Monday, October 22, 2012

Owning Our Future: A Solution to Plutocracy

Amazing, amazing conversation between Bill Moyers and journalists Matt Taibbi and Chrystia Freeland this week. Freeland's new book, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, exposes the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

Screen shot of Bill Moyers talking with Matt Taibbi and Chrystia Freeland
It's worth watching the whole thing (including Freeland's anecdote about a Silicon Valley tech guy who bemoaned how his privileged status makes him a jerk while he simultaneously acted like a jerk). But the question she raises near the end of the talk was perhaps the most important part:

Where, she asked, are progressives with new ideas to challenge the plutocratic way of the world? Where is our Teddy Roosevelt or FDR?

Cover of Owning Our Future
I think I've seen the answer, and it's in Marjorie Kelly's book Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution. Like Freeland, Kelly feels the challenge to think of new ways of doing capitalism:
Our minds have been so colonized by the paradigm of industrial-age capitalism that we've lost the ability to imagine other ways to organize an economy (page 115).
But imagining those ways is her purpose. Kelly uses the term generative economy (as opposed to the extractive economy of the plutocracy) and provides detailed examples of new or under-appreciated ways of organizing capitalism.

Producer and consumer cooperatives are key among what Kelly describes, but also companies like the employee-owned British department store chain John Lewis Partnership, community banks like Massachusetts's Beverly Cooperative Bank, and B Corporations.

In looking at Maine's North End Lobster Co-op, Kelly tells how the co-op and the state have limited extractive economics:
Large corporate boats can operate only in designated areas. Instead of permitting limitless liberty to absentee owners for the seeking of wealth -- by hired hands indifferent to local custom -- Maine set spinning a new governing pattern…. That the right to make a living comes before the right to make a killing. That fairness for the many is more important than maximizing for the few. That sustaining the prosperity of larger living systems, both human and wild, is the root condition for the flourishing of all. (page 138)
Kelly sees four broad categories of generative ownership:
  • Common ownership and governance
  • Stakeholder ownership
  • Social enterprise
  • Mission-controlled corporations (pages 141-142)
And five elements that make up generative ownership design:
  • Living purpose
  • Rooted membership
  • Mission-controlled governance
  • Stakeholder finance
  • Ethical networks (page 147)
There's a lot more in the book, particularly details about the operation and organization of the generative businesses. I hate to say it, but it was hard to put the book down, I was so excited by it. 

This is what we need to create a positive vision of society that we can propose in the face of the failing plutocratic model of extractive capitalism. What we need are more people working out these ideas and describing more examples.

One closing thought from Owning Our Future, from Kelly's discussion of the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership:
When JLP draws a boundary to define who's inside the firm, it draws that boundary around employees. Capital providers, on the other hand, are outside the perimeter of the firm…. This arrangement at JLP corrects an oddity in our economy that we rarely notice: that in extractive enterprise, the people who go to a company every day and do its work, the employees, are considered outsiders. Those who never set foot in the place, the stockholders, are insiders. (page 168, emphasis added)
How sad that this simple, fair idea is seen as unusual within the reigning form of capitalism.

1 comment:

Daughter Number Three said...

This comment was sent in by Patricia Cumbie by email, after she was stumped five times by the Google captcha. (I have now disabled the captcha.)

"Here, here DN3! What an excellent post. Thanks for writing what so many of us have been thinking.

"When people bemoan Wall Street and are on the search for alternative economic models, this is a really good one: cooperation! I'm excited about the possibilities in Marjorie Kelly's book, too."