Economic inequality is worse today than during the “Gilded Age” at the turn of the last century. With most U.S. lawmakers caring more about wealthy 21st-century robber barons than average Americans, there is not a hint of embarrassment concerning a budget that takes from the poor and gives to the rich. This reverse Robin Hood ploy in government spending, justified with the faulty notion of “trickle down” economics, is the latest example of regressive policy designed to further tilt the economic playing field away from benefiting the majority of Americans and their children.
Capitol Hill and White House leadership strive ceaselessly to reward their wealthy campaign contributors, rather than incentivize a healthy local economic multiplier effect for everyone. Nevertheless, there is a faint whisper of bipartisan support in Washington for helping the majority of Americans through legislation focusing on employee-ownership: employees owning stock in the companies where they work.
Four separate bills were introduced during this Congress’ first session to empower employees to share in the responsibility and wealth of their local businesses. Sponsors are Republicans and Democrats, and, oh yes, independent (Bernie Sanders of Vermont). Both Maryland’s U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen like employee ownership, yet these bills are all but ignored by congressional leadership and the White House, even though they represent a real way to actually “make America great again.” In a nutshell, the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court Decision gave corporations the rights of individuals. Employee ownership is a way to return the rights held by corporations back to individuals, their communities and all of our children.
In Annapolis, we have a related idea about how to fairly share wealth by grounding economic opportunities in our communities through passage of a Maryland Employee Ownership Act, which would ease the transition to employee ownership for conventional businesses.
Broad-based employee-ownership is a proven strategy to build assets for workers, retain jobs in our neighborhoods and provide a meaningful and financially rewarding exit for retiring business owners. Employee-owned enterprises perform better in terms of productivity and sales growth, and they also tend to be greener and more socially just than traditional businesses. But perhaps their most important attribute for Maryland is that they maintain employment during downturns.