Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Introducing a New Dynamic

Ayn Rand was wrong. Sure, her argument for objectivism, delivered so eloquently in 50-some consecutive pages of uninterrupted dialog by her character, John Galt, in Atlas Shrugged, has won the hearts and minds of countless young laissez-faire capitalists since the novel was published in 1957. That’s beside the point.

The truth is that when one examines, closely, both sides of that lopsided coin, a different truth emerges. While bright ideas are desirable things, imagination alone doesn’t manipulate matter and shape it into that which the mind conceives. Muscle plays an essential role in the process of transforming ideas into material reality, but all too often it’s given short shrift, its value downplayed by the “men of the mind” whose goal is to create and retain for themselves as much wealth as possible. Thinkers grow rich, and workers become their willing – or not so willing – slaves.

No man is an island, and no head acts independently of its body. A head without a body lacks the ability to take action; a body without a head lacks purpose and direction. Only when the two work together in perfect harmony do meaningful things get done.

And so it is with management and labor. Labor without management is inefficient and ineffective; management without labor has no hope of accomplishment. It takes the two of them, working together in perfect harmony, to achieve the desired results.

In 2005, the average pay for Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs was 431 times higher than the average pay for those companies’ employees. In 1982 the pay differential was 47 to 1.

Does anyone else see a problem with this dynamic? Maybe it’s time to introduce a measure of equity into the workplace so workers are more fairly compensated for their contributions to the economy.

What if workers were able to buy an ownership interest in the companies and corporations they work for? If investors can buy in with money, why can’t workers buy in with their labor? This would go a long way toward shrinking the disparity between rich and poor by creating a more level economic playing field. An ownership stake in the companies they work for would give workers incentive to increase productivity by rewarding their efforts to do so.

Restructuring corporate ownership to include the working class would help achieve economic parity by redistributing wealth downward. It would obviate the need for labor unions, increase productivity, minimize sick time, reduce employee absenteeism and turnover, trim healthcare costs across the board, and replace Social Security as a source of retirement income.

Other benefits to society would accrue, as well. Lower unemployment rates, lower crime rates, fewer homeless people, fewer people on welfare, and increased tax revenues are just some of the possibilities.

With inexorable population growth and rapid technological evolution comes the need to revamp all social institutions, not the least of which is the economy. Our failure to entertain—and, perhaps, act upon—progressive and even radical ideas now only ensures that we’ll be buried under the rubble of our inertia later.