Marjorie Kelly and Ted Howard highlight movement
for a democratic economy
“Society long ago democratized government, but we have never democratized the economy,” says Marjorie Kelly, co-author of The Making of a Democratic Economy, with Ted Howard. In their new book, they tell stories of an emerging economy that is designed to benefit the many, not the few. It is an economy, says Kelly, that takes us beyond the binary choice of corporate capitalism versus state socialism. It’s an economy with broad-based ownership, one that values people over capital and that works within planetary boundaries—because humans are a part of a living system and cannot survive without protecting and sustaining the planet on which we live.
Watch the book launch.
Employee ownership has a prominent role in a democratic economy, demonstrating how we might create a worker-centered economy as we move beyond the capital-centered economy of our day. In a chapter on “the principle of good work,” Kelly and Howard make a visit to Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), a worker-owned cooperative in the Bronx that is also a B Corporation. It was launched in 1985 as a social experiment in creating good work for home health aides – and in the process creating high-quality care for low-income, frail clients. Its mission: “Committed to delivering quality care by creating quality jobs.”
In their new book, Marjorie Kelly and Ted Howard tell stories of an emerging economy that is designed to benefit the many, not the few.
The authors also ruminate, in this chapter, on the deeper philosophy of a worker-centered economy, and how it requires shifting our view of work itself. Today labor is seen as a cost to be eliminated, and the economy is doing well in achieving that goal, with 40 percent of jobs now insecure part-time, contingent, contract, self-employed Uber-type jobs. A democratic economy would re-value work as potentially enlivening our higher selves. As E.F. Schumacher wrote, “Work, properly conducted in conditions of human dignity and freedom, blesses those who do it and equally their products.” Writing about CHCA, the authors see the process unfolding:
“At CHCA, in play is a subtle shift in the unconscious view of what a company is. In an investor-centered enterprise, firms are viewed as objects; that’s the perspective of owners who stand apart from a firm, seeking to extract wealth from it. When owners stand inside a company doing its daily work, the nature of the firm is transformed, from object to community. Ownership is transformed from financial extraction to human belonging.”
The book also journeys to visit the worker-owned Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, and EA Engineering in Maryland, an employee-owned environmental consulting firm. The ownership journey of EA Engineering led to a decade of ownership shares trading on NASDAQ, which virtually destroyed the firm and its culture. It cycled through three presidents, saw morale plummet, and found itself in trouble with the SEC. Founder Loren Jensen bought the firm back, and new president Ian MacFarlane transitioned it to 100 percent ESOP ownership, re-incorporating it as a benefit corporation. The firm has been healthy and profitable ever since. Today the company’s 500 employees own a thriving $140 million company. As Kelly and Howard write, “EA is a model of a company as a living system, part of the larger living system of the earth, designed to benefit life.”
A democratic economy, the authors argue, is based on a different set of principles from the corporate, extractive economy, which is biased toward capital and extracts wealth for the already wealthy. The democratic economy revolves around serving the common good. It is based on seven core principles: community, inclusion, place, good work, democratized ownership, sustainability, and ethical finance. Each chapter visits a site where these principles are emerging in tangible experiments of economic development, public banking, anchor institution engagement, and a potentially massive shift to sustainability.
More coverage of this ground-breaking book, can be found at:
- Fast Company: Seven Principles of a Democratic Economy
- ShelterForce: Building Prosperity (Review)
- Corporate Governance: The Making of a Democratic Economy: Review Essay
- Change This: Redesigning Business for a Democratic Economy
- Uprise RI: The Making of a Democratic Economy: A Conversation with economist Majorie Kelly
Listen and Watch
- Vermont Conversation, with David Goodman
- The Zero Hour, with RJ Eskow
- Thom Hartmann Program
- Rising Up with Sonali
- Jefferson Public Radio
- America’s Work Force Radio
- Leonard Lopate at Large, WBAI Radio