The planet Earth cannot support 10 billion people living an upper-middle class lifestyle, buying the newest car, TV, video game. The planet’s Eco-system will collapse before that and we will all die, and then no one is getting that expensive watch or house in a desirable zip-code. It should already be clear to everyone by now, our Eco-system is currently falling apart, and it will be surprising if our children grow old enough to watch their own children grow up. Still we have to try to make things better.
Fixing the planet doesn’t mean we all have to chew granola and grow veggies on the roof. However, it will require some serious changes in the way our brain thinks, the way we see ourselves in relationship to the world around us. This will require changes in the way we work and live.
It is possible to re-examine the way we think about money and relationships, greed and desire. If we pause and really reflect on what gives us a sense of being fulfilled, it isn’t the cheap thrill of a purchase, it is family, community, and the effort we give for those we love. But these feelings need reinforcement in our daily lives or we lose touch with them. It is possible to increase these feelings of belonging on a larger social scale by shifting how businesses operate, away from traditional methods of boss / employee, toward more cooperative approaches formed around equality.
Running a business means constructing goals and mission statements. Most goals revolve around the idea of making profit. It is important to have a clear idea about how money will be made, what type of product and services will be provided to generate profit. A cooperative is not much different from other businesses in this regard, with one important exception. The primary purpose of a traditional business is to make profits. The first objective of any cooperative should be to protect and further the cooperative.
The goal of a traditional business is to earn profit, not to protect its workers.
The goal of a cooperative should be to provide for the workers.
Providing for workers includes the idea that the business will seek profit, but not at the expense of the cooperative principles. The members of a cooperative should be treated as family. Families can get a bit dysfunctional, and there are tools available to help smooth out relationships. The fastest way to smooth out relationships is for everyone to accept that equality and cooperation comes first in the mission statement. When this is evidenced in actions by the leaders, it becomes easier for the less involved to support this idea, which adds momentum to the processes of communication and decision making.
I touched on it earlier but it will be repeated often throughout this series. People who are charged with managing systems or other people may feel entitled to extra money for their experience and accumulated expertise. Paying any one person extra money for a specific task erodes the principles of shared responsibility and shared profit in two ways:
First. Claiming one skill set is more valuable than another establishes a hierarchy of effort, whereby the work ethic of other people will atrophy in light of that skill receiving a higher pay. This will lead to tiers of participation as disillusion sets in and people drift away. The entire notion of a cooperative as a shared responsibility dissolves and the cooperative is doomed.
Second. When you pay a manager to do a task no one else is doing, that person becomes non-expendable. If they get sick, or leave for a different job, there is no one left who knows how to do that job. This leaves everyone at risk to the happiness of that one individual.
Job rotation can help alleviate feelings of underpay, but it should be clear from the beginning that no one person deserves more pay than anyone else, regardless of responsibility.
This is the goal of the cooperative. Equality of pay and equality of responsibility.
Keep in mind, not everyone will be able to make the transition from traditional business to cooperative business. Knowing who to hire and fire gets into decision making, and that is a whole new area of thought to delve into. We’ll save it for a later post.