The Case for Worker Owned Businesses

The world needs more equality in economics. The concept of “fairness” and “reasonable earnings” are not easy to quantify because our entire economy relies on relative values. It doesn’t really matter if you make $1/hour or $500/hour. What matters is what you can buy for a certain amount of money. What matters is how much one worker gets paid versus how much another is paid, and how much is the owner of the business being paid? How much is the investor earning? How much tax is payable? There are a lot of factors in the big picture of the economy. And I cannot profess to understand them all because I am not an economist. Part of the challenge is these things are complex. But fairness is simple, it’s a value, reasonable is a principle, maybe you can’t measure it but you can sure see and appreciate it and know when it’s missing.

In a world where everyone is always asking for more, and the result is some people are very good at getting more while others are poor at it… the solution is to ask for less. And don’t wait for your neighbor to ask for less. Don’t wait for the banker or the wealthiest person you know to do it. If we all stop demanding more, we can start to appreciate what is “enough”. Instead of trying to make $20 when others make $10, instead of trying to make $100 when others make $50, let’s start thinking about how to make similar amounts and ensure we all have enough food, enough shelter, enough medicine.

We might say let’s get the money from the people who have the most. Make them give first, or take it from them. But don’t many of the world’s wealthiest people already give away most or all of their new income? Most billionaires actually give away more money than they keep for example. Yet it doesn’t stop the inequity in the world. Inequity happens at every level. It’s not just inequity when some earns $1,000/hour while another person makes $50/hour. It’s also inequity when someone makes $50/hour while another makes $8.50/hour.

I don’t have a solution to propose for the public sector, but I will say this. In the private sector the solution is not unions, it’s workers owning the companies they work for. Worker owned businesses should be the normal approach to business. How can a business that profits a few owners and shareholders compete against one where every single worker owns at least some shares in the company? Wouldn’t it be great to earn shares every single job you work even as a youth? Imagine you start work at 16 and in your first summer job you pick up a few shares. Maybe those shares only bring you pennies, but as you change jobs, learn new skills, join different companies, you keep building up your portfolio of shares. Some shares will be worthless, others will make you rich. They don’t all have to be winners. This is how people get rich and stay rich, by playing the stock market and other investments. Why shouldn’t “going to your job” be an investment?

The American dream isn’t “work at a fast food joint at minimum wage” obviously, but it isn’t “join a fast food union and bargain for $15/hour” either. Sure companies that profit off paying minimum wage “should” share the wealth, but that’s not how their setup to operate. Why bother changing them? Why not build a new company owned at least in part by the workers? Then when people spend their money, they can choose where the profit goes. Do you want the profit going to an offshore account or to a billionaire, or to have it divided amongst hundreds or thousands of working owners?

The key to solving inequity is not to tear others down or create division. It’s to create unity and work together for what we want. Many workers make the mistake of hating the entrepreneur, hating the wealthy. Instead think about the hard work that business owners put in every day, often working day and night to build a business. In many small businesses, the owners make less than the workers and work longer hours and often lose their homes and savings if the business fails. The plight of the worker is not so different from the plight of the struggling business owner at times. In fact I personally have often gone back to work after watching my business collapse, only to save up enough to go back into business. Certainly for me, working a regular job is much easier than trying to run a business because you just do the work and you’re guaranteed to be paid. Owning a business doesn’t come with guarantees, your wage is often $0. Sometimes your wage is minus $10,000!! Anyway the point is a nice mix of risk/reward and fair payment and profit for all is when a company is built where everyone has a vested interest in the success and everyone gets a share.