To create jobs in America, we must change how we organize our work.
We have relied for too long on the conventional corporation as the primary mechanism for generating employment. We must now invest in other models that have proved to be a success, such as cooperatives, credit unions, and employee-owned companies.
These democratic, collaborative groups are people-centered, place-based, and often more stable than traditional corporations. They are not subject to the whims of investors in search of short-term profits. A job in an employee-owned company cannot readily be outsourced, and a cooperative cannot readily be moved.
More than 130 million Americans already belong to member-owned co-ops, employing 865,000 people. In Cleveland, Evergreen Cooperatives have launched an industrial laundry service, a solar company, and an urban growing center to create living-wage jobs in a community with an $18,500 median household income.
In addition to having local roots, such organizations offset the sometimes perverse effects of mechanization and information technology, which displace jobs. Instead, these organizations look for human solutions rather than software to increase productivity.
Our society’s emphasis on paid employment also ignores the “core economy” of unpaid work, such as child rearing, domestic labor, and community activities. Reducing the workweek would redistribute available work among more people, giving workers more time to devote to their families and communities. For some, this might mean exchanging our mad-long rush toward owning more stuff for new and more lasting, meaningful benefits that come from a broader set of community sources. For example, time banks facilitate the democratic exchange of volunteer services.
This is not a pipe dream. In America, people are yearning for a new economy that increases well-being, improves employment, diminishes meaningless consumption, and lowers destructive impact on the environment. That economy is now rising from the ground up.
Bob Massie is the president of the New Economics Institute.