What’s in it for ‘Us’?
Reshaping a more sustainable and equitable economy might take pondering a concept that seems foreign to some Americans: What’s in it for ‘us,’ and not just what’s in it for ‘me’?
Essentially, it's what author Marjorie Kelly asks us to think about in her new book Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution. A fellow at Tellus Institute in Boston, Kelly is also cofounder and president of Business Ethics magazine, and director of ownership strategy for Cutting Edge Capital.
In Owning Our Future, Kelly has hit the nail on the head by looking at stakeholder-shareholder conflicts. The book supports community-based enterprises, cooperatives, charitable organization investments in firms and every conceivable ownership and governance structure that will turn commerce and industry around.
We are currently living in an industrial-age era in which wealth is “extracted’ upwards into big banks, hedge funds and “hyper-wealthy,” making financial wealth a “claim” against what she calls “real wealth.” This weakens the real economy of jobs, families and communities, she insists.
Thus, Kelly proposes a Generative Ownership model to replace the current Extractive Ownership she blames for the Great Recession and its slow recovery. She wants companies to have a “living purpose’ for long-term sustainability to replace a “financial purpose” of maximizing short-term profits; a “rooted membership” of owners rather than an “absentee membership” of investors, and a mission-controlled governance” by people dedicated to the firm’s mission, rather than “governance by markets” controlled by capital markets “on autopilot.”
She also offers up a prescription that might be hard to achieve—a “stakeholder finance” model that would make capital a friend to replace what she calls “casino finance,” in which capital is the master. Finally, she proposes enterprises with “ethical networks” in which there is collective support for ecological and social values, replacing the current “commodity networks” in which trading, or commerce, is concentrated only on price and profits.
Such a transformation would require something akin to a revolution given the way state and federal laws support her extractive regime of capitalism, and discourages her generative model. But most of her points are carried out successfully in some other countries, and can be adapted here.
Her book is available at Common Good Books in St. Paul, among other local bookstores.