Partnerism

“I agree with Rand that human nature is selfish, that we should help ourselves first and foremost.  . . .  Where I differ with her is that I think we can and should help ourselves and others at the same time as a conscious goal.”—Preface to Sisyphus Shrugged

Partnerism is the modification of capitalism proposed in Sisyphus Shrugged and Money’s Men.  Under Partnerism, everyone at an economic enterprise is truly an equal partner.  This does not mean that managers no longer manage or assembly-line workers no longer assemble products.  It means that each is a partner of the other.

Partners agree on what needs to be done, by whom, and the rewards.  Under the current system, bosses and managers decide these things.  Why?  Because capital is more important than labor?  It is not.  Labor is what gets the job done.  Without labor, nothing gets done.  Capital is not effort or labor, so labor is at least as important as capital if not more important.  The rewards should at least be equal if not greater for labor.

Under Partnerism as I envision it, all organizational decisions (hiring, firing, and who does what) are proposed by committee and voted by the entire partnership. So the managers still manage, if that is their talent and desire, but they don’t get to hoard the wealth. Opportunities and rewards are distributed according to what the majority of the business agrees. They still have to run a business well. It’s still capitalism. You can still be comfortable; you just can’t be comfortable at anyone else’s expense anymore.

Gone are the days when a boss or manager can fire you for no reason.  Workers can still quit or be fired, but to be fired, a small committee must act as a jury to determine if the firing is warranted.  Everyone at a place of business knows who does a good job or not, and if a firing is warranted, this should not be too difficult to prove.  Likewise, compensation should be determined by everyone with a stake in a business’ success, not just a small minority.  Again, majority votes on compensation for each position.

The end result is that talent will find its appropriate home and compensation based on consensus, not domination.  No longer will any organization have a top or a bottom.  Equal partners will fill the roles of every business; business will still get done; and everyone at the business will be compensated fairly.  Those are the goals of a moral business.

On the bright side, things are moving in this direction.  On February 20, 2014, former labor secretary Robert Reich posted the following to his Facebook page:

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One reader, Edward Lybrand, Junior, said, “Really enjoying your book.  I like your idea of partnerism, but am wondering how it would work in real life.  I think democracy becomes rather cumbersome once you get more than a handful of people involved.  How would you manage it if your business grew bigger?

I responded: “Thanks, EL.  On one hand, this book is meant to introduce the idea and leave the practical details to each partnership to work out–each business. On the other hand, size shouldn’t matter too much. Each partnership could assign committees to cover certain tasks, HR or Maintenance, for examples.”

Edward said, “Hmmm.  Sounds good.  In fact, it sounds a lot like how I plan on running my business once I get it up and running.

Me: “Each committee would then submit its proposals to the partnership for a debate and vote.  Since the entire partnership would have assigned each committee’s membership, the chances are that the entire partnership would defer to the committee and approve its recommendations.  If a proposal failed, the committee in question would reconsider its proposal to address the concerns of the majority, then resubmit for another vote.  Economic pressure would encourage eventual approval after tinkering.  There would not be too much delay in arriving at the best possible plan.”

That was one of the most encouraging responses I ever received to Sisyphus Shrugged.

In both Sisyphus Shrugged and Money’s Men, I have used every tool at my disposal to convey the simple themes that a free person is still a member of society and with membership come responsibilities.  No one is an island, no matter how much he or she might wish to believe it.  I sank my heart into this project, and, after thirty years of writing other things, I finally felt like the good writer I was.  Sisyphus Shrugged and Money’s Men represents a real piece of me.

Writing this work has persuaded me that neither ambition nor greed but apathy is the greatest evil. It is admirable to wish to succeed at a project, depending on the project; it is understandable to love material wealth, depending on how it has been achieved; but it is inexcusable to disregard others as if they don’t matter, especially not to care about or assist those in need.  To place one’s own interests above those of others as if those others do not matter at all is the greatest crime, in my view, and yet that is what many do all the time.  Sisyphus Shrugged and its sequel, Money’s Men, are designed to challenge that behavior.

In Money’s Men, we read the following journal entry from Geoffrey Bubb, architect of Partnerism in Sisyphus Shrugged:

The only reason those at the so-called ‘top’ have made more money than those at the so-called ‘bottom’ is that those at the so-called ‘top’ are the ones who decided that.  Of course they made that decision, but there is no basis for it other than their own desire.  We need to take the power to decide that (and who is hired and fired for what job) away from the minority and give it to the majority.

Why should an unelected minority decide these things? Because they say so?  Really?  We say no.  The majority of partners at a private business can decide positions and pay by vote.  The majority can delegate tasks to departments and committees chosen by the majority.  Every function can and will continue under a private capitalist business of which every partner is an equal owner.  The CEO might still earn the most, but only if the majority of his or her partners decide that.  The difference is there will be no unfairness in rewards, in hiring or firing, or in the apportionment of duties, and that is the only difference.  Those doing the work will have a say in every matter of the work they are doing.  The World should welcome this one regulation of business, as it has welcomed many others.

—Geoffrey Bubb, journal entry, March 12, 2029

We further read the following clarification of Partnerism from President Laurence Sterling:

“I would like to take a moment, also, to address an area of misunderstanding, of Partnerism and the position of its supporters.  The American partnerist experiment has been dismissed as communistic, though of course the communist goals are the abolition of private property, a centrally planned economy, and then the dispersal of power and control to local committees who distribute resources and allocate tasks under the motto ‘From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’  And while that is a great motto in the abstract, the practical reality is that communism does not live up to that ideal.  Partnerism does not claim to attempt or to provide so much.  Partnerism provides workers control over their own futures, but supporters of Partnerism oppose Communism.  We oppose the abolition of private property, we oppose central planning of the economy, and we oppose the breakup of our federal government.  We believe that decentralization of government leads to anarchy and chaos.  In the case of Partnerism, decentralization of ownership and control can still lead to business failure if a partnership allows this to occur, so it is all the more important for each partnership to make wise decisions.  We oppose the dictatorship to which the Communist arrangement inevitably gives rise, because to abolish private property is to concentrate too much power in one place.  Private property, though regulated, remains the first and best line of defense against dictatorship.  When a dictator does away with free elections, property gives the ordinary citizen the ability to defend himself, whether with guns or with Rearden Metal.  So while we think everyone should do what he is able and get his needs met, we do not think a centrally-planned economy without private property run by an inevitable dictator is anything approaching a good idea.  Communism is a bad idea.  Partnerism is a good one, whose time has come, and I will do my part to guard it in its infancy.

“I would also like it make it clear that we do not think it is the responsibility of private business to meet every need of a worker.  All we ask of private business is that it treat its workers fairly.  We understand that there are those who think it is unfair that government added owners to business documents.  We respectfully disagree, and we note that another sign of our not being a totalitarian state is the lawsuit recently filed by Senate Minority Leader Bob Cramma, which will provide Partnerism with its first big legal challenge.  The Constitution has always allowed our government to compensate property owners when taking things away from them; in fact, our government is required to do so.  Our position is that the rewards of Partnerism constitute the just compensation called for in the Constitution.  If the Supreme Court says we have to give more direct and tangible benefits to those whose ownership we have modified, we will do so.  Partnerism is worth it.  The one thing we will not do, absent a Supreme Court order, is go back to the way things were before, whether Preston Pennington doesn’t like it, whether Brian Swacker doesn’t like it, or anyone else.  We understand that the definition of what is fair is always changing, and we understand that Partnerism represents merely the latest definition of what is fair.  That definition might change again tomorrow.  But in the mean time, we definitely consider it an improvement over the former definition of fair.  And we do think workers should be able to do their jobs, or be able to choose their careers, based on what they are capable of doing.  A teacher is not a truck driver, and a truck driver is not a teacher.  The two positions require different abilities and meet different needs.  That does not mean the same person can’t do both, but he will need to demonstrate different skills at each job.

“Private businesses, to be clear, should not be in the business of paying workers based on what those workers claim they need, because need is subjective, and what one person ‘needs’ could outweigh the bank account of an entire business.  Any business adopting such a scheme would not stay in business for long, which is why Partnerism pays workers based on how much their work is worth to the business.  Likewise, workers should not be in the business of giving only the ability or effort they feel like giving on a given day—a business needs workers with ability, and it needs those workers to provide that ability on a daily basis.  Just as one side can’t do what it feels like doing to the other’s detriment, neither can the other.  Market forces should set the prices and payments.  That is the deal under Partnerism: you go to work and do your best, you will be paid according to your worth, and, after a period of time determined by the partnership, you will have a say in the operation of your workplace—a fair say, an equal say—as an owner and partner.  If you have every interest in the success of your workplace, you will work your heart out for it.  That is what we have been seeing here as our workplaces have been under attack: workers fighting back, because they know they are defending their own interests.  That is not the same thing as communism, no matter how much the opponents of economic fairness might attempt to say otherwise.  They either do not understand or do not wish to understand our position and our law.

“Really, it’s from each according to his economic worth, to each according to his economic worth.  You would think capitalists would like nothing better, as it’s the living embodiment of what they claim to admire.”