Friday, April 02, 2004

Worker Capitalism

Recently, maybe forever, corporate titans have been giving themselves big raises and bonuses by being on each others boards, buying tax code favors from politicians, and letting trickle down take care of anyone that doesn’t have any influence over who gets what in the corporate world. Lately, some have even gone so far as to adopt corrupt practices to make sure their bottom line titillates Wall Street, to ensure that their stock options reap big rewards. So what about the old maxim that the primary responsibility of a corporation is to its stockholders? Some capitalists seem to be taking issue with this tenet of corporate practice if the stockholders happen to be owners of large pension funds who exercise their voting power to curb the excesses of corporate managers.

Jay Hancock of the The Baltimore Sun has recently reported that as early as 2001 U. S. pension funds owned 26% of corporate America, while mutual funds controlled only 19%. The only difference is, pension fund managers seem to take their fiduciary responsibility more seriously than mutual fund managers. Pension fund managers are starting to press corporate managers to pay more attention to owners and less attention to feathering their own nest, while mutual fund managers seem to count on their “investors” automatic approval of management decisions, as long as the bottom line is competitive.

Since corporate titans own politicians, for the most part, particularly those in the Republican party, not much is ever going to get done in closing tax loopholes bought and paid for by their benefactors. So, if the widening gap between rich and poor is ever going to narrow, it calls for even more worker capitalism. If more workers can be encouraged to invest in funds which exercise their power for the benefit of workers without killing the goose that lays the golden egg, the situation for those in the bottom 99% of the economic ladder might actually improve. If there is pressure from worker owned funds to reduce executive compensation in all industries and pass it down to those without corporate decision making power, maybe the welfare of workers, whose economic progress has stagnated for the last thirty years will actually improve. After all, are these executives going to quit if they make ten million a year instead of a hundred million? I doubt it. Ditto for overpaid athletes and celebrities. They all work for one corporation or another that could be owned significantly by funds owned by workers.

Maybe if workers actually saw the fruits of ownership they would come to appreciate more and more the benefits of the invisible hand, honest dealing, competitive pressures, and realistic regulation of business, without just demanding a greater share of the take. Maybe they would accept reductions in corporate taxes, reduced corporate paid benefits, and accept more responsibility for their own welfare if the result was a more competitive company and more income tricking down beyond the command level.

Of course this would be labeled the new socialism by those in high places who would no longer have the run of company to divert profits to their own pocketbooks. But, really, it’s just capitalism at its best.

No comments: