In My Utopia

One of the great failures of Capitalism is that so much of our capital – and our employment opportunities – belong to people far removed from the real economy of work. One of the great failures of Communism, with its laudable goal of giving control of the “means of production” to the workers, was that it allowed the state to be a surrogate for the worker in holding that control.

In my Utopia, every business unit would be, to a large degree – at least half, owned directly by the workers. There is evidence that the model works. Making it ubiquitous may even come naturally. The hurdle, especially in 2009, is that investment capital isn’t easy to come by, and the institutional flow of money is currently channeled through long lines of bankers and financiers, each with their hand out for a slice. Creating a direct relationship between investors – who may also become shareholders – and employee owners is a first step. Insulating that relationship from financial instruments traded as derivatives in the paper-swapping capitalism of today is probably going to be a necessary second step.

And, to whatever extent that business is local, with employee owners being community members, we can expect them to have a natural interest in the health of the community which is served by and provides a home to the business. To the extent that it is non-local, it may be necessary to invest the community in the process in another way.

To the extent that an exploitative model can operate more cheaply than the Utopian model (by paying workers less, giving less thought to the interests of the home community), this idea may be a pipe dream. Nevertheless, I think there is an opportunity for it to work, if employee ownership becomes an organized trend and can scale to larger projects.

Out of time today, but I’ll probably be coming back to this.

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