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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/5/12

Is sharing the key to an advanced society?

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Grassroots activism is alive and well in America like it hasn't been since the 1960's. From rooting out corruption in government - to ending the 1%'s domination of our economy - to turning off our war machine - movements are capturing the hearts and minds of Americans from coast-to-coast - compelling them to get out there and get active. But really, this is just the first step. It's what comes NEXT that we need to start thinking about. After we take back our democracy - what sort of new economy do we want to build? What are we going to replace corporate capitalism with?

For an answer to that - we have to look inside ourselves - literally inside ourselves - into our DNA. New research in the journal "Science" pin points one of the main differences between humans and chimpanzees that has let our species dominate the planet. And that is our ability to SHARE. Researchers took groups of 4-year-old children and compared their ability to solve puzzles together with groups of chimpanzees working on the same puzzle. Where most of the groups of children completed the puzzle after a few hours - none of the chimpanzee groups could do the same. The reason why was not intelligence - but SHARING intelligence. The children learned from each other - and communicated what worked and didn't work - and copied each other. As the study said, "Teaching, communication, observational learning, and prosociality all played important roles in human cultural learning but were absent (or played an impoverished role) in the learning of chimpanzees..." 
bonobos  flickr image  By bobosh_t
This is what researchers described as cumulative culture - essentially the gathering of knowledge to advance a culture or society - AND spur technological improvements. We as humans do this really, really well - whereas our animal counterparts don't. So the question is this...if it's in our genes to share - and it's what pushed our species to advance in the way that is has - then why don't we apply the same standards to our economy? After all - if there's one thing our current corporate capitalist culture HATES - it's sharing. In fact - even the word "sharing" is bad word on corporate media outlets like Fox News. If you dare say the words "share the wealth" - you're immediately be labeled a communist - look at what happened in 2008 when Obama said it to Joe Wurzelbacher - the guy instantly became famous as "Joe the Plumber" for being offended. CEOs don't SHARE profits with their workers - they pocket profits - collecting salaries that are hundreds - even thousands - even tens of thousands of time bigger than their employees. 
Corporations don't SHARE technological infrastructure like cell phone towers and underground wires - so that more and more small businesses can get in the game and give consumers more choice. They control them to maintain their own profits. The entertainment industry doesn't SHARE it's movies and music - they lock them down - and lobby for laws to throw people who call themselves "file sharers" in prison. Sharing has no place in our economy - but as corporate capitalism continues to rot out our democracy and our middle class - it must. Luckily - the transition to a sharing economy is already underway.

Take what's happening in Chicago - where workers are occupying the Republic Windows and Door Factory. Three years ago - Bank of America cut off a loan to the factory forcing managers to shut it down. But Republic's 500 workers didn't budge - and eventually got enough support from the public that Bank of America backed off - giving them time to find a new buyer. Unfortunately now - Republic Windows and Doors is in trouble again - and rather than looking for a new buyer - workers are saying screw it - we'll do it ourselves - we'll own the plant - and we'll run it. They're setting up a worker-owned co-op - a business model that's now catching fire across America. You can see co-ops in places like Madison Wisconsin - where I was last year to keynote the Fighting Bob Fest. I got picked up in a taxi cab by a lawyer. So why's a lawyer driving a cab you might ask? Because he makes good money and has great benefits since he works for a company that has embraced the SHARING model. He worked for Union Cabs - which is a worker a co-op - so he also, along with about 200 other cabbies, dispachers, and mechanics, an OWNER of Union Cabs.
Co-ops are different than corporations - because instead of a small group of shareholders and a CEO owning the company, calling the shots, and pocketing most of the money - ALL the workers own the company - ALL the workers have a vote in how the company is run - and ALL the workers SHARE the profits the company makes. That means the wealth is shared. And people still have an incentive to work hard - because the harder everyone works - the more profits everyone makes. The only difference is we're no longer competing with each other - we're cooperating. And the Union Cab cooperative model is working. It's the largest of four cab fleets in Madison, with the most cars and best service, and an employee retention rate of 85% with most workers sticking around more than 5 years. In fact - there are 9 other co-ops just like Union Cab - all within five miles of the state capital in Madison - from bakeries to engineering companies to pharmacies. 

Across America - there are roughly 30,000 co-ops in all sectors of the economy including 300 worker co-ops - owning more than $3 trillion in assets - bringing in $500 billion in revenue and employing over 2 million workers. It's obvious...co-ops are alive and well in America - as well as the rest of the world - where over 3 billion people rely on or interact with a co-op, according to UN estimates. So instead of building an economy that goes against our nature as humans - that suppresses our desires to SHARE - why not embrace who we are? We've been able to survive and grow as a species for thousands of years NOT because we competed with each other - but because we've shared with each other.

Over the last few decades, as billionaire-funded think tanks have promoted "greed is good," "Austrian Economics" and "selfish Libertarianism" as good things - as Reaganomics has promoted a lottery economy; made the rich vastly richer, the poor poorer, and destroyed the middle class; we've forgotten what it means to share. And look where it's gotten us - we now stand in the midst of economic collapse - social instability - and enormous wealth inequality with all the social problems that come with it. Let's go back to doing what we do best - sharing - and once again build a new economy off that simple and natural principle.   http://www.youtube.com/user/TheBigPictureRT?ob=video-mustangbase#p/u/3/i710mlebZXA
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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)

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