The wealth divide looks like it’s going to keep growing, and if you’re on the wrong side of it you – and your kids – could have a pretty tough life. It’s the age-old battle of the business-owning capitalists trying to increase profits and the working class trying to earn enough to live. A simple way around this is to blend the two – have the workers own the company.
For example, let’s take a factory that manufactures auto parts, and employs a hundred workers. There is constant stress between the workers, who want higher wages, and the owners, who want higher profits. Then a new robotic system is developed that allows the owners to operate with 50 workers instead of 100. This is clearly bad for workers, half of whom will lose their jobs. Maybe they’ll go on strike, maybe they’ll convince the transport union to not do deliveries to the factory…that’s not good for the owners.
Now, if the workers owned a significant portion of the factory that conflict goes away. Maybe instead of pushing for a pay raise they arrange an area for children of the workers to spend time after school so they don’t have to pay for a sitter. They might band together and get cheaper rates on a doctor coming to give them a check-up. They can see that they’ll have to automate their process or be out-competed by other factories, and they check their options. Some might be nearing retirement age, and figure they can live on the dividends of their shares. They might decide that everyone will work part-time so no-one gets laid off, and they can pursue other interests. Maybe they’ll go for broke and keep all 100 employees working full-time and double the output, or expand into a new line of business. The point is that the better the factory does the better the workers do, so there’s no internal conflict. Maybe they’ll make stupid decisions and run the factory into the ground, in which case their business will go to other factories with smarter workers – just the way capitalism intended. If the factory gets fully automated, the workers still get an income because they own shares in the automated profits.
I was pleased and invigorated with hope when I saw this model is actually in play in more than tech companies – Publix is a grocery chain and pharmacy store in America that has apparently got better metrics than Walmart and Kroger. Why is this? Well, a main point that fans of capitalism make is that people will work harder for their own benefit than for another benefit, which is why capitalism > communism. But if someone is on a fixed income they’ve only got an incentive to work hard and smart enough to not get fired, whereas if their income increases based on how well they work because they own part of the company, they’ll put in more effort.
You know it makes sense.