No Healthy Economy Without Healthy Workers

The facts are in, clear and simple, for all to see. “USA, USA”, the planet’s richest, most self-promoting  country measured in individual consumption power with five percent of the world’s population, has let its guard down.   Mismanaging its way to producing 25% of the world’s infected victims, “America the Pitiful”  daily magnifies and exposes top-down structural defects of its “winners take all”, commoditizing and self-delusional culture.  

“No healthy economy without a healthy people” is more than a mantra, it is the pandemic survival Magna Carta. Even Jerry Maguire’s cinematic comic-tragic plea, “help me, help you”, was proceeded by a POC  admission of love currently MIA from those elected and appointed officials busily undermining the extension of $600 per week coronavirus social distancing unemployment benefits for underserved economic classes.   

Ideological points of privilege and plutocratic “honor” without any moral shame pretending to lead a nation exceeding forty million unemployed with over thirty million starting to experience housing eviction and food poverty especially in food deserts.  What Axios refers to as the “quintuple whammy: unemployment, overdue rent, mounting bills, food insecurity and health fears.” 

Thomas Frank’s seminal “What’s the Matter with Kansas” in 2004 has degenerated into “What’s the Matter with the rest of America” in 2020, where FDR’s Great Depression “one-third ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-fed” portrait is now both prophecy and prologue to an even greater human misery index. The United States of Opioid & Coronavirus Pandemics, One Nation under a Prosperity Gospel God, where 40.1% of the population still approves of the Man on Horseback theory of caudillo government.

In “America the Deceitful”, truly cruel and corrupt means justify the “I did it all myself” ends. Neo-Confederacy voter suppression, Murdochian propaganda masquerading as news, U.S. Post Office mail-in ballot capacity disfiguring, U.S. Census count blocking, and collaborating with Russia social media manipulation and electoral sabotaging justify “staying in power at all costs”.  No matter how high the body count rises, the treason stench penetrates, even if the President’s impending seventh bankruptcy burns the republic to the ground after the billionaires escaped to Mars or New Zealand.

It does not have to be this way.  Flattening COVID contagion curves compels we flatten inequality pandemic curves concurrently and decisively.  Metrics show that broadened and deepened, inclusive stakeholder worker ownership helps to make sure that flattened curves become sustaining virtuous cycles for the common good.  

Much harder for despots and autocrats kicking down while sucking up to ignore an equity share empowering a voice and a vote. Much better to invest in and practice genuine sustaining vaccines and closely related social distancing cures without wasting non-renewable, precious human time while still alive. A re-empowering civic equity culture will not be so easily side-swiped and distracted by empty and farcically cruel political photo-ops and status quo band-aides protecting bait & switch policies extending embedded inequalities that already force-feed an insatiable virus.

Emerging competitive values equations demanding better structures start with more inclusive and expanded stakeholder culture where ownership is foundational. Metrics further show that broad-based, worker-owned social enterprises and ecosystems through shared high road principles and practices are more stable, inclusive, equitable, democratic, resilient, and competitive with fewer job losses, especially during downturns. Research proves that combining an equity stake with participatory ownership culture (essentially the definition of a worker cooperative) creates better and more resilient businesses. 

The virus is pulling off societal scabs revealing that for the geographically disenfranchised, economically abandoned and technologically  “creatively destroyed”, aspirational and decent work is an oxymoron. Global, neoliberal-sanctioned labor arbitraging formulas and markets built on exterritorial, financialized commodity exchanges offshore, outsource and upend generationally sabotaged lives and communities for pennies on the labor dollar. “Free” markets global trade whitewashing and self-interested philanthropic pretense to the contrary,  populations in so-called functioning democracies vote for BREXIT and “America First” because, to quote Janis Joplin, “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”.

Why can’t an infected America heal itself by  practicing, teaching, and advocating for a level playing field marketplace, one where “invisible hands” become transparent to eschew corporatist, rent-seeking corruption?  Why can’t politicians, policy mavens, business leaders and academic poohbahs support deepened and broadened self-reliance and resiliency through individual worker ownership with equity, a voice, a vote and yes, a Magna Carta collective bargaining agreement to keep passive income powerbrokers, social media “guns for hire” influencers, vulture investors and other would-be mandarins greed and dominance-checked? 

Who determined society should categorize makers and takers as organically separate and keep them unequal when it so plainly takes an integrated, collaborating village to heal a pandemic? How many more deaths will it take before America realizes that how much we need each other is, in itself, a more perfect business structure construct and union?

The virus is proving that neither the preexisting world of inherited comparative advantages and plantation privilege, nor its forever unequal markets for those whose labor is perennially commoditized,  can afford to be driven primarily by narrow self-interest. Narrowly defined economic perspectives charged with the care and feeding of rich people at the exclusion of everyone else has produced a neocolonialist straitjacket social order, a Joycean “nightmare of history” from which the virus wakes us “woke” unless it kills us first.” 

Those who measure commercial success with “free” market axioms and assumptions by taking them outright as “droits de seigneur”, without bothering to share risks and rewards in kind, lend credence to the perception that “every billionaire is a social policy failure”.  Even if that isn’t so, every worker in America paid starvation and deprivation wages is a reoccurring public policy death star aimed right at the newly christened pandemic “indispensable” workforce.

It’s way past time to stop short-changing “humanity@work”, and take the corporatist-monopolist-oligarchic, “plantation economics” boot off of our collective necks. Then, stakeholder economies can breathe more freely and begin to believe in hope. This liberation process starts in a world of aspirational work, workplace democracy, and inclusive equity practicing planetary and basic civil society stewardship.

Markets already show this approach to be more resilient and therefore more productive and profitable in mid and long terms for “value-through-values” investors.  This is especially true when stakeholders are shareholders and can self-value accordingly to thwart a pandemic, heal and reinvent their own lives.

Such “good trouble capitalism” is profitable. In a Stakeholder Economy, doing well by doing good makes sure the common good is upfront, inclusive, ubiquitous, intergenerational and place based. Speaking truth to power is de rigueur healthy, uplifting those whose voices are finally heard, respected, re-enfranchised and reincorporated center stage and center ring.  “Good trouble capitalism” reconfigures yesterday’s “free in name only” extractive trading market economy into networks of stakeholder virtuous cycles beyond borders. An abundance of local and global stakeholder equity earned and invested in regeneratively fair trade social enterprises and ecosystems ensures both viruses, biomedical and inequality, steal their last gasps anywhere and everywhere.

 Michael Alden Peck
 August 11, 2020
Alexandria, Virginia