She is on her way

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. — Arundhati Roy

From Minnesota, “Residents work to purchase their own mobile home park“:

Owner Bill Halverstadt decided to give the residents who live in the
14-acre Meadowview Manor park the opportunity to buy it and pointed
them in the direction of help to make it happen. It started the
residents on a path of forming a cooperative to manage a resident-owned
park.

Halverstadt said his decision followed a family tradition to share with others the benefits he’s received in life.

“I’m glad to turn it over to the tenants,” Halverstadt said. “It’s good
for the tenants because they will have the confidence and a brighter
future. It gives them some certainty they otherwise would not have.”

Sharon Magnan, Meadowview Cooperative president, has lived in the park
for eight years. Magnan said as a community, residents decided owning
the park themselves provided them with the greatest security.

“Because our fear was that should the current owner sell it to a
developer or for any other reason we were all out of a home or at least
out of a place to put our home,” Magnan said.

They found help with the Northcountry Cooperative Foundation, a
Minneapolis-based nonprofit established in 2000 by a development fund
with a 30-year history. Northcountry Cooperative Foundation was
designed to help cooperatives and has a focus on affordable housing. …

… Supporters of this project are not reinventing the wheel, but are
drawing from a lengthy history of resident-owned manufactured home
communities in New Hampshire where 20 percent of the parks, more than
100, are now owned by resident cooperatives. Studies of the 30-year
history in New Hampshire have found resident-owned parks have lower lot
rents, sell more quickly for a higher value and are in parks that are
more well-maintained, Walker said. The residents have a vested interest
in being economically efficient.

We’ve been over this before. Manufactured homes based on somebody else’s land depreciate, like cars. Manufactured homes based on land owned by the homeowner appreciate, like homes are supposed to. When landlord-owned communities convert into resident-owned communities, the residents gain security and certainty about their future, their monthly payments often go down, and those payments go to building equity — creating wealth.

Resident-owned communities, in other words, are good for the economy.

There’s a politically winning cause here for whichever party has the brains and the will to seize it first. Championing the conversion of “trailer parks” into resident-owned communities would involve legal protections for residents — such as right-of-first-refusal laws with reasonable timelines — as well as various low-cost incentives or loan guarantees, but it wouldn’t have to be an expensive, budget-busting enterprise.

I’m assuming this effort would also prove to be politically popular because I have this theory that actually helping to improve voters lives is something those voters might appreciate.

* * * * * * * * *

From Oregon, “Founder of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods transfers business to employees“:

Scores of employees gathered to help Bob Moore celebrate his 81st
birthday this week at the company that bears his name, Bob’s Red Mill
Natural Foods
.

Moore, whose mutual loves of healthy eating and
old-world technologies spawned an internationally distributed line of
products, responded with a gift of his own — the whole company. The
Employee Stock Ownership Plan Moore unveiled means that his 209
employees now own the place and its 400 offerings of stone-ground
flours, cereals and bread mixes.

“This is Bob taking care of
us,” said Lori Sobelson, who helps run the business’ retail operation.
“He expects a lot out of us, but really gives us the world in return.”

Moore declined to say how much he thinks the company is worth. In 2004,
however, one business publication estimated that year’s revenues at
more than $24 million. A company news release issued this week stated
that Bob’s Red Mill has chalked up an annual growth rate of between 20
percent to 30 percent every year since.

“In some ways I had a
choice,” Moore said of what he could have done with the company he
founded with his wife, Charlee, in 1978. “But in my heart, I didn’t.
These people are far too good at their jobs for me to just sell it.”

Bob could have made a lot of money if he’d just sold the company to somebody else. Bob was smarter than that. And, yes, better than that.

Read the whole story.

This is something that can happen. This is another way the world might actually be.

  • lonespark

    Oooh. Hopey-changey goodness.
    Bob’s Red Mill products are on my list of stuff to buy on the 20th of each month when I really focus buying stuff form good companies, local and otherwise.

  • http://foreverinhell.blogspot.com Personal Failure

    Be the change you want to see.
    Thanks, Fred, I needed those stories.

  • http://knighthawk-ah.deviantart.com/ KnightHawk

    The world and its peoples really are good, and worth fighting for.
    Love. Peace. Metallica.

  • chris the cynic

    I also needed those stories. It can be far to easy to miss the good in the world.

  • LL

    ESOPs are not new (I know Fred didn’t say they are), they’re just rare.
    But supposedly, we’re all a part of a giant ESOP-like entity known as the U.S. federal govt. We send trillions in taxes to it every year. And yet it seems it often doesn’t do much for its many small stockholders, only for its few giant ones.

  • Tonio

    Yet another thread title that sparks a musical association, this one with a Saigon Kick ballad. (Imagine what Sugar Ray’s “Someday” would sound like with those type of group vocals.)

    as well as various low-cost incentives or loan guarantees

    I would like to see an equivalent of the New Deal’s REA for both resident-owned communities and for health insurance co-ops.
    I like the idea of companies owned by their employees. How would one avoid the Enron type of abuses, where the benefits from the inflated stock prices blinded many employees to the consequences?

  • HBQBJ

    A month or so ago there was a local news report on a bill in the Wisconsin legislature that would require property owners to allow mobile home residents to make an offer. I just tracked it down: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/SB-351.pdf
    There’s still some wiggle room in the bill (sellers only have to give the offer consideration in “good faith”), and it’s currently in hearings (http://www.legis.state.wi.us./2009/data/SB351hst.html). But given the makeup of the legislature, things probably look good for it, and for mobile home owners.

  • Erl

    Thank you, Fred.
    So. If we can hear her breathing, let’s get this baby on its way to being born.
    Suggestions, everyone?

  • http://jlake.com Jay Lake

    I live about 1/2 a mile from the Bob’s Red Mill headquarters and company store. This is great to see.

  • hapax

    While these stories make me feel happy to read, I’m kind of sad that they don’t seem to inspire me nearly as much as the snarky / indignant threads.
    There’s something there to be said about how the promise of eternal grace is not nearly as motivating as a stubbed toe when it come to getting me to actually DO something.
    :-(

  • M Groesbeck

    Is the second example a case of actual worker *control*, or just stock ownership?
    In most cases, employee “ownership” plans don’t come with any control of the company. Management is still the final authority on all decisions, employees just have their benefits and income staked on management’s decisions. Actually converting to a democratic workplace involves more than just spreading financial risk to people who can’t afford it; it requires changing how decisions are made.

  • http://jakobknits.blogspot.com Jake

    I think in a publically held company that’s true because employees make up a small percentage of shareholders, but if the company was privately held and the entire ownership was transferred to employees then the employees, as owners, will have the collective power to fire and replace management. I think.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5ec953d970b Cat Meadors

    Bob’s Red Mill: excellent gluten powder and polenta*. Also the only xanthan gum I’ve seen sold in consumer-sized amounts. (But you can get cheaper chickpea flour.) They’ve been my go-to company for all my hippy baking needs for a long time now.
    M Groesbeck – I dunno. I don’t see how it’s worse than a traditional company, unless you’re suggesting they’ll get all Enrony. (My mother-in-law knows scores of people who had all their retirement in Enron stock. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. (Well, maybe except the people who made the decisions that destroyed Enron. But not anyone who’s not actively trying to destroy the economy, at any rate.))
    *Firefox spellcheck** does not recognize this word. It suggests “polecat”. NOT OK.
    **Or the word spellcheck, apparently.

  • Perry

    OMG! Socialism!

  • http://wenzersaddictions.blogspot.com/ Wenzer

    I somehow got on the Bob’s Red Mill mailing list, so I get their catalogues from time to time. Usually I just buy their products in the supermarket tho. Today I threw a bag of their 10-Grain Bread Mix in the breadmaker. Yum. :-)

  • Brenda

    Ah, Fred. You make me cry.
    Brenda

  • Alexa

    OMG COMMUNISM!
    Ain’t it wonderful :)

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com mordicai

    I think the agricultural & industrial revolutions brought humans closer to utopia. I think the information revolution can be another step.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    LL: But supposedly, we’re all a part of a giant ESOP-like entity known as the U.S. federal govt. We send trillions in taxes to it every year. And yet it seems it often doesn’t do much for its many small stockholders, only for its few giant ones.
    Um, NO.

  • penny

    This is why I am a filthy socialist at heart. :)

  • LL

    RE Consumer Unit 5012
    “Um, NO.”
    I exaggerate slightly. I know the federal govt. does stuff. But my point about how they do more stuff for people with lots of money still stands. I doubt anybody knows exactly how much benefit extremely wealthy people and corporations get from the various govt entities.
    Also, the “liberal unions” referred to in your link aren’t the federal govt. And the part about safe food and water… I think that’s kinda debatable. Depending on which food and water we’re talking about. And the drugs, as well. And, as we see by recent news, automobile safety (guaranteed by the federal govt) isn’t exactly a given, either.
    So… um, YES. But keep tryin’, Consumer Unit 5012. One day, you’ll get it.

  • Tonio

    Alexa and Perry, why would any reasonable person see co-ops, resident-owned mobile home parks and employee-owned companies as socialist or communist? Unless you were lampooning the extremists who see any deviation from complete laissez-faire capitalism as the first step toward Leninism.

  • http://www.tvshowboards.com/stargate/ Erik Bloodaxe

    @Consumer Unit5012: That is an awesome article! Thanks for the link. And further thanks, Fred, to you too, for bringing my attention to these wonderful articles. :)
    @Tonio: It’s gotta be lampooning the extremists. They tend to be incapable of noticing the difference between voluntary and coercion to begin with, let alone the difference between local and national/global (which I guess only makes sense, considering the extent to which they wish to use coercion to force the whole globe to exhibit the same behavior and attitudes that their local community voluntarily abides by; they can’t even let themselves notice the difference, or the cognitive dissonance reaches the breaking point, presumably ;) ).

  • http://www.tvshowboards.com/stargate/ Erik Bloodaxe

    LL: Also, the “liberal unions” referred to in your link aren’t the federal govt. And the part about safe food and water… I think that’s kinda debatable. Depending on which food and water we’re talking about. And the drugs, as well. And, as we see by recent news, automobile safety (guaranteed by the federal govt) isn’t exactly a given, either.
    So because a few outliers slipped through the cracks, the very standards themselves have got to go? Anything lower than absolute perfection is automatically worthless? Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater! The point of the article was that we even have those standards to begin with, and there would’ve been no recall at all if there were no standards to require the company to fix whatever the problem is (“sticking gas peddle? Well, sucks to be you, but sorry, no refunds”). That something like this is rare is thanks to there actually being standards, else who knows what other “oh, that’s not going to be a problem” shortcuts various other companies may’ve taken w/o them. There’s certainly still room for improvement (which will likely be a constant process) and better enforcement, but the article didn’t address whether or not there was room for improvement (and certainly made no claim that there wasn’t) because it’s main point was pointing out that the existence of those very beneficial standards themselves are too often taken for granted.

  • JJ

    We’ve been over this before. Manufactured homes based on somebody else’s land depreciate, like cars. Manufactured homes based on land owned by the homeowner appreciate, like homes are supposed to. When landlord-owned communities convert into resident-owned communities, the residents gain security and certainty about their future, their monthly payments often go down, and those payments go to building equity — creating wealth.
    I’ve read your past thesis on this and you’re missing a very fundamental point. Land appreciates. Homes depreciate (putting aside capital investment). Land + home combined does (usually) appreciate but that’s not because having the home on owned as opposed to leased land magically makes the structure gain value (your “creating money”) but because the appreciation of the land (usually) outweighs the depreciation of the home.
    If you put a trailer on a patch of leased land and a trailer on a patch of owned land, the trailer will depreciate just the same. You can’t magically turn the trailer from a depreciating asset into an appreciating one by changing the type of land it sits on.
    What you’re describing is a wealth transfer, not wealth creation (or if there is value-creation it’s not for this reason, it’s to do with other things like the value of reducing worry or an increased incentive to invest in land when it’s owned). Sorry, no free lunches.

  • http://www.tvshowboards.com/stargate/ Erik Bloodaxe

    I think the agricultural & industrial revolutions brought humans closer to utopia. I think the information revolution can be another step.
    Well, aside from that whole “we don’t know how to dispose of our trash that doesn’t in some way cause harm to the environment” drawback. ;) But, that aside, generally speaking, I agree, given our lives now are certainly far better than having to still spend them constantly in the wilderness. And here’s hoping the information revolution provides us with the tools we need to fix the drawbacks from the previous ones. :)

  • http://www.tvshowboards.com/stargate/ Erik Bloodaxe

    Crap, forgot to label my above comment. :-/ I was quoting mordicai.

  • Pius Thicknesse

    I like the idea of putting people with manufactured homes on the same footing as other folks seeking a house so they can get a bit of a leg-up. :)

  • HBQBJ

    @JJ
    “Wealth transfer”? Is that the new term for “sale” kids are using now? I do agree, though, there’s no such thing as creating wealth. But there’s creating value, by virtue of the difference between a neighborhood of tenants and a neighborhood of homeowners. This value isn’t just for the park residents, but also for any nearby property owners, who now have an invested community next door.

  • Joshua

    HBQBJ:
    I do agree, though, there’s no such thing as creating wealth.
    Why not? The economy is not a zero-sum game. People, on average, have vastly more material wealth than 100 or 200 years ago, even though there are a lot more of us to share the pool of wealth. Someone’s been creating it.

  • JJ

    Yeah, you’re right the one in the example is a sale (though from the sound of it it’s got an element of gifting which is wealth transfer “his decision followed a family tradition to share with others the benefits he’s received in life.”).
    But beyond this example, Fred’s always presenting this as something the government should push in some way. Unless he’s asking for the government to “push” it by just saying its’ a jolly good idea or something, then any policy is going to require some level of compulsion for owners to sell to residents when they otherwise wouldn’t have. hence transfer.
    not saying I’ve got anything against govt’ enforced wealth transfers in the right circumstance, I’m just questioning whether this is really “creating” rather than just transferring wealth.

  • truth is life

    Fred outlines the main policy procedures he wants just after the article. Basically, he wants residents to have right-of-first-refusal if the landowner decides to sell with reasonable timelines on that, so landowners can’t just say they’re selling it for one day then turn around and do it, plus government (and not-necessarily federal, but state or local) subsidized or guaranteed loans. That has precedent–the US government has done things like that before (eg., the FHA). Nothing particularly revolutionary.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    HBQB: “Wealth transfer”? Is that the new term for “sale” kids are using now?
    I believe that’s rightwingese for “ZOMFG COMMUNISM!!!@!@!!two!”
    ———
    LL: Also, the “liberal unions” referred to in your link aren’t the federal govt.
    Nope, but the government helps them go about their business un-lynched.
    (I know of few things that will drive a man to socialism faster than reading up on “Labor Management Practices” of the late 19th century, The main tools were shotguns, axe handles, and rope.)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/fearlessson FearlessSon

    I’m assuming this effort would also prove to be politically popular because I have this theory that actually helping to improve voters lives is something those voters might appreciate.

    Fred, I think that you are forgetting your previous post about people getting screwed over because they keep demanding to be screwed over. Yes, any initiave to help voter’s lives should be popular in theory, but in practice it is not so neat. I am sure that many people would oppose such efforts simply on the basis of those efforts being done by a party they identify as their opposition.
    Unfortunately, we live in a political climate where people will disagree with something just for the sake of disagreeing with it as a defining characteristic of their platform, and as a result time gets wasted and things do not get done.

  • Tom

    Off topic but I just wanted to thank you for turning me on to Chesterton.
    Just finished “the man who was thursday” and halfway through “father brown” now – both are absolutely BRILLIANT

  • alfgifu

    According to this article, analysts in the UK use the results of the high street giant John Lewis (and associated supermarket Waitrose) as the best indicator of how the retail industry is doing. John Lewis always releases more comprehensive, up to date information on its business than anyone else – because “it is a “partnership”, owned by its 69,000 permanent staff, and therefore different from most other public limited companies.”
    The story of John Spedan Lewis, who established the partnership in the 1920s, can be found here. Apparently he was disgusted when he realised that he, his brother and his father (the original directors of the business) earned the same amount between them as all their employees put together.
    The thing is, for nearly a hundred years John Lewis has proved to be a profitable, competitive and trustworthy business. It’s run on a democratic basis by the permanent employees, who are all partners with a genuine stake in the business. I know people who work there, and love it.
    Socialism + democracy. It works.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    It’s run on a democratic basis by the permanent employees, who are all partners with a genuine stake in the business…Socialism + democracy. It works.

    While I want to see more of that in America, I fail to see how that business model is socialism, since it doesn’t involve government ownership. Why wouldn’t this model be capitalism with the capital more democratized? The capital is still in private hands. Similarly, calling the union concept socialism would only make sense if one believes that all the capital and power should rest with a small oligarchy.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a625ea76970c twitter.com/matt_heath

    (unlurks)
    If workers’ direct control of the means of production isn’t socialism, nothing is. Unless you’ve bought either the Soviet claim that they were the only Real, True Socialists or the cold war American line that socialism=coercion, then I can’t see how you’d say co-ops weren’t socialist. Co-operative pioneer Robert Owen was known as a socialist long before the highly statist, Marxist form of socialism was thought of.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    If workers’ direct control of the means of production isn’t socialism, nothing is.

    I had understood socialism to mean that the government controlled the means of production, and that isn’t necessarily coercive. Nor does it necessarily entail the repression involved in the Soviet system, although the American cold warriors would have people believe that. But I’m less interested in defining socialism and more interested in making a distinction between government ownership of capital and the democratization of capital in general.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a625ea76970c twitter.com/matt_heath

    Tonio: You’re probably right that pinning down a definition is far from the most important thing. Like the names of most political movements “socialism” is really a family-resemblance term anyway; you’d probably never specify necessary and sufficient conditions that most people would agree on. Still FWIW, throughout the history of socialist movements a sizable faction of those using the umbrella term “socialist” have been outright hostile to the state-ownership and wanted to use trades unions and mutualist organisations as ways of putting workers in control of their labour.

  • http://www.importoutpost.com/ imported furniture

    Everyone living here on earth is good but then again they have also bad side. its up to them which one they wanted to prevail.

  • Tonio

    Still FWIW, throughout the history of socialist movements a sizable faction of those using the umbrella term “socialist” have been outright hostile to the state-ownership and wanted to use trades unions and mutualist organisations as ways of putting workers in control of their labour.

    Thanks. I’m still a little uncertain about the main idea behind socialism, statist or otherwise. I don’t see how an employee-owned company or a member-owned company (a co-op) would go against the idea of free enterprise. What difference would it make to that idea who the owners are? One could argue that the enterprise involved with those companies is freer – people might have more incentive to work because they experience the benefits more directly.

  • Marcus

    Statist “socialism” is really just a variant on monopoly capitalism, with the Government taking on the role of the boss class. John Lewis is a better example of the workers controlling the means of production than any government in history has provided.

  • Launcifer

    Marcus: John Lewis is a better example of the workers controlling the means of production than any government in history has provided.
    The Co-Op used to be a good example in Britain, though not so much now. I remember, before Sainsburys and the like, when mum would take me down to the Co-Op market every saturday for the weekly food shop. Fresh stuff, you could see it coming in – and half the time you knew the bloke you paid was the one keeping the majority of the money, since it was his produce.
    Crikey, but I just made myself sound like an old fart.

  • alfgifu

    A quick look at the OED brings up this definition of socialism – the key phrase being: “A theory or system of social organization based on state or collective ownership and regulation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange for the common benefit of all members of society”
    While I agree that defining socialism isn’t the real issue, I do think words are important, and there needs to be a word for this sort collective ownership in general. It’s hard to advocate a system if the system has no name.
    Also, while I think it’s good to have state socialism in some areas (e.g. the NHS, the military, national pensions schemes etc), I think it’s also helpful to have market style competition in others. That means there’s a role for socialist organisations that are smaller than a government but larger than a small business, organisations that can compete with major companies. John Lewis isn’t a co-operative, or that’s the term I’d have used. Or am I just getting bogged down in unnecessary details here?
    Anyway, the comment was partly in response M Groesbeck further up thread, who talked about the need to change the decision-making process as well as just passing ownership across to employees. I think that’s a good point. Passing ownership to employees gives them more power than they would have in a traditional business, but it would still be limited as all shareholder power is limited by the agency problem.* That is, the interests of shareholder/employees would not necessarily be the same as the interests of management who theoretically are agents acting on their behalf. It seems likely that this would lead to conflict within the company, making it a more stressful and less efficient organisation overall. The John Lewis model involves changing the management structure to something more democratic, allowing the shareholder/employees a greater degree of power.
    An attempt to sum this idea up:
    If there’s no socialism, and no democracy, control and ownership are concentrated in the hands of a few powerful people.
    Socialism without democracy means that theoretical ownership is transferred to the many from the few, but the control (and therefore the real power) remains in the hands of the few.
    Democracy without socialism means that theoretical control is transferred to the many from the few, but ownership (and therefore the real power) remains in the hands of the few.
    A combination of democracy and socialism spreads out control and ownership together, leaving more people better off.

    *As an aside, I’ve just realised that it gets called ‘agency problem’ by people who either already are management or are hoping to become management – the people who are acting as agents. From the shareholder point of view, it’s a power and knowledge problem – shareholders seldom have the knowledge or the power to hold management to account.

  • Lee Ratner

    I believe that what John Lewis is, is usually refered to as market socialism by academics. Market socialism was how the former Yugoslavia tried to approach putting Marxism into practice under Tito. It involves worker-owned factories, stores, mines etc., deciding how the relevant organization should be run in a democratic manner. So the workers would decide when to hire and when to fire, what new products to introduce and when to introduce them, where to get materials from etc.

  • Tonio

    Alfgifu, thanks for the background. It’s amazing to me that those ideas meet with so much resistance, especially in America. I know of one case where a right-wing newspaper used “collectivist” to lambast advocates for increased funding for education. And I found an Ayn Rand quote that describes “collectivism” as irrational and says that Nazi Germany and Communist Russia embodied that ism. The reaction from many Americans seems almost instinctual – they equate progressive taxation and collective ownership as taking away their money or property and giving it to “undeserving” poor.

  • Pius Thicknesse

    That said, I must commend Governor Bob Riley who tried to do the right thing.
    Here’s a quote from the article: “Jesus says one of our missions is to take care of the least among us,” Riley told The Birmingham News in May, echoing the same Gospel passage that supplied the title of Hamill’s book. “We’ve got to take care of the poor.”
    This was in the context of an attempt to shift the tax burden more onto the wealthy. It didn’t go through, but I must commend him for trying.

  • Pius Thicknesse

    *sigh* and I meant to post that to the OTHER blog entry. ‘scusi.

  • Pius Thicknesse

    @Lee Ratner:
    Market socialism was how the former Yugoslavia tried to approach putting Marxism into practice under Tito.
    It worked better in theory than practice. The problem with the associated-labor theory was that the League of Communists (in various incarnations from the 1940s to the 1980s) still held ultimate control over the political structure and the same basic problem that the United States has with excessive corporate control over the government occurred in reverse in Yugoslavia.
    Large corporations in Yugoslavia obtained the power, through the political system, of issuing sizable loans to themselves, and just like Enron, the fudginess of the accounting could hide the problem but only for a while: the amount of currency these companies could issue for themselves was sizable enough to cause persistent inflation by the late 1970s and early 1980s. It didn’t help that right along with it was a worldwide spike in the price of oil.
    There were other issues, too, like excessive political interference in what ostensibly should have been a smoothly functioning interlocking system of associated-labor units.
    That said, I concur that the basic model was sound as long as the political system remained reasonably stable. After all, Yugoslavs had a standard of living that met or exceeded East Germany’s, which was the most technologically advanced Eastern Bloc nation.
    The bottom line of my rather OT reply is that a concept like associated labor or market socialism can work, but it needs economic and political democracy.


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