Thursday, February 21, 2008

Every Worker a Capitalist

My friend and mentor Jim Fisher, co-Founder of The Naples Institute, shared a blog entry of his regarding Argentine workers in a balloon factory who showed up one day to discover their factory an empty shell, their jobs gone along with their bosses. Desperate for a means to feed their families, they agreed to secure funding and run the factory themselves, each an equal owner. The results, as Jim shares, are dramatic - and inspirational. (

I see what those factory workers did in Argentina as Capitalism 2.0, without doubt! I have wrestled ever since my college Psychology of Organizational Development class, maybe before that, with this one question: why on earth does everyone buy into the idea that all of the workers, up to the very top, work for pay, and only the capitalist business owner gets all of the profits? Why is that okay with everyone? Why do we all buy into the idea that the owner "owns" the business, and everyone else works to make that person rich? How can he look them in the eye, knowing that this year he will make $23 million, $80 million, $200 million of personal income, whereas the folks reporting to him are stuck at $200,000, or $50,000, or $23,000? And more importantly, how can they look at him and not resent him?

I have a friend who works for a big, privately-owned company who brags about his boss's mansion where he holds the annual employee picnic. This is not unique, by any means. Doesn't that seem weird to anyone?

Apparently, just about everyone buys into the central tenet of capitalism, which hold that the capitalist takes all the risk (yes, so true, I agree), and so for his pluck he deserves all the reward.

Now, fair is fair, and any capitalist will argue that anyone can start their own business if they like; that those who do so and do it well will get rich; others will make good money, and others - losers, tools, knuckleheads - will fail ...but even the failures can try again, and again, if they don't make it the first time, so they can eventually get it right. Fair is fair. If you want to trade the immense risk and opportunity of running your own business for the illusion of "security" as an employee, good for you. We all make choices, and every day we choose to keep at what we're doing rather than striking out on our own, we are making that choice anew.

Look at me! I've just talked myself back into being a Capitalist.

Here's the thing: As I shout from the rooftops at every occasion, I am an ardent Capitalist, a proselytizer for that best of all systems. Indeed, Jane and I own 100% of two companies! One time, a few years ago, I did some quick math in my head and realized that, where before I was making $15 an hour to teach English for someone else, and when I teach a class on my own for my own business I make about $160 an hour, I made (on that day, in that quarter) over $800 an hour not teaching, but letting our talented, well-paid and respected teachers do it for me. So yes, I'm a Capitalist and glad of it!

Given all that, why would I rock this really, really personally rewarding boat?

I'm having an existential crisis, that's why. It's what philosophers-turned-businessmen do, an indulgence we try not to share with the world; I'm sure I'm poisoning my future well with this missive. Well, I've never been one to respect caution. ...Another trait that makes me a good Capitalist.

Stories like that of the Argentine factory workers, though... If we all grew up, if all of the workers in the world got the picture - that Capitalism can work for them, too - then we'd have a world-full of privately-owned (Capitalist) companies such as the balloon factory that are owned by the workers. Why not? Everyone would be a Capitalist and everyone would win, not just a tiny, tiny minority, as is the case today.

The big thing that separates me from 98% of my peers in Capitalism is that, while I very much like making money, and the more the merrier, with me it is not for the sake of either having money or of spending it on lavish stuff. I want to make millions and millions so I can give most of it away - not through hand-outs, but through savvy teach-a-man-to-fish endeavors such as improved universal education and microloans.

Marx wanted to State to own the means of production, rather than the workers. At least, that's how Communism has played out, and why it's such a dismal failure. But what if we had companies like that example in Argentina of a closed factory taken over by the workers, who become the owners? That is one of the bright faces of Capitalism 2.0. It's coming; hopefully, it will come in strength, rather than as a series of isolated flukes.

Nobody owes us a living. Adult Capitalist workers understand that, whereas workers stuck in the arrested development of childish paternalistic Primitive Capitalism bemoan their fate, complain and protest, beg our politicians for intervention and demand their unions "do something" with their employers when those companies go out of business or move operations off shore.

Let's see how many more laid-off workers of closed business units stand up and do something for themselves, just as the balloon factory workers in Argentina have. I hope this is the start of a trend.