I Versus We, Me Versus You

For three full decades we’ve seen wrenching social dislocations in America’s rust belt occur when an unleashed, unchained, and morally unregulated private sector picks winners and losers. Today, roughly 23 million Americans are currently unemployed or under-employed, more than five million American homeowners have suffered foreclosure since the 2008 start of the financial “Great Recession” and, as Katrina vanden Heuvel reports in her recent “Extremism in defense of Gilded Age privilege” opinion piece, “the top 1 percent of Americans captured a staggering 93 percent of national income growth in 2010.” Statistics emerging from 2011 and 2012 threaten more of the same.

As a pathway back from this wealth inequality abyss, the Fall edition of the Harvard Business Review, “Managing Your Stakeholders,” stands out as an intriguing oxymoron in a shareholder-centric, “we built it all ourselves” economy that rewards practicing global labor arbitragers with oversized private equity fees for services rendered. The most original piece, “CEOs Must Engage All Stakeholders,” by Venkat Ramaswamy and Kerimcan Ozcan, highlights technology-induced “structural shifts in value creation” platforms that propel successful companies to “engage the individual in both defining and delivering” what really matters to “business-civic-social ecosystems.” According to the authors, these “experience-based,” “co-creative” engagement platforms (“assemblages of people, interfaces, processes, and artifacts”) reach outward rather than inward, embrace the synergistic global creative village rather than glorify just one leading individual, and represent the “new engines of capitalism” with a “more holistic wealth creation process” as their natural outcome.

More than just social media hook ups, societally-infused media technology platforms allow companies to reach beyond traditional growth curves and demonstrate that the whole can be exponentially greater than the sum of all parts over and over again and beyond any geographical borders. Such virtuous “co-creative” technology platforms when accompanied by internal democratic capitalism principles and practices reverse any metrics-based rationale for conventional globalization strategies aided by so-called “creative destruction” thinking. Backed-up by convenient, self-serving political platitudes, “pay to play” governments justify the behavior of the richest one-percent to practice global labor arbitraging that morphs into passive income as a minority divine right. In this “we built it all ourselves” equation, creativity belongs to the financial manipulators while destruction is dealt to those displaced workers who inherit the winds of unjust, unequal, and unnecessary dislocation, personal destitution, and career dismemberment. America’s abandoned, rotting factories and pock-marked rust belt cities stand as testimony to the sinning and their sins, betrayers of our civic trust, those who pocketed their commissions and then invested their consciences in overseas tax havens.

As a practicing modern manufacturing antidote, Mondragon, a closely studied and emulated global “doing well by doing good” industrial worker cooperative multinational with a 55 year track record, has released a new “multi-localization” analysis that turns traditional zero-sum outsourcing and off-shoring practices on their nefarious heads. The Mondragon international “multi-localization” model built on Mondragon’s respected “one worker, one vote” principles demonstrates that locating factories overseas both increases and upgrades domestic employment. Additionally, this approach results in more profits for those multi-located cooperative enterprises to the benefit of the workers involved provided those workers operate and function as owners of their enterprises.

This game-changing model is possible at Mondragon where the workers are the owners and can decide for themselves how and where supply chain technologies and products are produced and integrated, and how revenue is invested. In the Mondragon globalization equation, there are no taxes to be paid to investment bankers, private equity executives, take-over artists or other highly-compensated global labor arbitragers that walk away from done deals once they’ve collected their generous commissions. Far from the “I win, you lose” race to the bottom seeding intellectual and moral poverty and second tier industrial status offered by U.S. outsourcing and offshoring practices that pick winners and losers with complete societal and tax impunity, the Mondragon “multilocalization” proof of Mondragon principles provides a humanely structured, high-impact “business-civic-social ecosystem” turning values into democratically-shared profits.

Contrast this vision with a current snapshot of the U.S. economy where “business-civic-social ecosystems” are dead in the water and can’t or won’t surmount structural unemployment. Against that pitiful backdrop, shouldn’t it be possible even in today’s civic-warring America to sustain a constructive national election-focused debate principally on the concrete details of job creation to offer more opportunities for others who need to fulfill the promise of their working lifetimes? Not even close. Our national media mirror reflects both a political right and left appearing much less interested in carving out constructively intersecting solutions and healing unproductive disadvantages than channeling comforting information ghetto-cocoons to reinforce preconceived differences.

As a self-deporting, self-pigeonholing, self-extincting commercial species, we have over-adapted to our income inequality surroundings and have become vastly more adept at the politics of class envy and warfare than “co-creative engagement.” Rather than seek higher, common process ground to build that next national transformational iteration to achieve real holistic, class-free wealth creation, the proverbial rising tide as opposed to the siren trickle down — our politicians offer solutions via wedge issue sound-bites and polemic, distorting campaign videos thinking that’s all our votes are worth.

Like any other developing country mired in its own structural deficiencies, we break out the band-aids but don’t cure the disease. Brutal statistics show that America has become a country of rising economic predestination, a society of cultural Calvinists marked by increasing wealth accumulation inequality for the few with far less social mobility for the many. Ranking relatively low in this area compared to other nations, the American Dream as an iconic “far west” frontier of hope forever pushed forward by generation to generation in the name of rising working class expectations has given way to racial hate and profiling ever more forcibly implemented through permutations of white vigilante justice. Choking on the raw sewage of generational hypocrisy, working class ballads pounded out by arena-filling rockers resonate to Boomers who, while nostalgic over their adolescent longings for a country that never existed, still saddle today’s Millennials with way too much scholastic debt to buy a car or a home before turning forty. We stand poised to postpone our historic manifest destiny promise by refusing to make the hard but equitable choices needed to upgrade national performance mostly because the data shows there is no sense wasting time respecting the rules or keeping the faith or speaking the truth to power when little justice gets meted out to those who ripped off the system and who still get to live it large. Working within the system has been replaced by working it, manipulating the numbers, running the lobbies so that instead of meeting on a level playing field, the art of the game lies in tilting it to guarantee that the house bookie-broker always wins.

Who are these “undeserving poor” so threatening to America’s hardworking white working classes and supposedly in collusion with a socialist redistributive federal government? Are they those undocumented workers lining up for a day’s mean work at substandard wages in conditions no “citizen” would touch that we see at every road stop, bus stop, and construction site? Are they the ones who show up to garden the mini-Versailles expanses surrounding our green and over-watered gated communities and gleaming glass office towers while we watch, pontificate, and critique in air-conditioned indoors? Are they those union ex-factory workers whose jobs were outsourced and off-shored, shipped overseas in the name of the power and the glory of holy writ global labor arbitraging from rust belt towns and cities that dare not promote their own names?

The new net positive is that we no longer need to hold a public debate on the ideological pros and cons of government picking winners and losers – in the private sector job search scenarios where we meet ourselves coming and going, everyone we stand in line with is losing. When America’s banks together with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refuse to engage in principal mortgage reduction for millions whose homes were plunged underwater but still bet against the very same taxpayers that tithed their tax receipts to the banks that betrayed them, the country breaks its social covenant with itself.

Ayn Rand’s imperative that the individual should exist only for his or her own sake, neither sacrificing for others nor sacrificing others for self is religiously practiced by a financial sector skilled at privatizing profits for itself and socializing or outsourcing losses to others. Time and again on the verge of every upside, America’s financial sector arrogantly and adamantly proclaims the virtues of a free market economy until the casino bets go south and it’s time to use those bought and paid for congressional relationships to draw a perfect vacuum on the government teat for billions and billions of bail-out, citizen-funded charity dollars for the undeserving, big scale, public welfare-rich.

So how do we define and engage the individual American worker as the integral node of the new nationwide “co-creative” engagement platform we must construct to break the structural chains that bind us in vertically structured, predatory capitalism bondage? How do we build the worker empowerment models that offer equal opportunity starting out of the gate, that reward hard work while respecting the battle scarred principles of our historical social compact? How do we engender that holistic, virtuous cycle wealth creation process to seed a thousand blooming flowers, feed the starving masses with unlimited bread and fish innovated from seemingly nowhere, and pay homage to tomorrow’s individual freedom-defending through group-empowering “business-civic-social” ecosystems? Who will step up as our national leader deploying creative reconstruction, not creative destruction, to help us help ourselves back onto our feet? In today’s war of the political worlds, who will stop the alien job outsourcing machines stomping at will across our foreclosed waste lands, grabbing and then discarding our abandoned people as road-kill fuel to subjugate the living into the merely existing, waiting to be harvested by those for whom how much is enough can never be answered no matter what church they say they attend on any given Sunday? Tomorrow’s technology platforms glorify teamwork and collaboration. Industrial multi-localization proves that worker empowerment and democratic ownership can paint a transparent human face on globalization that produces shared people-planet-profit wins rather than zero-sum, private equity-induced, outsourcing losses. Nobody who steps into a room without light and flips on the switch asks where the darkness went. When our collective act is together, we just rejoice in the light, build better switches, and, like Henry Ford, enable the people making them to buy as many as they feel they need.


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