Old/New Passion - Worker Cooperatives (Something to distract from thinking about Trump)

It All Started (for me) in 1975

"Old/New" is kind of perfect for a blog called "SeniorJunior," don't you think?

As a new - two years in - entrepreneur, I had a vision. It was 1975.

I and my partner Sebastian Stone were working twelve-hour days, flying all over the country seeking and serving clients, developing our systems, speaking at conferences, etc. In general we were doing the start-up boogie. AR&D (Audience Research & Development) was starting to pop. Visions are hard to come by under those circumstances, except all that time on airplanes allowed a lot of reading. 

I read a book by Louis Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler, The Capitalist Manifesto, and boom! vision time. I felt an epiphany wrapped up in the term ESOT.

We were planning expansion of staff, and we wanted the absolute best people in the radio research biz, mostly people who had impressive gigs.  Even though business was picking up, we couldn't afford them. 

And here was this idea "ESOTs," Employee Stock Option Trusts. In a one line description, employees are compensated with stock in the company as a central part of their "salary." Not options, stock. They would share in the management and direction of the company.  I could see this idea allowing us to afford expensive employees by letting them become co-owners in AR&D.

Louis O. Kelso, 1913 - 2001, one of my heroes

Long story short: After three years with tax lawyers and consultants, in my inexperience and naivety
I failed to pull this off. My excuse is that I was too busy with the rapidly growing biz and a merger with new partners Bill Taylor and Ed Bewley who were hesitant about the idea. Too bad (although we prospered for nearly 30 years). Adios ESOT. Forty years ago.

Then comes 2015, and I started listening to the podcast of a leftist economics professor Richard Wolff. He is a kick-ass critic of unfettered capitalism and an ardent supporter of workers' cooperatives. Suddenly I'm all worked up again. Worker co-ops hopscotch the ESOT gradual earning of ownership in an enterprise. Properly organized, the workers are the owners from day one.

The workers' co-op is the specific antidote to the hierarchical, "owner command" ownership model of unfettered capitalism in which the owners of corporations and the workers are mutually exclusive people, as are their interests. (People who own their place of employment are very unlikely to send their own jobs abroad.)

Richard D. Wolff, another hero - this one alive

Wolff blames income/worth disparity as a failing of the critter capitalism has evolved into. He makes a convincing case.

As we are all still absorbing the reality of a Trump presidency, Wolff has a super clear analysis that places economics as the #1 explanation for His Trumpness. Well, tied with the maddening hunger for change and the indisputable reality that Trump has the outrageous outsider image sewed up, and people conflate that with the capacity to be a change agent. The change Trump supporters want is governmental intrusion into the unfettered capitalism that allowed the rust belt to get rustier.

Worker cooperatives emerge as a really good way for capitalism to mutate within our existing systems. They could even be engines of collaboration between people with really different political views. Something like that must be the first step in national reconciliation. Can you imagine the Republican government encouraging this stuff?

Very interesting is the quasi-utopian idea that worker co-op companies can raise community comity. There is a fervent advocate of this upward step in workerscontrol.org. In an interview with Wolff, one of the founders Dario Azzellini talks about higher causes all wrapped around community involvement.

I like the Working Stiff art on their site.

I find contemplation of such humanitarian economic ideas a great comfort as we enter the complete unknown. 11.11.2016, Veterans Day.


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