“An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.” — Arthur Miller
I spend a lot of time thinking about how and why our laws are created. Each rule is a way to resolve a specific problem or to achieve a certain objective. Law is a way for us to have a common understanding of how we all interact each other. Taken altogether they can reflect the priorities of our society: for example, which social programs we fund or what kinds of activities we prohibit. But all of that is assuming there’s a functional system in place to enact law based upon addressing real issues in peoples’ lives. When they don’t, or in practice result in causing more difficulties for everyone, then there’s a problem with how that society designs its own rules.
We’re now way beyond the point of asking whether the US political system is broken. The question now is how we fix it.
The problem with initiatives like Rootstrikers is that it’s trying to use the system to fix the system. Our lawmakers aren’t doing their job of addressing their constituents’ needs, because they’re more often representing the interests of those that have the money to finance their election campaigns and spend the resources to convince lawmakers that their enterprises are crucial to the economy and the creation of jobs. Lawmakers are already failing to represent their constituents’ interests on more specific policies, so how would they even begin to address the brokenness of our campaign system? Especially when all of the private, wealthy interests combined have a stake in keeping the system rigged in their favor?
I think we need to step back a little and address a larger element at play: the extreme power that corporations themselves have to influence government. While greater taxation and regulations can remedy some of the symptoms, they’re just patches to the underlying problem that big companies largely dictate state policies in their favor, in the interests of their CEOs, board members, and investors. Corporate executives will make any decision to maximize profit, even if it means laying off their workers or giving them terrible working conditions.
And that’s the point: corporations don’t even function in the best interests of their own employees because they don’t need to. Many times, they’re even economically incentivized to undermine their own workers’ interests. Which is why it’s necessary to have a paradigm-shift about what it means to have a successful, valuable private enterprise. As of now, all we measure and celebrate is how much wealth and resources they accumulate. What if companies were at least forced to prioritize the interests of their very own employees?
Co-operative businesses are a direct challenge to the corporate business model. Co-operatives are by design enterprises that function in the interests of its workers, consumers, and communities. The model for management in co-ops vary widely, but there’s always going to be the assurance that the enterprise won’t do anything harmful to its workers in the name of maximizing its profits.
I think that a large part of the reason why our democracy is broken is because most people lack shared decision-making and ownership in their work. A mass adoption of the co-operative business model may atomize the economy in a way that fosters more community awareness and a heightened value for the commons. On a more practical level, it’ll force people to be more engaged with others and learn how to negotiate and compromise in a way that I think most people just don’t have the opportunity to do outside of their nuclear families.
Not all types of businesses should be co-opted into co-ops (sorry, had to do that). I’m also not saying co-operatives are going to be the be all end all towards a perfectly stable, more equitable society. But I think promoting co-operative businesses are a step in the right direction, not just for democratizing workplaces but also because they could lead to better services in general.
Can you imagine if you could join a co-op insurance company? You would pay your dues every month and feel completely safe knowing that if anything were to happen to you, you’ll be taken care of. They won’t have a reason to swindle you out of coverage, since it exists to protect you and all of its members.
How about co-op publishers? It would do everything to provide the best service for its writers and creators. It may even have “member readers” so it’d be intimately familiar with all sides of the consumption experience. A co-op publisher likely wouldn’t push for harsher, more extreme copyright enforcement provisions since it’ll also be concerned about its readers’ interests.
And even credit unions, which really are just co-op banks. I have accounts at two different credit unions, and they don’t change up the fees without proper warning. I love knowing that they’re likely not taking giant financial/investment risks at their members’ expense.
In general, I’m getting tired of only thinking about problems and their temporary solutions without coming up with some effective strategies to move past them. I’m definitely not the only one. When people lament about the Occupy Movement, or act like it was a big waste of time, I have to disagree with them. Up until that point, huge swaths of the population was simply in denial that our problems were institutional. I think a lot of people felt that they were alone in suffering. What Occupy did was bring people together to share their experiences of living with economic insecurity.
Strong communication and patient consideration are necessary for coming to shared decisions, but both of these I think, take tons of practice and it’s always going to come with its frustrations. By building enterprises that themselves necessitate regular exposure to collaborative problem-solving and shared responsibility, maybe we’d all grow to be better at civic engagement.
However we do it, it’s time to take back our democracy. It’s not enough to hope and plead that the system is capable of reforming itself.