Emerging Ownership Revolution
* Book: Majorie Kelly. Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution. Journeys to a Generative Economy. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012
"ownership design is the most foundational" (David Korten)
"As long as businesses are set up to focus exclusively on maximizing financial income for the few, our economy will be locked into endless growth and widening inequality. But now people across the world are experimenting with new forms of ownership, which Kelly calls generative: aimed at creating the conditions for all of life to thrive for many generations to come. These designs may hold the key to the deep transformation our civilization needs.
To understand these emerging alternatives, Kelly reports from across the globe, visiting a community-owned wind facility in Massachusetts, a lobster cooperative in Maine, a multibillion-dollar employee-owned department-store chain in London, a foundation-owned pharmaceutical in Denmark, a farmer-owned dairy in Wisconsin, and other places where a hopeful new economy is being built. Along the way, she finds the five essential patterns of ownership design that make these models work.
As financial and ecological crises multiply and linger in our time, many people remain grim adherents of the TINA school of thought: There Is No Alternative to capitalism as we know it. Yet emerging alternative designs show that there is a real and workable alternative, which goes beyond the dusty 19th century categories of capitalism vs. socialism. It’s “yet to be recognized as a single phenomenon because it has yet to have a single name,” Kelly writes. “We might try calling this a family of generative ownership designs. Together they form the foundation for a generative economy” – an economy whose fundamental architecture tends to create beneficial rather than harmful outcomes. A living economy that has a built-in tendency to be socially fair and ecologically sustainable.
Kelly writes: “This is a book about deep change. It’s about hope. It’s about the real possibility that a fundamentally new kind of economy can be built, that this work is further along than we suppose, and that it does deeper than we would dare to dream. It’s about economic change that is fundamental and enduring: not greenwash or all the other false hopes flung in our faces for too long. The experiments I’m talking about are not silver bullets that will solve all our problems. They have flaws and limitations. But they nonetheless represent change that is fundamental and enduring because it involves ownership. That is to say, what’s at work is not the legislative or presidential whims of a particular hour, but a permanent shift in the underlying architecture of economic power.” (http://www.marjoriekelly.com/wordpress/?page_id=712)
"The alternatives emerging in our time represent an unsung ownership revolution. This revolution is about broadening economic power from the few to the many and redefining the purpose of economic activity. The aim isn’t to endlessly grow gross domestic product or to create wealth for a financial elite, but to generate the conditions for the flourishing of life.
Here we confront the second consideration—the need for a name. We can call this new economy the generative economy. The word generative is from the Greek ge; it’s the same root form found in the word Gaia and means “the carrying on of life.” The generative economy is one whose fundamental architecture tends to create beneficial rather than harmful outcomes. It has a built-in tendency to be socially fair and ecologically sustainable.
Employees in this firm are not a countervailing power. They're not legally outside the firm, negotiating with it. They are the firm.
Options like worker ownership and cooperatives not only spread wealth but ensure that owners are local, hence more likely to care about local ecological impacts. And they allow enterprises to reject the growth imperative endangering the biosphere. Generative enterprise does not answer to the demands of the finance system, which locks publicly traded companies into a growth path in order to keep stock prices inflated.
In writing the book, Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, I’ve been traveling around and visiting places where this new economy is bubbling up. Here’s some of the good news I have to share: Generative ownership isn’t just about small, local, founder-run companies. It’s possible to keep the soul of these companies alive even at large scale, and long after the founder is gone." (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/9-strategies-to-end-corporate-rule/can-there-be-201cgood201d-corporations)
"In part 1, I trace how extractive design in one industry, the mortgage industry, drove toward financial overshoot and collapse. I start with the foreclosed house that a friend of mine was trying to buy, for which he couldn’t find any owner to whom he could make an offer. I follow this thread to the New York Stock Exchange, and into other worlds of financial engineering, to trace what went wrong in the social architecture of ownership. Ultimately, I set out to find the couple that the house once belonged to, to see how the subprime mortgage collapse impacted the life of one family.
In part 2, I look for the seeds of a new value system that might give rise to a new economy. I visit experiments in ownership of the commons: the Maine lobster industry, community forests, community wind, a cohousing community, and others. Embodied in these ownership models are values of sustainability, community, and sufficiency (the idea that after the pursuit of “more” comes the recognition of “enough”). These may be the values that one day replace the pursuit of limitless financial wealth, the focus on individualism, and the insistence on maximum growth, which remain embedded in today’s ownership designs.
If part 1 is about the breakdown of ownership, and part 2 is about the ground of its evolution, part 3 looks at design patterns that are bringing generative ownership to life on a broad scale. Each chapter takes up one key pattern of generative design, looking at how these combine to keep social mission alive over time. I’ve seen many companies that once were generative lose their social mission when they grow large or when the founder departs. In part 3, I search for successful, substantial companies that have solved the “legacy problem”—keeping social legacy alive long after the founder is gone. I tour the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership in London. I visit foundation-owned Novo Nordisk in Denmark, a pharmaceutical with production based in Kalundborg, home to a famed example of “industrial symbiosis,” where this company’s waste becomes food for the ecosystem. Among other expeditions, I revisit finance, talking with a couple of investing advisers to see how I can use my own small investment portfolio to help in the transformation."
I. The Overbuilt House of Claims: Extractive Ownership as the Cause of Financial Collapse
- one Debt, Inc.: Extractive Design 21
- two The Community Bank: Generative Design 31
- three Wall Street: Capital Markets on Autopilot 47
- four Overload: The Expanding House of Claims 65
- five Collapse: The Eroding Middle-Class Base 85
II. Returning to Earth: Ecological Values as the Seedbed of a Generative Economy
- six Waking Up: From Maximizing Profits to Sustaining Life 101
- seven The Island: From Growth to Sufficiency 117
- eight Bringing Forth a World: From Individualism to Community 131
III. Creating Living Companies: The Five Core Elements of Generative Ownership Design
- nine Living Purpose: Creating the Conditions for Life 149
- ten Rooted Membership: Ownership in Living Hands 163
- eleven Mission-Controlled Governance: Humans at the Helm 177
- twelve Stakeholder Finance: Capital as Friend 189
- thirteen Ethical Networks: Reinforcing Shared Values 201
Read a 30-page excerpt of the book, including the Foreword by David Korten, Prologue, and first chapter, via http://www.bkconnection.com/static/Owning_Our_Future_EXCERPT.pdf
"Of all the important elements lacking from much progressive thought and action, the issue of ownership design is perhaps the most foundational. Marjorie Kelly illuminates this crucial topic in a way that can drive it home to everyone. Owning Our Future offers the most thorough and properly nuanced treatment of the subject I’ve seen anywhere.
Most of the great political struggles of the past 5,000 years can be reduced to a simple question: who will own land, water, and the other essentials of living—and to what end? In the earliest human societies, ownership of the essentials of living was held in common by members of a tribe and included responsibilities of sacred stewardship. We might describe this as a form of shared ownership that confers shared responsibility. As societies transitioned to centralized power structures, ownership of land, water, and other essential means of production was monopolized by the few. Even with the movement toward democracy, ownership of wealth has remained largely in the hands of an elite. Today, debilitating debt, bankruptcies, and foreclosures are a reminder of how little has changed and how many among us—including young people burdened by student loans—live under the power of those who control the issuance of credit.
Behind the workings of our economy lies an invisible issue that few of us focus on—the issue of ownership. During my years working in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, I came to realize that what we call “development” is in fact a process of transferring control over the basic resources essential to daily life from the people who depend on them to foreign corporations, whose primary interest is financial gain. Ownership of corporations is, in large part, in the hands of the wealthiest 10 percent.
Our well-being, indeed our future as a species, depends on restoring our relationships to one another and with the land, the water, the sky, and the other generative resources of nature that indigenous people tradition ally considered it their obligation to hold and manage in sacred trust. The architecture of ownership is key.
The defining debates of the 20th century were crudely framed as a choice between two simplistically defined economic models: private ownership (capitalism) and public ownership (socialism/communism). Neither capitalism nor socialism ever achieved its ideal, but each came sufficiently close to reveal that both failed. Both support a concentration of the power of ownership in the hands of an oligarchy. In Owning Our Future, Marjorie shows that a new model of ownership is arising and spreading in our time, which she calls generative ownership.
It’s most often private ownership, but with a purpose of serving the common good. Generative ownership models include cooperatives, employeeowned firms, community land trusts, community banks, credit unions, foundation-owned companies, and many other models that root control in the hands of people who have a natural interest in the health of their communities and local ecosystems. These are in contrast to the dominant ownership models of capitalism, which Marjorie calls extractive. She offers a simple pattern language to describe what makes these two different models of ownership work. Extractive ownership features Absentee Membership and the rapid speculative trading of Casino Finance, built around the purpose of maximizing the extraction of financial wealth. This creates a disconnect between the common good and the global banks, corporations, and financial markets that control the means of living. Extractive ownership is at the root of most of the social and ecological ills we face today.
In Marjorie’s prophetic words: “Ownership is the gravitational field that holds our economy in its orbit, locking us all into behaviors that lead to financial excess and ecological overshoot.”
Generative ownership, by contrast, has the purpose of creating the conditions for the fl ourishing of life. It features Rooted Membership, in the living hands of employees, families, communities, and others connected to the real economy of jobs and homes and human life. It features Mission-Controlled Governance that keeps firms focused on social mission, Stakeholder Finance that allows capital to be a friend, and Ethical Networks that provide collective support for social and ecological norms. Most of these enterprises are profit making, but they’re not profit maximizing.
Since her groundbreaking book The Divine Right of Capital, Marjorie has focused her attention as a writer on how to resolve the foundational issue of ownership, and in Owning Our Future, she shares the story of her personal journey of discovery. The book is written as a travelogue, with detailed accounts of her visits to each of the major initiatives she profiles. Marjorie combines the perspective of a tenacious reporter, the writing skills of an accomplished novelist, and the open and inquiring mind of a thoughtful and critical economic theorist. Her central theme is that the architecture of ownership defines the business purpose of the enterprise and largely determines whether it will operate in a generative or extractive mode. It is the design of ownership that creates the essential framework for the capitalist economy that is beginning to break down—and for a potentially new generative economy we can bring into being.
This is one of the most important books of our time. I found it so informative and inspiring that reading it literally brought tears of joy to my eyes. It gets my very highest recommendation."
"In a way that many of us rarely notice, ownership is the underlying architecture of our economy. It’s the foundation of our world. How ownership is framed is more basic to our daily lives than the shape of democracy. Economic relations define the tenor of our days: where we work for 40 hours (or more) each week or whether we work at all. How owners wield their power over companies determines whether we’re empowered or belittled by our work, how much anxiety we suffer over our debts, whether we’re able to own a home or be secure in retirement. Questions about who owns the wealth-producing infrastructure of an economy, who controls it, whose interests it serves, are among the largest issues any society can face. Issues of who owns the sky in terms of carbon emission rights, who owns water, who owns development rights, are planetary in scope.
The multiplying crises we face today are entwined at their root with the particular form of ownership that dominates our world—the publicly traded corporation, in which ownership shares trade in public stock markets. The revenue of the largest 1,000 of these corporations represents roughly 80 percent of global industrial output.6 Stripped of regulatory overlay, the design of these corporations is the bare design of capitalism.
As a way of organizing an economy, this model made a certain amount of sense when the industrial age was unfolding. The modern age might not have come to be, without the emergence of corporations and capital markets. But as we make the painful turn into a new era—characterized by climate change, water shortages, species extinction, vast unemployment, stagnant wages, staggering differentials in wealth, and bloated debt loads— the industrial-age model of ownership is beginning to make less sense.
Getting our arms around this large issue can seem difficult. Unable to even approach it, politicians instead fixate on how to jumpstart the economy and get growth moving again. But it’s time to move beyond growth, to recognize that the economy as we once knew it will never return. Nor should it.
As the dominant form of ownership continues to spin off crisis after crisis in our time, alternative forms are at the same time emerging in largely unsung, disconnected experiments all over the world. We’re at the beginning of an unseen ownership revolution. In this book, I visit places where this hopeful future is welling up like cold springs. It’s a journey into the territory of the possible, a kind of advance scouting expedition for the collective journey of our global culture.
It’s a book about deep change. It’s about hope. It’s about the real possibility that a fundamentally new kind of economy can be built, that this work is further along than we suppose, and that it goes deeper than we would dare to dream. It’s about economic change that is fundamental and enduring: not greenwash or all the other false hopes fl ung in our faces for too long. The experiments I’m talking about are not silver bullets that will solve all our problems. They have fl aws and limitations. But they nonetheless represent change that is fundamental and enduring because it involves ownership. That is to say, what’s at work is not the legislative or presidential whims of a particular hour, but a permanent shift in the underlying architecture of economic power.
New models are emerging today, not from the head of some new Adam Smith or Karl Marx but from the longing in many hearts, the genius of many minds, the effort of many hands to build what we know instinctively that we need.
In both the United States and the United Kingdom, there’s burgeoning interest in social enterprises, which serve a primary social mission while they function as businesses—like Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, an $8 million profit-making business started by Zen monks with an aim of creating jobs for the homeless.10 Community development financial institutions (CDFIs)—which in the United States provide financial services to under served low-wealth communities—are growing by leaps and bounds. In little over a decade, assets have climbed from $5 billion to $42 billion, with new funds coming from depositors, investors, and government grants.
Emerging experiments with catch shares, ownership rights in marine fisheries, have been found to halt or reverse catastrophic declines in fish stocks.12 Conservation easements now cover tens of millions of acres, allowing land to be used and farmed even as it’s protected from development, preserving it for future generations both human and wild.
There’s a growing movement to protect the commons, honoring areas of our common life that need shielding from market forces. And there’s the viral world of entities like Wikipedia, owned by no one and run collectively.
Revolutionary lawyers are busy crafting new models through law—like the community interest corporation, created in UK law.14 And the low-profit, limited liability company (L3C) in the United States, intended to facilitate more social investments by foundations. In the space of only a few years, this model has been enacted or come under consideration by nearly 20 states. And there’s the notable success of the Bank of North Dakota, the only state-owned bank in the United States, which in the initial financial crisis enjoyed record profits even as private-sector banks lost billions. Its unexpected resilience has led some 14 states to begin considering legislation to create their own banks. (State banks are not privately owned, but they do represent alternative ownership focused on the common good rather than on maximizing profits.)
In Quebec and Latin America, among other places, there’s a growing movement for the solidarity economy—consisting of cooperatives and nonprofits — which in Quebec has gained formal recognition and government funding as a distinct sector of the economy.17 And a surprising number of large corporations have adopted mission-controlled designs. Among these are the foundation-owned corporations common throughout northern Europe, such as Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company with $11 billion in revenue, as well as Ikea, Bertelsmann, and other large companies. Also included in mission-controlled designs are family-controlled companies with a strong social mission, such as S. C. Johnson and the New York Times.
More exotic designs are also popping up, like Grameen Danone, a social business in which village women in Bangladesh sell yogurt through a joint venture between multinational yogurt maker Groupe Danone and Grameen Bank, the first microfinance lender. The enterprise is designed to improve the nutrition of the poor as it aims to pay investors a modest, 1 percent dividend.
Two pioneers in the field of emerging economic architectures have received Nobel prizes—Muhammad Yunus, who founded Grameen Bank and helped create Grameen Danone, and Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University, who studies economic governance of the commons. She and her colleagues have found communities all over the world that have spontaneously devised effective ways to govern fish stocks, pastures, forests, lakes, and groundwater basins in ways that preserve rather than harm those ecosystems.
Emerging ownership models are new members of an older family of designs that include cooperatives, employee-owned firms, and government- sponsored enterprises. In the UK, these include the John Lewis Partnership—the largest department store chain in the country—which is 100 percent owned by its employees and has an employee house of representatives in addition to a traditional board of directors.
As a class, these alternatives represent an emerging family of design. If industrial-age ownership is based on a monoculture model, emerging designs are as rich in biodiversity as a rainforest. Through studying these, grafting pieces of them together to create still more models, we just might create the greenhouse of design experimentation where the future of our economy could be grown.
These social architectures are harbingers of something profoundly new. They aren’t yet fully formed, not yet ready to serve as the framework of a new social order. But their growing profusion is a signal. It tells us that we’re entering one of the most creative periods of economic innovation since the Industrial Revolution. For what’s at work isn’t economic innovation as it’s usually meant, which is about better and better ways to make more and more money. This innovation is almost unimaginably more profound. It is a reinvention at the level of organizational purpose and structure. It is about creating economic architectures that are self-organized around serving the needs of life."
The Patterns of Life
"Extractive ownership has a Financial Purpose: maximizing profits.
Generative ownership has a Living Purpose: creating the conditions for life. While corporations today have Absentee Membership, with owners disconnected from the life of enterprise, generative ownership has Rooted Membership, with ownership held in human hands. While extractive ownership involves Governance by Markets, with control by capital markets on autopilot, generative designs have Mission-Controlled Governance, with control by those focused on social mission. While extractive investments involve Casino Finance, alternative approaches involve Stakeholder Finance, where capital becomes a friend rather than a master. Instead of Commodity Networks, where goods are traded based solely on price, generative economic relations are supported by Ethical Networks, which offer collective support for social and ecological norms. Not every ownership model has every one of these design patterns. But the more generative patterns are employed, the more effective the design.
In key ways, this book is a continuation of my previous one, The Divine Right of Capital. That book looked at the myths upholding the rights of capital, particularly the myth that wealth holders have needs that come before everyone else’s needs. It also explored principles of economic democracy. In the decade since it was published, the ownership structures of our economy—the intertwined institutions of corporations and capital markets, and the perpetual growth and rising profits they require—have contributed to unprecedented new crises, such as climate change. It no longer seems sufficient to speak of economic democracy as the solution.
A more appropriate frame of reference may be the living system of the planet. The ultimate patterns that all systems must employ are living patterns— the patterns of organization that nature has evolved to support life. Systems thinking, which arose in physics and is spreading to other disciplines, offers a robust language for speaking about living patterns and processes. It’s a language that applies equally to biological systems and social systems. Through systems thinking, we can see that the task of redesigning ownership is part of the larger task of bringing human civilization into harmony with the earth.
We know the next economy will require things like wind turbines, limits on carbon emissions, and sustainably managed forests. The questions that remain largely unanswered are about who will own these, who will control them, and who will fl ourish in the world they create. We need innovation not only in physical technologies but also in social architectures. 30 If physical technologies are about the what of the economy, social architectures are about the who: who will make economic decisions, and how, using what kinds of organizing structures? Social architectures are the blueprints of human relations, how we organize ourselves to do things. Will we continue to rely on economic architectures organized around growth and maximum income for the few? Or can we shift to new architectures organized around keeping this planet and all its inhabitants thriving? This book is a quest for answers.
"These models embody a coherent school of design a common form of organization that brings the living concerns of the human and ecologi cal communities into the world of property rights and economic power. It’s an emerging archetype yet to be recognized as a single phenomenon because it has yet to have a single name. Hannah Arendt observed that a stray dog has a better chance of surviving if it’s given a name. We might try calling this a family of generative ownership designs. Together they form the foundation for a generative economy.
In their animating intent and living impact, these ownership designs are aimed at generating the conditions where all life can thrive. From the Greek ge, generative uses the same root form found in the term for Earth, Gaia, and in the words genesis and genetics. It connotes life. Generative means the carrying on of life, and generative design is about the insti tutional framework for doing so. The generative economy is one whose fundamental architecture tends to create beneficial rather than harmful outcomes. It’s a living economy that has a builtin tendency to be socially fair and ecologically sustainable.
Generative ownership designs are about generating and preserving real wealth, living wealth, rather than phantom wealth than can evaporate in the next quarter. They’re about helping families to enjoy secure homes. Creating jobs. Preserving a forest. Generating nourishment out of waste. Generating broad wellbeing.
These designs are in contrast to the dominant ownership design of today. To make the distinction clear, that design also needs a name. We might call it extractive, for its focus is maximum physical and financial extraction. Our industrialage civilization has been powered by twin processes of extraction: extracting fossil fuels from the earth and extracting financial wealth from the economy. But these two processes are not paral lel, for finance is the master force. Biophysical damage may often be the effect of the system’s action, yet extracting financial wealth is its aim. As we begin to build what economist E. F. Schumacher called an “economy of permanence” on our fragile planet, maximum financial growth will be illsuited as a guiding purpose. In generative design, we see in practical detail how a different goal can be at the core of economic activity. Generative design shows us that a transformative shift has already begun and suggests how it might be amplified."
AlterNet interview conducted by Tara Lohan:
TL: ... what separates out these good companies -- what are they doing differently?
MK: I point to five elements of design -- or I call them design patterns for generative ownership. What I'm trying to do in the book is distinguish between extractive ownership and generative ownership. Extractive ownership is ownership that is designed to generate maximum financial wealth in the short term. But generative ownership is aimed at serving the needs of life. Serving the needs of life is what economies have been about for thousands of years -- creating food, shelter, clothing -- this is what economies are for. In the recent time period, like post-war, we've completely lost our way and now it is all about finance.
... purpose is the first element that has to be there if you're going to have a generative design. The second is what I call membership, what is commonly called ownership. Who is the firm? Who gets to vote? Who has a share in the profits? So in a cooperative for example, you can have producers, like in farmer-owned cooperative, the producers are the members. You could have employees be the members. In a credit union the customers or depositors are the members. In a food co-op the shoppers are the members. It's a social boundary -- who is the firm, who is the enterprise. That's the second element.
Then third is governance -- who has a say in the major decisions? Different than management, which is day-to-day, governance is more long-term, big picture.
Fourth is capitalization. How do you get capital into a firm without giving total control to capital? How do you make capital a friend rather than a master of enterprise?
Then the fifth is network. No company is an isolated entity. You are going to have a stronger sense of yourself as a generative economy if you're part of a network that supports your values. So I talk about the different commodity networks and what I call values-based networks.
Not every generative firms has every one of these elements. But the more you have, the stronger the design you have.
TL: ... how do we put more emphasis on the ecological component of doing business?
MK: The first thing we have to recognize is that there is a diversity of ownership design that are ecologically beneficial. You know we live with the monoculture of ownership design right now -- publicly traded companies control roughly two-thirds of global GDP and so we are used to thinking of corporate design as a single thing and it's easy to think, "well what's the other single thing that will replace it?" But I don't think it works that way. In a more living economy there is going to be biodiversity, there is going to be different forms for different purposes, so there isn't a single answer to your question, but I can point to some of the best models.
You can look, for example, at community-owned forests in Mexico and other developing nations. These are places where often indigenous people will have control of the forest. They tend to the trees, they build furniture, they do some sustainable harvesting -- and so they have an incentive to keep that forest healthy and stop people who might try to do illegal logging. Deforestation as we know is a contributor to global warming. And so when you put governance in the hands of people who are rooted in place, you begin to see that self-interest and the interest of the whole become one and the same.
So that is just one model. Then you have community-owned wind farms. In Denmark there were wind guilds that jumpstarted the whole wind movement -- these were individual people who came together and invested together to get some wind farms going. And they jumpstarted the whole wind industry in Denmark. And now Denmark generates 20 percent of its electric power from wind, more than any other nation, and people credit it to the wind guilds.
Conservation easements are another model. And this is why I talk about ownership and not just corporations. I used to think the idea was to redesign corporations and we do need to do that, it's important, but we have to remember that the corporate form itself is an industrial-age model. And so a lot of the ownership that I think we're going to want is going to not involve corporations at all.
One example is distributed solar. Instead of having an electric plant that is centralized, corporate-owned, we can have solar on our rooftop owned by individual houses with some kind of collective maintenance and things like that. You can bypass corporations entirely and go to more direct community ownership. So with conservation easements, if you want to protect land from development, you can buy it outright but that's very expensive. A cheaper way to do it is to put a conservation easement on it. What that does is it allows the land to remain in private hands and yet be protected in perpetuity, from development.
Ownership is not really a single thing, it's a bundle of rights, very much like a bundle of twigs and you can separate out different strains of ownership and distribute them in different ways. So development rights on land is one kind of ownership that you can separate out and you can sell it to the state or a conservation organization and then the covenant that says "this land will never be developed" becomes attached to the property deed. It's a very different way of creating change then going to the government and trying to create a law that five or 10 years from now someone could come along and undo.
The wonderful thing about property if we can begin to turn it to our advantage, is that it's a very permanent arrangement and it's highly protected in our culture. So if we can begin to use property rights and law in our interest, which we can, it's another avenue." (http://www.alternet.org/story/155777/time_to_ditch_our_profit-hungry_corporate_economy%3A_here%27s_what_the_future_could_look_like_instead?)
"Ownership, in Kelly’s words, is the “gravitational field that holds our economy in its orbit, locking us all into behaviors that lead to financial excess and ecological overshoot”. Why does it do this? Because ownership, in conventional terms, is about control.
The business of business is about bringing different parties together to create value. It is ownership that defines who has ultimate control over the process and the residual benefit that accrues.
In today’s economy, so much ownership is vested in the hands of distant speculators and investors that it is in their interests that decisions are made, even if what results is a destruction of the fabric of society, wealth and life. You can try to persuade investors and their markets to change their behaviour – the honourable pursuit of corporate social responsibility – or you can try to change the nature of ownership.
Kelly puts her faith in models of ownership that have, as she puts it, a generative effect on the world, renewing life and Nature rather than denuding it. Included within this comes the cooperative tradition, where ownership is vested in one or more of the groups most closely involved in a business.
Rightly, she is inclusive about what works, recognising that ownership works in alignment with values and culture. But equally, she is able to critique models where ownership is not shared, where speculative interests can win out over time or where ownership, in a trust for example, becomes self-serving or paternalistic.
The social control of capital adds up, in her view, to an emerging ownership revolution. It is not small either. In the course of my own research on global business ownership last year, I found that there are three times as many people who are member owners of cooperatives worldwide, at around 1 billion, as there are people who invest directly in the stock market.
By naming this as a field of innovation and learning, Kelly argues that we are able to see it better, and those with a concern for ecological sanity and social justice can be more reflective of the ownership models they promote.
Uplifted by reading Kelly’s book, I turned back to reread the classic UK work on stewardship, from 1987, The Just Enterprise by the late George Goyder.
Goyder wrote: “it is worth pausing to consider for a moment the underlying meaning of the word ‘own’. If I own a house, that means I have a right to live in it or dispose of it. But the word used for possession from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century was not ‘own’ but ‘owe’. Before me as I write lies a manuscript copy of John Wycliffe’s New Testament. At the side of the page is written ‘John Shaw oweth this book.’ (Sir John Shaw was Lord Mayor of London in 1501.) Many similar illustrations could be given of the fact that ownership was originally ‘owership’.” (http://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article3929-owning-our-future.html)
Replacing Ownership by Civic Membership
"I find it interesting that you focus on the subtitle of the book and not the title: Owning the Future. My guess is that the idea of treating the future as controlled by owners is a bit much. I think this book needs a more critical analysis. As I read Elinor Ostrom, for example,she is not talking about some kind of ownership of the commons, but citizens governing the commons. Kelly, on the other hand, sees the commons as a type of ownership. I think there remains a difference between an economy based on ownership, even co-ownership, and one based on civic membership. Citizens, of course, will design different ways of governing the commons, and in some cases, different types of ownership will be chosen. To choose ownership without a civic conversation among members of the civic seems to keep us in an economics of property rather than moving toward an economics of provision." (p2p blog, August 2012)
Why We Need Generative Ownwership
"The need for a revolution in ownership stems from four problems (as I see it):
· Structure: As in architecture, organizational ownership structure has a strong influence over behavior. This is why – aside from rare exceptions - we see consistent, sub-optimal patterns of behavior in each of the major types of legal structure.
The structural message of for-profits is: the organization is an “it;” it exists for itself.
The structural message of non-profits is: the organization is an "it"; it exists for others.
And the structural message of co-ops is: the organization is "us"; it exists for us.
As a result, for-profits are stereotypically predatory and inhuman... non-profits are assumed to be slow and chronically underfunded... and co-ops are too often sleepy and internally focused. We can work differently in each of these structures, but it takes extraordinary effort to work against the nature of the design. The question, then, is: are there alternative structures that more naturally and consistently lead to the behavior and outcomes we want – and that integrate the positive structural messages of each of the existing models?
· Growth: Employee-owned companies may seem like the obvious solution, inviting broad stewardship and including employees in ownership of the organization. B-corporations are another promising model, incorporating social mission directly into their charter. But in both of these cases, as with all equity-based models, there is still the problem of constant pressure to grow. Increasing share value is the great promise of stock ownership, after all. And that requires continuous growth. The demand is multiplied in employee stock ownership models, which must not only increase share value but also endlessly generate excess cash to buy out the shares of any departing employees. The reality is that humanity cannot continue to grow its every enterprise incessantly; as it stands, we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet. Certainly, growth is a natural urge of all living systems, including human organizations. But what new ownership structures might we imagine that would include the concept of “enough”?
· Ethics: There is also a moral question to consider. An organization usually consists of multiple people with immeasurable passions, ideas and contributions. It consists of patterns of relationship, context in community and unique history. How can some few people own that? More to the point, how can they sell it? Isn't it in some way like selling people as slaves?
· Stewardship: I also wonder if, paradoxically, ownership gets in the way of the kind of wise stewardship that’s needed in organizations and society. If I looked at my children as my property, it would fundamentally change my approach to parenting. Instead of ownership, I have responsibility. I'm serving them and I'm also serving society - my goal is to raise good citizens. When I think of owning an organization, it’s easy to lose sight of the broader responsibility part. It becomes even murkier when there are absentee owners whose interests are primarily financial. What structures would more powerfully reinforce a sense of responsibility to serve individuals, the organization, society and the biosphere?" (http://www.solarium.cambiumconsulting.com/content/ownership-and-living-organization)