Colorado Gives Day provides Coloradans with the opportunity to exercise two of the “better angels of our nature,” gratitude and generosity. A recent visit to my pharmacy presented me with a vivid example of why I should donate to The Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center during the 2021 drive. My response will be to contribute $1000.
At the pharmacy, while waiting to receive my flu shot, I had time to observe the movement and facial expressions of the employees who often seemed frantic in their attempts to satisfy “customer demand.” I noted that the man, who was organizing bags containing ready-to-be-picked-up prescriptions, seemed to be nearing a point of explosion as he slammed the bags down on a table prior to arranging them on a rack. The steam was rising from the top of his head.
I have encountered this person on previous visits, have tried to make conversation and have made a point of expressing my appreciation for his work. He has never responded and his demeanor is one of anguish, if not despair. Rather than thinking that he should be more “customer-friendly,” I believe that his job hates him.
When the pharmacist was ready to administer the shot I said to him, “It looks like you need more help.” His response: “Yes we do but they won’t allow it.” I did not ask, but I imagine that “they” are the corporate bosses, owners and managers who control their workers’ lives. Perhaps “they” see themselves as benevolent rulers who, rather than using force, use some sort of management psychology to compel their underlings to do what they want.
“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” –Studs Terkel
As I consider the fate of millions of “necessary workers,” I recall my own experience of growing up on a small Oklahoma farm. Like the pharmacy employees, times of angst and frustration were frequent. There was the constant worry in regard to weather, commodity prices, crop insect infestations, cattle diseases, etc. And the dawn to dusk work was never done. But there were fun times like playing Monopoly with my dad. I imagined being super-rich by owning hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place, while charging my father exorbitant rents, absconding with all of his properties and rendering him “houseless.” In Monopoly, as in the “gospel” of Milton Friedman, the only line is the bottom line: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits….”
In our farm business, there was a bottom line. Without profit, no farm. But there was also a top-line, home-making. Stakeholders included parents, grandparents, kids and our neighbors with whom we shared a common life. People complained about “the government” but it was not our enemy. We were, after all, “citizens.” Our homestead was “home-place” and our town was “home-town.” “Home economics” was the activity of managing the resources that provided us with a home, school, church and community.
Our home economy involved caring for land, animals, facilities, equipment, financial resources and creating generational wealth. As in any successful enterprise, performance standards were high and stakeholders were held accountable. There were no entitlements, as our livelihood was largely dependent on our own initiative. We were not, however, “rugged individualists.” We were beneficiaries of American institutions that made democratic governance possible, as-well-as laws that provided a framework for economic activity and property ownership. Friedman would not have been welcome at our table.
There were market forces and large corporations that were unfair to small farmers, but we did not allow them to dominate our existence because we were owners. Through thrift, hard work, ingenuity and cooperation with our neighbors, we could not only survive, but we could also thrive. For this and for the life lessons that I acquired, I am most grateful.
While writing this, I can’t help but see the face of the man at the pharmacy and feel a bit of his rage. Some believe their workers are dumb mules who should be used, abused and shackled to their machines. He is not a dumb mule. Every time I encounter him at the pharmacy, I see a human being. My financial support of RMEOC and employee-ownership, during the Colorado Gives Day campaign, is my way of supporting an economy that is fit for human beings.
“Ownership is the ultimate realm of economic power. We all belong there—in the same way that we all belong in the halls of democracy. It’s time for us to own this place we call an economy and stop leaving it to the banker-priests.” –Marjorie Kelly, Owning our Future
-Bill Kirton, RMEOC Founder and Board of Directors Member