Friday, February 16, 2007


Work And Happiness

Capitalism is here to stay, whether we like it or not. Moreover, our work has become the defining characteristic of our lives, with our identities invested more deeply than ever in what we do to earn our daily bread. The best route to happiness thus is to find it in our work, which means to find it in the nooks and crannies of capitalism. What is the business model that can provide happiness and fulfillment of purpose to the largest number of workers? Control and equality are the key, and those just aren't available to us in the conventional corporation with its grotesquely exaggerated sense of hierarchy.

Here is an article from The New Stateman pushing corporations that are both co-owned and co-created by their employees-slash-directors. Called "CoCos" by the author, these companies are strikingly reminiscent of the Mondragon cooperatives that have flourished in the Basque Country of Spain since the 1950's. The author nonetheless insists that CoCos are not "reheated cooperatives". For instance, even though income inequality in such corporations is kept to a minimum, "there is no expectation that everyone will get a same-sized slice of the pie." Nor are CoCos any sort of pie in the sky enterprise either. The value of their business model lies in its potential competitiveness. Their essentially egalitarian nature can put a brake on the wildly escalating growth of CEO salaries - more than ever a major concern to every potential stockholder. CoCos also tend to be better at keeping the common worker in line. If each worker gets a real slice of the profit, increasing that profit becomes a personal issue. Workers put more of themselves in their jobs, and are equally vigilant at insuring that their comrades do the same. As a result, productivity booms. Indeed, a recent study predicts "a 19 percent productivity lift from co-ownership." Among co-ownership firms in the UK, "72 percent reported that staff worked harder than in competitor companies, and 81 percent (reported) that they took on more responsibility."

The author believes CoCos are the "capitalist business model" of the future, revealing that a new group in the UK - the Employee Ownership Association - will kick off a publicity campaign for its cause this winter. He points out that CoCos, unlike publicly traded corporations, are resistant to corporate raiders. They are also more able to plan for the long term without the fear that short-term sacrifices will result in the public humiliation of stock price reductions. Finally, the absolute fusion of the interests of management and labor will eliminate the divide between the two groups.

Let us hope so. Having done some research on co-owned corporate structures in the past, I found little new in this article. Part of their appeal right now may be due largely to timing, as the abuses most common in contemporary corporations are directly related to the powerlessness of both workers and stockholders to rein in the greed of high-level management. Among CoCos, the CEO as King simply does not exist. The time may be right for co-owned businesses after all.

"We love capitalism" from The New Statesman

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