“After all,” says Gar Alperovitz in a new interview just up at Solidarity Hall, “half the society at any one time is not part of that worker ownership–” even, that is, if every worker had an ownership share in his or her company. There are all those toddlers and housewives and angst-ridden pre-teens running around, not being employee-owners.
It’s an excellent point, and highlights some of the limitations of traditional co-ops: a co-op can easily become its own interest-group within a wider society, and engage in rent-seeking in the political sphere just as much as a traditionally owned company can. A co-op might even (gasp) engage in Ruthless Business Practices at the expense of its neighbors. Here, as with democracy itself, a particular economic or political structure does not solve every problem with human nature and human society. If you thought it would, check your assumptions, kid. You can’t program in solidarity with the right kind of business plan, or the right kind of constitution. And the good that is represented by the democratically-run co-op, if it were absolutized, preclude other kinds of goods, such as those represented by a benevolently run traditionally-owned factory. Democracy is a good: but so too is hierarchy, as David Koyzis highlights in this review (from Commentary, Cardus.ca’s mag) of Up With Authority, by Victor Lee Austin. A review which makes me want to not just buy the book, but take the F train to St. Thomas and stalk the priest who wrote the thing. You know, stalk in a nice way, though. Stalk as in bring cookies to.
But– again as usual– just because we can’t engineer a perfect world via employee ownership (or hierarchical structures, for that matter), doesn’t mean that good business plans and good constitutions or traditions of community organizing aren’t, in fact, good. And, in fact, worth pursuing, rather than pursuing bad ones, say. And that’s the work that Gar Alperovitz has been highlighting throughout his career.
Check out the interview, and don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. After all, if we believed we COULD knock together a utopia on a weekend with the correct model of employee ownership, we would be sorely tempted to worship ESOPs, which aren’t even shiny, like your average golden calf. And that wouldn’t go well, as idolatry generally doesn’t.