Ownership vs. Stewardship, Companies vs. Co-ops

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After more than two decades of growth and success, Fort Collins based New Belgium Brewing became 100% employee owned three years ago, with the employee stock ownership plan buying out the 59% of the company previously held by its founders.  Today it sounds like they might be putting themselves on the auction block. With around 500 employees, and a potential valuation of a billion dollars, it’s not too hard to understand the temptation.  That’s $2 million worth of company value per employee.

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Buy Yourself Out

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.
— Tyler Durden (Fight Club)

A slave: someone over 40 who makes more than $100,000 but still has a boss.
— Nassim Taleb

A couple of weeks ago I ran a workshop on retirement investing for some other co-op folks.  I’ve run this workshop before, but lately I’ve been thinking about it differently.  Turns out calling it “retirement” investing can be a turn-off when you’re talking to a bunch of mission driven people who are working on things they love, and think they’ll never want to “retire.” The word can have a connotation of hedonism or idleness.  The permanent worthless vacation.  Or just sitting around waiting to die.  “Early retirement” serves no purpose when the work you do is done primarily because you believe in it.  There’s also a sense with “retirement investing” that you can’t touch the money until you’re old.  Which is a long-ass time if you’re in your early twenties.

So I’ve started thinking about it as “autonomy investing” instead — becoming financially autonomous quickly, so that you can do the work you’re compelled to do. Without having to worry about whether your political activism will put your job at risk.  Without caring if your mission is compatible with the Nonprofit Industrial Complex and their funding metrics.  Without having to work a soul-sucking day job that leaves you too fried to spend your evenings and weekends on civic engagement and organizing. Or alternatively… without having to beg investors to pay your living expenses while you work on the early stages of your startup idea.

This is, essentially, the project of buying yourself out of corporate servitude.

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The Corporate Surveillance State

A completely creeptastic article from the NY Times on how Target can figure out that your 16 year old daughter is pregnant before she’s willing to talk to you about it, based on what she’s buying and when.  Big Brother isn’t a mustachioed Stalinist, he’s a mild-mannered statistician attending corporate board meetings and sending out personalized coupon books that purposefully camouflage just how much his computers know about you and your so-called “private life”.

The Rise of the New Global Elite

A nice long-form piece from The Atlantic on the phenomenon and dangers of the New Plutocrats… not just Lloyd Blankfein and his parasitic bankster ilk, but nearly everyone who stands at the so-called Commanding Heights of industry, including productive innovators.  The developed world was all to hot to globalize the economy when we thought we’d always stay on top.  But that was ridiculous of course.  Now “on top” is just a few people scattered all over, and most of us will slide toward the very large bottom if we’re not careful.