We hear a lot of lip service paid to cracking back on corporations. People generally seem to dislike corporations—except when they’re supplying a paycheck, or often, cheap, substandard products manufactured offshore, by exploited workers.
Corporations have more rights now than ever before. In fact, the Supreme Court has broadened the concept of “corporate personhood” considerably over the past decade.
Mitt Romney, when running for president in 2012, actually came out and said explicitly, “corporations are people.” Justice John Paul Stevens would disagree, as he did in his dissent in the Citizens United case:
[C]orporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations . . . and their “personhood” often serve as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.
People with a corporate mindset think that it’s fine to exploit people in order to pad the bottom line, inflate their own earnings, and guarantee a favorable rate of return for shareholders. That’s capitalism, for God’s sake! As American as apple pie (and Chevrolet).
Some business models are less corporate than others. Worker-owned cooperatives—quite rare in America but found in other countries—would be one example. They are one possibility for mitigating our nation’s growing economic inequality.
In worker cooperatives, the business is owned and run by employees, who also earn money from the profits of their labor. In essence, they actually own and control their labor, rather than “renting” it out to a corporation. Decision-making is democratic. Each worker has a vote, rather than rules and protocol being handed down from on high.
At one time, I thought people’s growing disillusionment with big banks and corporations might just spark sufficient interest in economic alternatives, and maybe even serve as a tipping point. Right now, I’m not so sure. People seem too pissed off at everything and everyone that’s a bit different than them to ever be able to work in a communitarian manner. But maybe after spending a term (or longer) under President Trump, the epitome of corporate excess, this might spur interest and serve as a catalyst for new ways of living and making a living.
I certainly hope so.
Today’s post actually developed as a result of a phone call I had with my son, Mark. It took place yesterday, on his 33rd birthday.
Mark Baumer is still out on the road, walking barefoot across America. I called him to wish him “happy birthday,” and as we usually do when we get to have a few minutes on the phone together, we had a great conversation about plant-based eating and this time, alternative economics. The topics of cooperatives came up. I mentioned a book I had read on cooperatives.
The book I couldn’t remember when we were speaking on the phone is called Local Dollars, Local Sense, by Michael Shuman. The subtitle is a long-ass one, but really gets at the essence of the book. How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity. I read it in 2014 and thought it was a worthwhile read, one I’d recommend. It may even change your view of how your labor gets parceled out.
I’ll close by saying that Mark inspires me every day, as he lives out his beliefs. He’s doing it not by sitting at a desk, or at his keyboard, but by putting one (bare) foot in front of the other. If you haven’t been following his journey, please check it out. And if you care about climate change and our future, don’t be afraid to send some of your spare change his way to support his efforts to support a great local group of activists in Providence, RI, called FANG. They’re definitely not corporate.