Friends of GEO

Podcast: What is the Transition Movement?

Shareable - Commons - July 25, 2017 - 1:10pm

In this episode we spoke with Rob Hopkins, the founder and figurehead of the Transition Movement, which is a grassroots community project aiming to increase self-sufficiency and address the ecological and economic crises currently faced by humanity. Hopkins is based in Totnes, Devon, which is a small town in the southwest of England. Totnes was the first town to begin the transition initiative, and there are now over fifty towns across the world that are part of the larger Transition Network. 

Categories: Friends of GEO

Boosting Health In Everyone's Hometown

On the Commons - July 25, 2017 - 9:15am
There’s more to living long and well than medical care

 

Good health means more than good medical care. 

Many other things affect how long we live and how healthy we feel—conditions in our housing and neighborhoods, the social and physical environment of our communities, economic opportunities and the levels of stress in our lives. 

According to a landmark University of Wisconsin study, the state of our overall health is attributable to four major factors:

• 20 percent—access to and quality of clinical health care

Pullquote: 

A CDC program is working to reduce preventable chronic diseases by helping communities increase physical activity, nutritious eating, breastfeeding and other healthy ways of living.

Vibrant public spaces increase our physical activity.  (Photo by Dan Burden/Blue Zones)

Commons Topics: Community LifeScience and HealthAuthor: Jay WalljasperWork section or magazine section?: Magazine
Categories: Friends of GEO

New Toolkit to Promote Water Commmons

On the Commons - July 24, 2017 - 2:57pm
Builds on the work of the Great Lakes Commons Charter

The Great Lakes Commons has recently released their Charter Toolkit. Rooted in the Commons Charter Declaration, this toolkit can support people, communities, and campaigns collaborating on protecting and caring for the Great Lakes.

The Charter Toolkit includes:

Original Author: Great Lakes CommonsPullquote: 

The Charter appears in 5 languages spoke around the Great Lakes

Image courtesy of the Great Lakes Commons

Commons Topics: InternationalScience and HealthWaterWork section or magazine section?: Magazine
Categories: Friends of GEO

Fighting Inequality: Which Nations Do More Than Pay Lip Service?

It's Our Economy - July 24, 2017 - 2:00pm
Above Photo: From inequality.org Two global groups have joined to create a first-ever yardstick for holding our world’s top politicos accountable, nation by nation, for narrowing our grand divides. Two years ago, in 2015, just about all the nations in the world came together and agreed to make reducing inequality — the gap between rich and poor — a prime United Nations “sustainable development goal.” A noble gesture. But UN groups make noble gestures all the time. These gestures do sometimes translate into real progress. They more typically amount to blowing smoke — and obscuring how little progress governments may actually be making. How can we tell which nations are just blowing that smoke? People worldwide clearly need global measures — comparative yardsticks — that can help average citizens hold their governments accountable to all their noble rhetoric. On inequality, we now have one such yardstick. Oxfam, the activist global charity, has just teamed with the Development Finance International consulting group to unveil the first-ever Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index, “a new global ranking of governments based on what they are doing to tackle the gap between rich and poor.” We already know, researchers at Oxfam and DFI point out, what governments should be doing to reduce the gap between rich and poor. We have “widespread evidence” that “strong positive progressive actions by governments” in three particular spheres can narrow that gap. The three spheres? Progress against inequality starts with significant social spending on education, health, and other public services. To fund these services — and keep power from concentrating — nations serious about reducing inequality also seriously tax their rich and the corporations they run. Reducing inequality demands an equally significant commitment to ensuring that working people have enough bargaining power, in both the workplace and the political process, to demand and win decent wages and economic security. The new Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index measures progress in these three spheres for the 152 nations of the world that have adequate data available. Those nations that have collected little relevant data, Oxfam and Development Finance International note, haven’t demonstrated much of a commitment to reducing inequality. Neither have some of the nations that do have data available. Nigeria, for instance, ranks dead last on the first Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index. The nation has about the same per capita annual income as Bolivia. Yet 10 percent of Nigerian children die before age five. The child death rate in Bolivia: less than half that, only 4 percent. Also lagging in the struggle against inequality: India and Pakistan. Along with Nigeria, these middle-income nations, observe Oxfam and DFI, “could be spending far more on health, education, and social protection than they are.” With a combined population of 1.6 billion, the three “could make an enormous impact on reducing global poverty and inequality if they chose to.” The laggard among the world’s rich nations? No contest there: the United States. The “wealthiest country in the history of the world” — the Oxfam and DFI label — has the highest level of inequality among the world’s major industrial nations. And the U.S. government is letting that inequality get worse — on every major front. The actual tax rate on U.S. corporate income, for instance, runs just 14 percent, well below the statutory rate of 35 percent. U.S. workers, meanwhile, need $10.60 an hour to keep a family of four above the poverty line. The federal minimum wage guarantees just $7.25 an hour. And labor rights in the United States remain minimal, by developed world standards. Trade union representation has dropped by half, down to just over 10 percent, since 1983. Realities like these help explain why the United States ranks 21st among developed nations on the Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index, behind Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Austria, Finland. France, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Japan, Iceland, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Italy, the UK, Switzerland, Portugal, and Slovenia. But Oxfam and Development Finance International go to great pains not to pick on the United States. They’re emphasizing that “no country is doing particularly well” in the struggle against inequality. Even the Scandinavian nations that rank at the top of the new index “have room for improvement.” Many of the nations that currently rank among the world’s most equal, Oxfam and DFI go on to note, are “trading on past glories.” Denmark, to give one example, scores well on progressive taxation, social spending, and worker protection. Recent Danish governments have “focused on reversing all three.” The rich and their enterprises – “in rich as well as poor countries” — could be paying “much more tax,” the new Oxfam and DFI ranking study adds, supplying revenues that could be “used to invest in measures that are proven to reduce inequality. “Overall,” the new ranking study notes, “two-thirds of the 152 countries in the Index are collecting less than one-quarter of the tax they could potentially collect.” How much more equal could and should the world be? The Oxfam and Development Finance International researchers use the easy-to-understand Palma ratio to measure national inequality levels. The Palma ratio compares the share of national income that goes to a nation’s top 10 percent to the share that goes to its bottom 40 percent. A Palma ratio of 5.0 would mean that a nation’s top 10 percent is pulling down five times that nation’s bottom 40 percent income. South Africa currently has a 7.1 ratio. All nations, Oxfam and DFI maintain, “should aim for a Palma ratio of no more than 1.” Less than a handful of nations currently meet that standard. All nations could. Their governments merely need to make different policy choices. In other words, as Oxfam’s Max Lawson puts it, “Inequality is not inevitable.”
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Q&A with Scholar Juliet Schor on the Striking Differences Between Nonprofit and For-profit Sharing Enterprises

Shareable - Commons - July 24, 2017 - 1:52pm

It's easy to group all enterprises that promote "sharing" into a single category. New technology has made it much easier for people to share almost everything — cars, houses, work spaces, just to name a few. There's really no shortage of ways that people can pool resources. But there's a huge difference in the goals between for-profit sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb and nonprofit groups like tool libraries, time banks, and makerspaces.

Categories: Friends of GEO

New Report Highlights the Role of Sharing in Promoting Urban Sustainability

Shareable - Commons - July 24, 2017 - 10:41am

Over three years of research on urban sustainability at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research in Israel, it became apparent to us that sharing is an innovative and promising avenue for creating a lifestyle that is far more sustainable than our current lifestyles. Israel has experience with sharing in the rural context, through the establishment of the agricultural "kibbutzim" model.

Categories: Friends of GEO

In 40 Years: CEO Pay Up 937%, Worker Wages Stagnant

It's Our Economy - July 23, 2017 - 4:00pm
Above: Image credit: Sergei Bachlakov / Shutterstock.com US inequality problem continues to be the worst in the industrialized world. A new report, published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) this week, shows that while wages for American workers have essentially remained stagnant for decades, CEO pay has soared at an “outrageous” clip.  A study by the Pew Research Center (PRC) in 2014 found that economic analyses show a “lack of meaningful wage growth.” Looking at five decades worth of government wage data, PRC showed that wages have been flat or even falling since the 1970s, regardless of changes in the economy and job markets.  As PRC states: “After adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power as it did in 1979, following a long slide in the 1980s and early 1990s and bumpy, inconsistent growth since then. In fact, in real terms the average wage peaked more than 40 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 has the same purchasing power as $22.41 would today.”  Now EPI’s Lawrence Mishel and Jessica Schieder have found that between the years of 1978 and 2016, CEO pay rose 937 percent. Over that same period, worker compensation grew by a measly 11.2 percent. The CEOs of America’s largest firms made an average of $15.6 million, 271 times the annual average pay of a typical American worker. According to the report, “The average CEO in a large firm now earns 5.33 times the annual earnings of the average very-high-wage earner (earner in the top 0.1 percent).” “While the 2016 CEO-to-worker compensation ratio of 271-to-1 is down from 299-to-1 in 2014 and 286-to-1 in 2015, it is still light years beyond the 20-to-1 ratio in 1965 and the 59-to-1 ratio in 1989.” America’s inequality problem continues to be the worst in the industrialized world.  Mishel believes that the inequality between CEO pay and worker pay is “a major driver of inequality” and “Simply put, money that goes to the executive class is money that does not go to other people. Rising executive pay is not connected to overall growth in the economic pie. We could curtail the explosive growth in CEO pay without doing any harm to the economy.” The EPI’s report includes several policies that could start putting money back into the pockets of workers, including “higher marginal income tax rates at the very top” and higher taxes for companies with high CEO-to-worker pay ratios. But we are faced with an administration that wants to make this situation even worse. According to a recent analysis, Trump’s proposed tax plan would provide more massive cuts for the rich while hiking taxes for the middle class.  NationofChange is a nonprofit organization, and this website is funded by readers like you. Please support our work. Donate or give monthly.    
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Our Obsolescent Economy

It's Our Economy - July 22, 2017 - 1:00pm
Above Photo: From localfutures.org A friend of mine from India tells a story about driving an old Volkswagen beetle from California to Virginia during his first year in the United States. In a freak ice storm in Texas he skidded off the road, leaving his car with a cracked windshield and badly dented doors and fenders. When he reached Virginia he took the car to a body shop for a repair estimate. The proprietor took one look at it and said, “it’s totaled.” My Indian friend was bewildered: “How can it be totaled? I just drove it from Texas!” My friend’s confusion was understandable. While “totaled” sounds like a mechanical term, it’s actually an economic one: if the cost of repairs is more than the car will be worth afterwards, the only economically ‘rational’ choice is to drive it to the junkyard and buy another one. In the ‘throwaway societies’ of the industrialized world, this is an increasingly common scenario: the cost of repairing faulty stereos, appliances, power tools, and high-tech devices often exceeds the price of buying new. Among the long-term results are growing piles of e-waste, overflowing landfills, and the squandering of resources and energy. It’s one reason that the average American generates over 70% more solid waste today than in 1960.[1] And e-waste – the most toxic component of household detritus – is growing almost 7 times faster than other forms of waste. Despite recycling efforts, an estimated 140 million cell phones – containing $60 million worth of precious metals and a host of toxic materials – are dumped in US landfills annually.[2] Along with these environmental costs, there are also economic impacts. Not so long ago, most American towns had shoe repair businesses, jewelers who fixed watches and clocks, tailors who mended and altered clothes, and ‘fixit’ businesses that refurbished toasters, TVs, radios, and dozens of other household appliances. Today, most of these businesses are gone. “It’s a dying trade,” said the owner of a New Hampshire appliance repair shop. “Lower-end appliances which you can buy for $200 to $300 are basically throwaway appliances.”[3] The story is similar for other repair trades: in the 1940s, for example, the US was home to about 60,000 shoe repair businesses, a number that has dwindled to less than one-tenth as many today.[4] One reason for this trend is globalization. Corporations have relocated their manufacturing operations to low-wage countries, making goods artificially cheap when sold in higher-wage countries. When those goods need to be repaired, they can’t be sent back to China or Bangladesh – they have to be fixed where wages are higher, and repairs are therefore more expensive. My friend was confused about the status of his car because the opposite situation holds in India: labor is cheap and imported goods expensive, and no one would dream of junking a car that could be fixed. It’s tempting to write off the decline of repair in the West as collateral damage – just another unintended cost of globalization – but the evidence suggests that it’s actually an intended consequence. To see why, it’s helpful to look at the particular needs of capital in the global growth economy – needs that led to the creation of the consumer culture just over a century ago. When the first Model T rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line in 1910, industrialists understood that the technique could be applied not just to cars, but to almost any manufactured good, making mass production possible on a previously unimaginable scale. The profit potential was almost limitless, but there was a catch: there was no point producing millions of items – no matter how cheaply – if there weren’t enough buyers for them. And in the early part of the 20th century, the majority of the population – working class, rural, and diverse – had little disposable income, a wide range of tastes, and values that stressed frugality and self-reliance. The market for manufactured goods was largely limited to the middle and upper classes, groups too small to absorb the output of full throttle mass production. Advertising was the first means by which industry sought to scale up consumption to match the tremendous leaps in production. Although simple advertisements had been around for generations, they were hardly more sophisticated than classified ads today. Borrowing from the insights of Freud, the new advertising focused less on the product itself than on the vanity and insecurities of potential customers. As historian Stuart Ewen points out, advertising helped to replace long-standing American values stressing thrift with new norms based on conspicuous consumption. Advertising, now national in scope, also helped to erase regional and ethnic differences among America’s diverse local populations, thereby imposing mass tastes suited to mass production. Through increasingly sophisticated and effective marketing techniques, Ewen says, “excessiveness replaced thrift as a social value”, and entire populations were invested with “a psychic desire to consume.” [5] In other words, the modern consumer culture was born – not as a response to innate human greed or customer demand, but to the needs of industrial capital. During the Great Depression, consumption failed to keep pace with production. In a vicious circle, overproduction led to idled factories, workers lost their jobs, and demand for factory output fell further. In this crisis of capitalism, not even clever advertising could stimulate consumption sufficiently to break the cycle. In 1932, a novel solution was advanced by a real estate broker name Bernard London. His pamphlet, “Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence” applauded the consumerist attitudes that advertising created during the 1920s, a time when “the American people did not wait until the last possible bit of use had been extracted from every commodity. They replaced old articles with new for reasons of fashion and up-to-dateness. They gave up old homes and old automobiles long before they were worn out.” [6] In order to circumvent the values of thrift and frugality that had resurfaced during the Depression, London argued that the government should “chart the obsolescence of capital and consumption goods at the time of...
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Philadelphia Spreads Opportunity to All Corners of City

On the Commons - July 21, 2017 - 5:16pm
Harnessing the civic commons to boost social equity

For decades the “Philadelphia Story” was about steady economic decline.  That story is being rewritten today as many Americans rediscover the advantages of cities—inviting public spaces, rich cultural diversity and a creative environment that fertilizes start-ups and attracts talent. 

Original Author: 

Tonetta Graham, an leader in the Strawberry Mansions neighborhood, sees Civic Commons as a way to bring investment to low-income areas without gentrification. 

Commons Topics: Commons StrategiesCommunity LifeSidebar text: 

The civic commons are shared places belonging to everyone like parks and libraries.

Author: Jay WalljasperWork section or magazine section?: MagazineArticle or resource: 
Categories: Friends of GEO

Video Zeroes in on What's at Stake with Obamacare

On the Commons - July 21, 2017 - 4:43pm
What's really going to happen?

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would represent a serious retreat for social justice and basic human decency in the United States.  Alarmed by this step backward, artist and BMC alum Tona Wilson joined Our Next 4 Years, a team of animators volunteering their skills to make short videos on health care and other important issues of the Age of Trump.

This one, with a score composed by Jeremy Mage, zeroes in about what repeal of Obamacare really means.

Original Author: 

From Our Next 4 Years' video "Why Save the Affordable Care Act?"

Commons Topics: Politics and GovernmentScience and HealthSidebar text: 

A team of animators volunteer their skills to make short videos on the Age of Trump.

Author: Jay WalljasperWork section or magazine section?: MagazineArticle or resource: 
Categories: Friends of GEO

Video Zeroes in on What's at Stake with Obamacare

On the Commons - July 21, 2017 - 4:43pm
What's really going to happen?

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would represent a serious retreat for social justice and basic human decency in the United States.  Alarmed by this step backward, artist and BMC alum Tona Wilson joined Our Next 4 Years, a team of animators volunteering their skills to make short videos on health care and other important issues of the Age of Trump.

This one, with a score composed by Jeremy Mage, zeroes in about what repeal of Obamacare really means.

Original Author: 

From Our Next 4 Years' video "Why Save the Affordable Care Act?"

Commons Topics: Politics and GovernmentScience and HealthSidebar text: 

A team of animators volunteer their skills to make short videos on the Age of Trump.

Author: Jay WalljasperWork section or magazine section?: MagazineArticle or resource: 
Categories: Friends of GEO

Video Zeroes in on What's at Stake with Obamacare

On the Commons - July 21, 2017 - 4:43pm
What's really going to happen?

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would represent a serious retreat for social justice and basic human decency in the United States.  Alarmed by this step backward, artist and BMC alum Tona Wilson joined Our Next 4 Years, a team of animators volunteering their skills to make short videos on health care and other important issues of the Age of Trump.

This one, with a score composed by Jeremy Mage, zeroes in about what repeal of Obamacare really means.

Original Author: 

From Our Next 4 Years' video "Why Save the Affordable Care Act?"

Commons Topics: Politics and GovernmentScience and HealthSidebar text: 

A team of animators volunteer their skills to make short videos on the Age of Trump.

Author: Jay WalljasperWork section or magazine section?: MagazineArticle or resource: 
Categories: Friends of GEO

What a Wealthy Heir Learned from Mobile Home residents

On the Commons - July 21, 2017 - 4:35pm
A remarkable lesson in social solidarity

This is an excerpt from the  book Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good.  Chuck Collins is the director of the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies and coeditor of Inequality.org

 

Have you ever lived in a mobile home? Not me. Until the age of 24, I had never set foot in one. But two years later, I’d been inside hundreds. My first job out of college was to work with mobile home owners who rented their home sites in private parks around New England. The goal was to help them organize and buy their parks as resident-owned cooperatives.

Original Author: Chuck CollinsPullquote: 

They did not know I had a secret. I was wealthy. I was born on third base.

(Photo by Roadside Pictures under a Creative Commons license.)

Commons Topics: Community LifeEconomy and MarketsWork section or magazine section?: Magazine
Categories: Friends of GEO

What a Wealthy Heir Learned from Mobile Home residents

On the Commons - July 21, 2017 - 4:33pm
A remarkable lesson in social solidarity

Have you ever lived in a mobile home? Not me. Until the age of 24, I had never set foot in one. But two years later, I’d been inside hundreds. My first job out of college was to work with mobile home owners who rented their home sites in private parks around New England. The goal was to help them organize and buy their parks as resident-owned cooperatives.

Original Author: Chuck CollinsPullquote: 

They did not know I had a secret. I was wealthy. I was born on third base.

(Photo by Roadside Pictures under a Creative Commons license.)

Commons Topics: Community LifeEconomy and MarketsWork section or magazine section?: MagazineArticle or resource: 
Categories: Friends of GEO

A More Equitable Economy Exists Right Next Door

On the Commons - July 21, 2017 - 4:19pm
In Quebec, coops and non-profits account for 8-10 percent of GDP
  • Business owners gather at an elegant Montreal event center to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a large-scale economic partnership. The former chief of Quebec’s largest bank is the guest of honor.
  • Sidewalks bustle with people walking in and out of homes, offices, bank, pharmacy, workout studio and coffee shop at Montreal’s Technopole Angus— a development that already sports 56 business with 2500 employees and will eventually encompass a million-square-feet of real estate.
Original Author: Pullquote: 

“We always say the social economy is simply the formalization of the commons,” explains Nancy Neamtan, co-founder of a large network of social economy organizations.

(By Wally Gobetz under a Creative Commons license)

Commons Topics: Economy and MarketsInternationalAuthor: Jay WalljasperWork section or magazine section?: MagazineArticle or resource: 
Categories: Friends of GEO

A More Equitable Economy Exists Right Next Door

On the Commons - July 21, 2017 - 4:19pm
In Quebec, coops and non-profits account for 8-10 percent of GDP
  • Business owners gather at an elegant Montreal event center to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a large-scale economic partnership. The former chief of Quebec’s largest bank is the guest of honor.
  • Sidewalks bustle with people walking in and out of homes, offices, bank, pharmacy, workout studio and coffee shop at Montreal’s Technopole Angus— a development that already sports 56 business with 2500 employees and will eventually encompass a million-square-feet of real estate.
Original Author: Pullquote: 

“We always say the social economy is simply the formalization of the commons,” explains Nancy Neamtan, co-founder of a large network of social economy organizations.

(By Wally Gobetz under a Creative Commons license)

Commons Topics: Economy and MarketsInternationalAuthor: Jay WalljasperWork section or magazine section?: MagazineArticle or resource: 
Categories: Friends of GEO

Illinois's Cook County Helps Solar Energy Cooperatives Rise and Shine

Shareable - Commons - July 19, 2017 - 4:23pm

In Cook County, Illinois, one of the most populous counties in the U.S., officials are taking an innovative approach to spur job growth and promote sustainable energy. Last April, they launched a program to support community shared solar power in the Chicago area and selected 15 pilot sites — public housing complexes, churches, industrial areas, and landfills, to implement community-owned solar projects.

Categories: Friends of GEO

Tenants March To Stop Giveaways To Wall Street Landlords

It's Our Economy - July 19, 2017 - 10:01am
Above Photo: Margie Mathers, a housing activist with MH Action, speaking at the Tenant March on Washington, July 12, 2017. While Republicans are proposing severe cuts to low-income housing assistance, they are continuing to subsidize Blackstone and other private equity housing profiteers. It was a brutally hot and humid day in the nation’s capital and Margie Mathers needed a cane to get up to the podium, but the Florida senior had a story she was determined to tell. “When I moved into our manufactured housing community in North Fort Myers, it was a beautiful, peaceful place,” Mathers told the crowd of around 1,000 activists who’d converged on the city for a July 13 Tenant March on Washington. “Now I have neighbors who are really struggling. They’re taking their medications every other day instead of every day and not eating the food they need to be healthy.” What changed? Her development had been purchased Equity LifeStyles Property Inc., a private equity firm specializing in developments where residents own their trailer homes but rent the land under them. This new landlord quickly jacked up Mathers’s monthly rent to $630, from $230 just four years ago. To fight back, Mathers became involved with MH Action, which is organizing owners of manufactured homes to protect the affordability and quality of their communities. This group co-sponsored the Tenant March, along with more than a dozen others, including New York Communities for Change, Community Voices Heard, People’s Action, CASA de Maryland, and the Center for Popular Democracy. Organizers reported that marchers came from 16 different states. A core goal of the protest was to draw attention to the fact that while Republicans are proposing severe cuts to housing assistance, they are continuing to support subsidies for private equity firms that are squeezing low-income tenants around the country. President Trump’s proposed budget would cut $7.4 billion in housing funding by eliminating housing vouchers, cutting public housing funding by $1.8 billion, and significantly reducing homeless assistance grants. While stripping support for low-income Americans, the budget would maintain programs that help fill the pockets of wealthy investors. The biggest private equity player in the housing market is Blackstone, which has become the country’s largest landlord, owning more than $102 billion in real estate. Speaking at the rally, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blasted the administration for backing a $1 billion loan to Blackstone to buy public housing. “The government is literally using taxpayer money to make it cheaper for this multi-billion dollar Wall Street fund to buy up housing,” Warren said. Such loan guarantees and other taxpayer-subsidized perks for private equity housing investors would continue under the White House budget plan. This is hardly surprising, given the influence of Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who has a personal net worth of $12.5 billion. He currently chairs Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum and is a close personal advisor to the president. According to Politico, the two sometimes speak on the phone several times a week. Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, a leading affordable housing advocate, pointed out that the role of the big financial firms is nothing new. “Every housing crisis in the United States has been brought to us by Wall Street, from the Great Depression, to redlining leading to housing segregation, to the recent foreclosure crisis,” Westin said. “This new crisis—the rental crisis—has been brought to us by large corporations like the Blackstone Group.” After the kickoff rally, marchers carried out a “die-in” at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and ended the day with a protest outside a luxury condo building owned by Blackstone. “The government is literally using taxpayer money to make it cheaper for this multibillion dollar Wall Street fund to buy up housing.”SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN Marchers vowed to keep up the fight to make affordable housing a right, despite the formidable forces against them. Omar Taylor told the crowd an encouraging story about his own battle against a giant private rental property owner in Oakland who’d evicted his aunt after a foreclosure auction. With the support of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, he was able to mobilize enough pressure on the landlord to negotiate a deal so that his aunt could move back into the home that had been in their family for 40 years. “We had to fight for our property because we have to care for our community, for our elders,” Taylor said. “And we did it by fighting collectively.”
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

How Big Is America’s Employee-Owned Economy?

It's Our Economy - July 19, 2017 - 10:01am
Above Photo: Flickr/ fiona.mcgowan Employee ownership (EO) is gaining traction as a way to address a number of social questions including rising wealth inequality, and the best way to create strong local economies As a sign of employee ownership’s increasing importance look no further than Colorado, where Congressman Jared Polis kicked-off his gubernatorial campaign at Save-A-Lot, an employee-owned grocery store. If we are to seriously promote employee ownership as a new way forward for the American economy, we should first understand where employee ownership is at today. It turns out the size of employee ownership is intrinsically linked to how you define “employee ownership”. These two questions — “how do you define EO?” and “how large is the employee-owned economy?” — are questions I have spent considerable time on, first as a member of the 50 by 50 design team and now as a co-founder of Certified Employee-Owned. Let’s walk through a few ways of defining EO and what that means for the employee-owned economy. Number of employee-owned companies and employee-owners for various definitions of employee ownership. Before we jump into EO, let’s take a look at the size of the American private sector. Each year, every business operating in our economy is counted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The results are summarized in the Statistics of U.S. Businesses (SUSB). According to the SUSB, in 2014 there were 5.8 million businesses employing 121 million Americans in the private sector. Not all of these businesses would be eligible to be employee-owned — for example companies setup by a lone freelancer. Looking at firms with at least 5 employees, we find 2.2 million businesses employing 115 million Americans. Now thinking about employee ownership, the most general notion of EO would include everyone who has any ownership stake in their place of work. There are numerous forms of ownership, but stock ownership is the core of American capitalism. After all, it is the stock owners who are entitled to a company’s profits and who elect the board of directors. If we define EO as encompassing everyone who owns at least one share of stock in their employer, we cast a wide net. This definition includes everyone from a low-level employee who owns a few shares in their 401k, to a partner at a law firm, to a CEO who owns 100% of their business. It’s reasonable to assert that over 99% of businesses in America employ at least one person who owns at least one share of stock. Therefore this definition of EO includes nearly every business in the private sector. While every business has some EO, not every employee is a stock-owner. Luckily the 2014 General Social Survey asks Americans working in private businesses if they own stock in their employer. Of those surveyed, roughly 20% responded in the affirmative. Combining this with the number of people in the private sector means there are 23 million Americans who report owning at least one share of stock in their employer. A stricter definition of EO would only include companies that have broad-based employee ownership, where broad-based means that access to ownership is open to all employees and concentration of ownership is limited in some way. The most prolific vehicle of broad-based employee ownership in America is the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). According to National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) analysis of Department of Labor form 550 data, in 2014 there were 6.7 thousand ESOPs with 10.6 million active participants. Some of the most highly regarded EO companies in America have ESOPs including Publix, King Arthur Flour, Lifetouch, and WinCo Foods. However, the vast majority of participants in ESOPs are at large public companies where the ESOP owns just a small portion of the company — often less than 1%. For example, Walmart is the largest ESOP employer in America, accounting for 1.1 million active ESOP participants alone. Just a few hundred public-company ESOPs account for the majority of ESOP participation. Private-company ESOPs number around 6.2 thousand and have 2.3 million active participants. We can rule out companies like Walmart by further narrowing our definition to only include companies with significant and broad-based employee ownership by employees. Popular demarcations are at 30% (based on historical precedent, and also the standard we use for Certified Employee-Owned), 50% (based on majority control), and 100% employee ownership. Unfortunately there is no single source of information on percent employee ownership across companies and the best we can do today is provide rough estimates based on information gathered from a variety of sources. The exact numbers are summarized in the table above, but significant and broad-based employee ownership likely includes no more than 7 thousand companies with 2 million employees. Comparing these numbers to the size of the private sector we see that significant and broad-based employee ownership includes just 0.3% of U.S. Businesses and employs just 1.9% of the private sector. Finally, we can include employee control as a third and final factor in EO. This gets us to the worker cooperative model. Again, there is no consensus on the exact definition, but according to the Democracy at Work Institute, there are 300 worker cooperatives with 7 thousand worker-owners. While we see a wide range of sizes, any definition of EO that includes great employee-owned companies and excludes businesses like Walmart results in an employee-owned economy that is a small portion of the private sector. The implication is clear. We need bold and ambitious plans to get to 50 million employee owners by 2050. More on how to get there in my next post.
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News
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