begins by curbing destructive corporate welfare and crony capitalism practices that accelerate inequalities and distort would-be free markets to limit labor as a processed commodity bought and sold without collective bargaining rights. Factually redefined, restructured and modernized entitlements begin by helping those with the greatest need and those who have faithfully and genuinely earned their benefits with both populations receiving the most targeted and useful assistance from a grateful and hopeful nation regardless of race, religion, geography or sexual preference.

Building from the middle-out calls for a new kind of equity cemented in emerging variations of the “localista” economy that is freed from false choices, those either-or constraints of global labor arbitraging versus profits or a clean environment versus a good family and community sustaining job. For example, the Cleveland Foundation’s Evergreen Cooperative Laundry holds the potential for its worker-owners each to earn roughly $65,000 in their individual retirement accounts if the enterprise they own and run continues to make business plan projections over the next six-to-eight years. This concrete accomplishment serves as a metric metaphor for what can resurge right in front of our doorsteps, down our streets and in our neighborhoods.

Thinking both “smarter and richer” enables government as an opportunity equalizer and convener to motivate private sector interests as funders and creators of ownership society nest eggs built from the middle-out. This business of lifting America up to new worker-centered economics with inspiring labor deployment and fulfillment standards requires both private and public sectors as well as individual commitments to relegate timecard punching to the dustbin of yesterday’s technology and culture.

Examples abound. Born from the seeds planted by the Pittsburgh Steel Valley Authority over a decade ago, the rapidly forming Heartland Capital Strategies (HCS) Labor Capital Network aggregates worker-friendly, responsible investors willing to commit their financial resource billions into profitable “doing well by doing good” funds and ventures that emphasize local labor and stakeholder economy values. This movement is poised to integrate with closely allied communities such as the National Cooperative Bank (NCB) and progressive credit unions, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) funders circle, and the slow money practitioners among the almost 200,000 small businesses, dedicated to triple bottom-line practices, belonging to the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC).

In the U.S. alone, member-owned organizations account for $3 trillion in assets, $500 billion in revenue and more than one million jobs. There are more than 15,000 employee-owned companies throughout the United States, 11,000 of them with employee stock ownership plans, and almost 2,000 where the employees own the majority of the stock. America’s New Ownership Society connects these corporate populations with the 350 million memberships that Americans hold in 29,000 cooperatives nationwide to provide heft and substance to the import and dimensions of building from the middle-out. Companies with broad-based ownership are more stable than companies without broad-based ownership – the former produces less job losses than the latter, outperforming those with greater differences between executive versus employee compensation.

The list of like-minded organizational adherents is growing rapidly. To cite just one trajectory, Mondragon USA is working with CUNY Law school, the Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative (CUCI, MIT CO-LAB, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC), Connecticut’s Union Rangers, the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), National Cooperative Bank (NCB), Heartland Capital Strategies’ (HCS) Labor Capital Network, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress (CAP), the Foundation for Enterprise Development (FED), the University of Toledo’s solar cluster, Penn State University’s Sustainability Institute, and the Blue Green Apollo Alliance in multiple geographies to create a new ownership framework and consensus through projects and companies where labor is sovereign and capital, while essential, is subordinate to labor. Other organizations such as the University of Maryland’s Democracy Collaborative and its participation in the Cleveland Foundation’s Evergreen cooperative platform based on Mondragon principles, Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center, Advance Memphis, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Cooperatives, B-LAB and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives are spinning out multiple projects in multiple geographies with multiple like-minded allies.

The role of federal, state and local governments as conveners, facilitators and equalizers serves to double down on making sure these new kinds of self-reliant, locally-owned, economically patriotic, worker friendly and community-centered businesses connect with each other and qualify for tax treatment, small business loans and training programs competitively. Projects and policies that incentivize “localista” ecosystem economies including next generation infrastructure “built to last” reap immediate employment results.

America’s New Ownership Society envisioned and engendered from the middle-out is witness to worker-friendly crowd-sourcing by irrepressible local movements and empowering organizations that swarm and intra-reinforce, churning, upwards to a new virtuous economy plateau. Incentivizing workers as owners in “doing well by doing good” projects and companies reflects core American values of self-reliance, community solidarity, equal opportunity reinforced by ownership principles and practices as ineluctable components of a reinvigorated American dream. The returns on democratically expanded ownership models are improved, self-reinforcing, customer satisfaction through higher accountability, productivity and efficiency. Shared common goals, principles and practices broaden the definition of value above and beyond the “bottom line” and into the peoples’ quadrant of a better, more productive and just marketplace geometry.

OWOVblogarchiveThis article first appeared on Michael Peck’s original One Worker One Vote blog which has been moved and archived here.