...a social business coalition
Communism, Inc. is a half-serious name for a proposed socially-progressive, democratically-run coalition of businesses and individuals. I chose the name partly just to annoy free market capitalists (who tend to revile communism and socialism), but also because there are some genuine elements of communism and socialism in the idea as well as some elements of capitalism (hence the "Inc."). It is also a reminder that danger lurks at both ends of the collectivist-individualist spectrum.
While the coalition's goal would be social benefit, it would still sell goods and services at greater than cost (to most customers), and accumulate capital from these profits.
Once enough capital had been accumulated, it could engage in competitive acquisition -- buying up smaller businesses which would otherwise be absorbed into the plutonomy, and refactoring them to work as part of the coalition. The intention would be for them to remain just as competitive outside the coalition, but the surplus benefits (profits and other perks) would be distributed within the coalition according to democratically-decided rules.
Members pay for goods and services on a sliding scale adjusted for income; non-members would generally pay higher rates. The very poorest would pay at-cost or possibly less, depending on the degree of hardship. This is especially true for services with low marginal cost.
Members of the coalition would be encouraged:
- to set prices for each member in a way that generally reduces economic disparity among members (with sustainability being a priority)
- to hire other members first, when they need work done
This "encouragement" would not be rigidly enforced, but rather would be evaluated continually and the evaluations would be easily findable online. Members (individuals or businesses) who were particularly positive or negative in their contribution-to-ability ratio would be called out for praise or condemnation.
Members would network and share resources (commerce, job listings, spares/supplies) using federated retail principles.
It's not clear what would be the best legal structure (i.e. type of corporation) to use for these entities. It's often assumed that if you're trying to set up a benevolent business, it should be a non-profit -- but that may pose a conflict with some of the design goals.
Regardless of that, the legal structure to use should be the one which best supports the following elements:
- democratic control of the organization - where "the people" are the employees, creators, fans, etc. -- or more generally: whoever is involved should have a voice.
- any hierarchy needed for day-to-day operation should be minimal and liquid (i.e. easily and quickly modified)
- there should be limits on salary differences (e.g. Mondragon's 6.5 ratio)
- the organization should have the ability to accumulate surplus capital sufficient for the following purposes:
- as a buffer against lean times
- to capitalize new businesses built on the same model -- especially businesses that help individuals and communities become more self-sufficient and resilient
- to buy existing businesses for conversion to that model (this might be described as "purchasing the contracts of corporate persons and freeing them from their slavery" -- not that I believe in corporate personhood, but any legal principle should be applied consistently rather than only where its proponents want it applied)
- to help support those in its community (a circle which should gradually expand over time as profits increase)
- provide government-like services, i.e. services not geared towards directly generating profit, but rather towards "raising all boats in the harbor" (open research & development is a big one that comes to mind)
- to generally be a good corporate citizen
- loyalty to its existing employees and community. (This seems to be an emergent property of the co-op structure. For example, when the economic crisis hit Spain, Mondragon didn't lay anyone off; instead, they voted to cut everyone's hours more or less equally... and remained profitable.)
In the short-term, the organization's top priorities would be (a) fulfilling its core business mission (helping the economically disenfranchised to make a living) and (b) paying its bills and employees.
The larger idea involving accumulated capital would only come into play if/when there started to be a profit (i.e. more revenue than necessary to meet business expenses). Pooling resources across multiple orgs in order to accomplish shared goals seems like a thing that could happen as well. I'm seeing lots of smaller companies working together -- instead of today's more common scenario of a few giant companies competing with each other for every scrap of market share, at the expense of the common good.
The idea is that this would not only prevent the business from becoming evil, but would also help spread a more benevolent business model which could gradually take economic share away from the plutonomy, and give regular people some real alternatives when deciding how to "vote with their dollars".
On a more immediate level, making these goals explicit and designing them into the corporate structure -- so that that this is truly for and about all of us, rather than really being about profit and only paying lip-service to higher ideals -- should help engage and energize participants
Austrian-school libertarians should have no problem with this idea, even if they have no interest in joining: "It is fully consistent with libertarian- ism that, for example, a group of Puritans decide together to settle a territory and institute a religious commonwealth, or that a group of communists set up a socialist republic."