9 Days to 2018 – Social Enterprises vs. Capitalism

It’s not a cage match. It’s way more subtle. And it’s the core focus of my work in 2018, and it shoudl be yours too.

Some workplaces close down between Christmas and New Year’s. This year, the idiocies of the calendar lead to that being just a 3 day shutdown [because Boxing Day is a thing in Canada].

Far more offices merely have skeleton staffs working because those with more seniority and sufficient vacation days just take late December off.

Now that about only 50% of Canadians work full-time, the previous 2 paragraphs are increasingly meaningless to an increasing number of people. They’ll be working a lot over the next 2 weeks. And generally we’re still assuming they get time off, or something. And here I am, writing 18 reflections leading into 2018 because I DON’T have the have 3 jobs to get more than 1 present under the tree for each kid.

We need to be thinking that more and more people are becoming the precariat, the precarious proletariat. The underemployed, the sub-minimum wage workers. The struggling, those with too many jobs. Those who can’t afford to live in the cities they work in, so they waste an extra 350-700 hours a year commuting because they don’t earn enough to have just one job and walk to work. What couldn’t YOU do if someone too just 300 hours a year from you for extra commuting time?

Who are these people?

They’re not teens looking for spending money. They’re increasingly not just Millennials but Echos, and Gen Xers and yes, Boomers. And I’ll add this, yes they’re older than the Boomers, often called the Traditionalists, but the poorest group of them: the people who have no workplace pension and they’ll work until the illness or decay that will eventually end their life, initially prevents them from going to work one day. Then it’s all downhill from there.

Social enterprises, including B corps and co-ops, are a secret revolutionary device. Some neoliberal 1% folk are already targeting these do-gooders as undermining free market, deregulated capitalism. They’re not wrong. But we need to pick a side. But which side!

Capitalism started with Adam Smith when he published the Wealth of Nations in 1776, a year you likely remember for another kind of revolution, a political one.

But economics, trade, commerce…Smith didn’t invent these. He helped usher in an era of deep economic greed, exploitation and maximizing shareholder wealth. Period. He’s largely why Karl Marx is famous.

We can’t reform capitalism. Why? Maximizing shareholder wealth. Period.

Co-ops dream, through their Principle 6, to create a new global economy among co-operative enterprises, where workplace democracy is the starting point.

When your entire economic model is entrenched in a bunch of things, none of which is maximizing shareholder wealth, then we can create a new economic not based on Adam Smith and the economic tyrants whose 1% ways led to them having as much wealth as the poorest 50% of all humans.

Income inequality. The Occupy Wall Street movement was all over that, including the term, the 1%. A massive international hegemonic action quashed Occupy, but we’re left with everyone talking about the 1%, including deep, committed city-states of neoliberal capitalism: the WTO, the OECD and the IMF. They’re not stupid. They know that increased income inequality leads to global revolution. Then it’s Dr. Zhivago. They don’t want that, so now their playing with valves and optics to try to release some pressure before the volcano blows.

Be suspicious when the hyper-wealthy, and their think tanks and international economic organizations start to champion the plight of the poor and precarious. They can’t maximize shareholder wealth inside a global political, social and economic revolution.

But social enterprises are different. Sure, some of them have as much integrity as a lima bean. But they’re usually easy to spot. They’re all about the optics and promoting their massive CSR.

The rest of them know that everything they’re doing accomplishes one or more social goods relating to economic, social, environmental or political justice.

To celebrate the start of 2018 I’ll be receiving a starter pack of goodies from Capuli Club, a Seattle social enterprise that ticks quite a few boxes of awesome. And when I go see my Ottawa people next month, I’m sharing another Capuli Club pack. Along with some ChopValue coasters, the ones with the Vancouver skyline on them. ChopValue is awesome in so many ways, but beyond actually being carbon neutral, they are a negative carbon solution.

Once upon a time, we started recycling paper. Then we started separating paper from recyclable plastics, compost and [sadly] landfill trash. Then we embraced taking our own hot beverage mug to coffee shops, which themselves never used to exist. And we started going with fair trade and organic coffee. And we took cloth bags to grocery stores when civil society astonishingly forced the stores to charge a nickel for every plastic bag we used. Then came Nada, where we level up again. And we’re all skipping drinking straws for 2018, right? Including in the remain days of 2017.

You see this trend. It’s the do-gooder thing on small scales. Being more intentional and aware of our impact. Now, we need to embrace the co-ops’ Principle 6 by stopping having economic relationships with companies that aren’t social enterprises.

You can’t accomplish it all in 2018, but there are SOOOOO many low hanging fruit. One a month is probably easy to do. That means pick 12 social enterprises and use them to replace less constructive relationships. And when you switch, do it forever. And drag your friends along. I’m not yet know as the ” no more drinking straws” guy, but I’m close I think.

Stephen Colbert Calls for Boycott on Amazon on Behalf of Hachette Authors - IGNAnd while Whole Foods wasn’t perfect, Amazon gobbled it up. They’re no social enterprise. And we’ll see traditional capitalist companies confronting their own shame buy undermining social enterprises.

Organic-chart-Jan-2016Just think about organic food companies. Who owns them now? Are any still independent, or did a non-organic [or even anti-organic] company buy them. Sure, maybe we can reform capitalists by injecting righteousness into them because it’s profitable. But leopards, spots and maximizing shareholder wealth may endure longer than reform efforts. We’ll see.

But here’s what I think we need to see.

We need to remember who’s working their asses off over the next 9 days to finish off this year. We need to tip them more, smile at them more, be patient with their workload more, we need to wish them a better 2018. We need to ask them if they have any hope that 2018 will be better.

Beyond switching our personal and corporate supply chains from capitalist to social enterprises, we need to do more than just give people a higher tip at Christmastime. We need to start 2018 tipping not 10-15%, but a flat 20%. And if your jurisdiction has embraced a $15 minimum wage, keep tipping 20%. And if you aren’t at $15, phone your political leaders and shame them.

Then figure out how to convert your company into a worker co-op, or a B corp, or a living wage employer. And if that just can’t happen, maybe you and a few folks should quit and do that yourselves. You’re pretty talented. Remember how everyone is talking about a side hustle; make yours spectacular!

Find all the social enterprises around you, particularly in sectors that aren’t yours and ask them for mentorship and support. And build your Principle 6 bridges early.

But really, I’m mostly joking. Capitalists busy exploiting your labour to maximize shareholder wealth will not, WILL NOT, find ways of helping you undermine their profitability by spawning a social enterprise and converting themselves into that. It starts on the ground with people who care.

And you care. You’re here.

So make 2018 a year where your economic activity cultivates justice, opportunity and hope for others. It used to be harder, but it’s pretty easy today. And it’s only going to get easier, so get in on it.

Most of what I’m doing in 2018 will be about enhancing the potential of social enterprises to wedge out the 1% for the sake of the 99% and the planet.

We’re all in this together!

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