On June 13 and 14 in Washington, DC, many of the nation’s leading experts in employee ownership, sustainable business and finance, community and economic development, and philanthropy came together in a Learning + Design session. Co-hosts for the meeting were Marjorie Kelly and Jessica Bonanno of The Democracy Collaborative and Camille Kerr of Democracy at Work Institute. The purpose of the session was to discuss how to achieve unprecedented scale of employee ownership by focusing on achieving an audacious goal: 50 million U.S. employee-owners by 2050.
In the last few years, persistent, high unemployment has taken over as the headline of the Great Recession, driving an urgent need to create more jobs and get Americans back to work. But when the financial crisis first hit, it prompted a wave of anger and criticism against the corporations and financial institutions that own and direct capital across the globe, and its aftermath has continued to expose longstanding fissures in the U.S. on virtually every measure of economic well-being.
In an era where employment has become the main preoccupation of citizens and governments alike, a job preserved is often as good as a job created. And contrary to what is often implied by Schumpeter’s famous metaphor on the “creative” aspect of enterprise destruction in a capitalist market economy, plant closures and job losses are not always redeemed by some positive outcome elsewhere. Sometimes they are simply a waste of human talent and a pure economic loss. As Stiglitz noted in his analysis of restructuring, it is much easier to destroy enterprises and jobs than to create them.
The recent upsurge in worker cooperatives in the taxi industry presents a contrast between big opportunities and big risks. Hundreds of new worker owners have come together in just a handful of companies over the last 10 years, which outpaces the growth of worker cooperative ownership in many other industries. The coordinated marketing among what are already legally independent, entrepreneurially minded contractors lends itself to larger entities.