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Justice Communicator Column 4: Common ownership may be the solution to the economic problems of today

This week, Detroit Evolution is pleased to repost the Justice Communicators column from The Michigan Citizen. Patrick Geans-Ali, Victoria Goff and I have been cycling through a loose discussion on the relationship between principals shared by the Environmental Justice, Media & Digital Justice and Food Justice movements. Thus far we have discussed the principals of Access, Participation and Community Ownership. Detroit Evolution will be posting these columns every day for nine days in the order they were published and invite you to join in on the discussion. Though I intended to post these in order, I will post Victoria’s third column on access soon. To keep the justice flowing, here is Patrick’s column on community ownership. Please share and thank you! ~Gregg

Common ownership may be the solution to the economic problems of today
• Sun, Sep 18, 2011
By Patrick Geans-Ali

This is the first in the series of columns on the justice principle of common ownership by the justice communicators

The deteriorating state of today’s world economy has many people re-evaluating whether the capitalist model pervading the geo-political landscape today is the be-all-end-all its proponents have claimed. After all, Red China has now gone green (and I don’t mean environmentally green). Soviet Russia has become the embodiment of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and the governors of Michigan and Wisconsin are dismantling city charters and collective bargaining rights in the name of the almighty dollar.

The world seems to have no alternative as the current system cannibalizes itself, as if suffering from a collective form of mad cow disease. The truth is there is a range of cures out there, but just like cures in today’s health care system, they are not being considered because the mad cows running the asylum don’t stand to profit from them.

One potential solution is the justice principle of common ownership, examples of which are cropping up in Detroit’s urban farming movement at the Cass Corridor Commons, a grassroots community justice center taking shape at the corner of Forest and W. Warren, and with your local ACE Hardware store, which is locally owned and operated, but is able to reap the benefits of collective buying power as a member of this dealer-owned cooperative.

These are just a few of the pioneering efforts being forged by local visionaries who are weary of America’s naked emperor syndrome and think it’s about time we visit the local thrift shop and find something more appropriate.

This may be heresy in Detroit Lions country, but as a sports fan, the Green Bay Packers business model jumps out as another intriguing example of what is possible in today’s business circles. Unlike most NFL franchises, the Packers, pro sports only community-owned franchise, don’t have privateering pirates at the top or behind the curtains. No need for the Koch Brothers in that part of Wisconsin.

In Green Bay, there is no shaking down of the city for publicly subsidized stadiums or the risk of them bolting to the next city that will offer a sweeter deal. The Packers organization is accountable to the shareholders of the organization. The result is a stable non-profit franchise that is securely rooted in the local community and that truly represents that community.

Wikepedia defines a cooperative (or co-op) as “a business organization owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit. It is … an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

Who is to say cooperative business models couldn’t be replicated throughout the wider society? Could you imagine a world where the workers of General Motors actually own it and equally distribute the gains of that business among themselves, as opposed to foreign investors who never risk losing a finger in a machine or being exposed to some toxin? Can you imagine Midtown being rejuvenated by the invisible capital that never left Detroit?

This lack of business ethic goes to the heart of what is wrong with the current system. The vast majority of the profits would not be siphoned off by trust fund babies who have never worked a day in their lives but feel the world is obligated to let them, as the gangsters would say, “wet their beaks.” That wealth would circulate among the people who do the work. It would be invested in local communities. It would be spent in local economies.

This would result in continued local investments because people would see the connection between the quality of the products they make and the return to themselves. It certainly wouldn’t lead to the off-shoring of jobs and the relocation of factories.

I’m of a minority opinion among my colleagues that there are some virtues to the capitalist system. I believe that if everyone were allowed to truly discern his or her own best self interest and act accordingly, the system would work fine.

At the same time, I can’t deny that ideal is beyond the reach of most people — if not patently naïve — in a world where the three-headed monster of corporate-controlled mass media, government and the (currently trending) educational systems are the rule of the day.

Still, as the current system proceeds to self-destruct, it would be a good idea for those of us who are not enamored with the current system to start acting on the reality that a new world is truly possible. If we can do that, people may just find that decay of the current system lays the path to that better world. Make no mistake about it: The building of that world starts now.

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