She is on her way

She is on her way February 24, 2010

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

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.

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  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    If workers’ direct control of the means of production isn’t socialism, nothing is.
    I think Chesterton cited several Papal Encyclicals of the 19th Century that agreed, and pushed that kind of socialism as the antidote to the abuses of that era’s unrestricted capitalism.
    I had understood socialism to mean that the government controlled the means of production, and that isn’t necessarily coercive. — Tonio
    That IS the way Socialism is applied these days, with rare exceptions. And though it isn’t necessarily coercive, it does feel a pull in that direction:
    1) Having the Government own/control most of everything at the very least adds a LOT of Government Bureaucratic Overhead (itself a drain on resources), and bureaucracies have this tendency to do everything “Of the Bureaucracy, For the Bureaucracy, By the Bureaucracy”. As Yakov Smirnov put it, “Imagine entire country run like your Department of Motor Vehicles.”
    2) This also centralizes power and authority at the top, to the point of Overcentralization — especially when scaled up to a country the size of the USA. Everything routes through the Bureaucracy in the capital on a top-down, One Size Fits All basis. I believe anybody who lived in Soviet-era Russia can tell horror stories about Overcentralization gone REAL Ugly. And a lot of schoolteacher blogs bitch about the One Size Fits All of No Child Left Behind/Standardized Testing.
    3) Even the Best of Intentions can get Coercive when Authority gets mixed in with Ego. Kyle’s Mom on South Park, Credentialed Compassionate Liberal Do-Gooder, is the current fictional incarnation of this trope. (Corollary: If you’re Liberal, DON’T BE A KYLE’S MOM.)
    4) And with everything overcentralized in the Government Bureaucracy, all a wanna-be Maximum Leader has to do is knock over the central government and it’s All Kneel Before Zod time. The control mechanisms are already in place through the existing centralized bureaucracy.

  • Tom

    Tonio, the identity of the owner, and thus the controller, of an enterprise is central to most Socialist argument. Socialism is not against all forms of free enterprise; what it’s ultimately against, if you go right back to the source and read up on Marx, is passive ownership of the means of production of any such enterprise, and exploitation of the workers by the owners via this arrangement (exploitation, in the context of Marxist analysis, is basically defined as paying someone less than the value of the work they’ve done for you – the means by which this is brought about is typically either force, deception or some combination thereof).
    Crudely put, the owners of the means of production, simply because they are the owners and thus by conventional property rights are allowed to dictate the terms under which their means are employed, get the lion’s share of the payment rendered for goods made by those means, even though almost all the actual work of making them is done by the employees, who are necessarily paid less than the actual value of their work output in order that there be a profit, or “surplus” to use Marx’ terminology, for the owners to cream off the top when they divide and distribute the proceeds of the sale of their employees’ products. Socialism generally takes the view that this is unfair, and proposes that the optimal situation to avoid such unfairness is that the workers and the owners of the means of production be the same people – its fundamental principle is really little more than that everyone should be paid the exact value of what they’ve earned through useful work, and that nobody should collect more than this deserved value because that necessarily entails others being paid less than they deserve. Note well that this fundamental requirement is not, in and of itself, completely incompatible with at least some elements of free markets and free enterprise.
    The countless different degrees and flavours of socialism largely arise from different views on how to achieve this end, and on how this end is to be structured in finer detail (collective vs individual ownership and control, for example, democratic vs dictatorial collective ownership & control, centrally planned vs free market sale of produced commodities, should control of the means of production be coercively taken from the capitalists who currently own it or should a socialist economic base be built from scratch whilst respecting the right of ownership of existing means, if means are coercively taken should it be outright confiscation without recompense or compulsory but fair sale, should socialism completely replace capitalism or somehow exist symbiotically with it in order to get the best of both, etc.)

  • Original Lee

    As a former employee of an employee-owned company, may I say that there are many flavors of employee ownership. I believe the most common type is where only the employees and certain classes of people related to the company (i.e., retirees, widows of deceased employees, etc.) own stock. Otherwise, the company operates pretty much like a company with publicly traded stock. The workers do not have hire/fire authority over managers. The shareholders are free to submit proposals to be voted on at the annual meeting, and perhaps there is theoretically more accountability because the managers see the shareholders every day, but in practice it just means that the same kind of decisionmaking to pump up the price of the stock and the amount of dividends in the short term, and to avoid forcing a vote to sell the company to another entity, that you see in publicly traded companies exists.

  • alfgifu:

    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.

    Collectivism seems to be a correct term for this, where it’s possible the state may do no more than oversee and regulate things, rather than having complete control, but this term also suffers by possibly inspiring knee-jerk responses (due to comparisons to the other political systems that inspire knee-jerk responses to which it has similarities, and possibly also due to invoking thoughts of the “Borg Collective” j/k ;) ). I think perhaps the hybrid you illustrate of “social democracy” may be best; a single name likely oversimplifies things too much.

  • Tricksterson Keeper of the Death Sheep Among Other Meaningless Titles

    Lee Ratner: And it produced the Yugo.

  • Neohippie

    Huh. So Bob’s Red Mill is/was an actual family owned old timey company and not a fake one like Burt’s Bees. I feel somewhat better about buying their products now (though I was already buying their products I can’t find elsewhere).
    Though it’s probably only a matter of time before they’re bought by Nestle. That’s just how it goes.

  • Tonio

    Neohippie, in our household we buy Bert’s Bees for hair care because we’re trying to avoid artificial ingredients. I never thought of that company as family-owned – for that kind of thing, we buy a good percentage of our food from local farmers, especially our beef and chicken.
    Speaking of being bought by conglomerates, I remember reading years ago that changes to the tax laws in the 1980s greatly increased the buyout/merger phenomenon. It had something to do with being able to write off debt, or more taxes on cash holdings, and that’s out of my field of expertise.

  • lonespark

    You don’t have local hair-product producers?

  • hagsrus

    Ah, the Co-op — I still remember my mum’s number!
    And my niece works for John Lewis very happily.
    Worst place I ever worked was Foyle’s bookshop – I wonder if our efforts to unionize back in the 60s have improved conditions these days?

  • J

    Bullshit. Pap and fluff. We’re not getting healthcare, ever. And we’re staying in Iraq with 50,000 troops for another decade at a cost of four billion a week. And, as of this week, gays can now be fired with impunity again in Virginia. I hate America.

  • J

    And Republicans will win in 2010 and 2012 and 2014. That was it for the Democratic experiment: We got 3, sorta 4 years. Now Republicans will get 16 more years in which they will never, ever pay for any mistake they make or lie they tell.

  • misterguy

    It’s good to see you, too, J; I’m glad things are going so well for you.

  • Pius Thicknesse

    Here’s a Rack Jite inspired antidote for you, J.
    Now get out of that Gloomy Gus outfit and get on the fax machine and e-mail and send some letters to the Dems who can keep this ball rolling. Make sure to prominently highlight the opinion poll results, ’cause the Dems have about six months before your doomsday scenario kicks in.

  • konrad_arflane

    Since I actually work part-time for an employee-owned business of a sort, I though I’d chime in. The way it works with us is that the twelve people (and it is always twelve, by statute) who do the ‘grunt work’ of our business form a co-op which owns all the company’s assets (which are few; our real assets are the highly specialized skills of our employees). If an employee quits, he or she also relinquishes his position in the co-op, which passes to the person we hire to fill the vacant position.
    Hiring decisions for vacant positions in the core group are made collectively. All other business decisions are made either by a board of directors elected bi-annually by the core employees, or by people hired by the board to make those decisions.
    It’s far from a perfect arrangement, but its main weaknesses seem to be difficult to extricate from its strengths – the sense of ownership means everyone is highly engaged in contributing to the success of the business, but also that everybody tends to feel that their opinion should be taken into consideration *right now*, whether there’s time for a group discussion on the issue at hand or not.

  • 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.

  • Pius Thicknesse

    Never misunderestimate the ability of Republicans to lie to the average voter about how their lives will be improved.
    Their script hasn’t changed in over 60 years. You can download a clip off the Prelinger Archives which has the Republicans banging on about taxes and deficits and OMG the Democrats are horrible.
    Nothing’s changed; the Repubs are just better at sugarcoating their bilge.