A combination of concentrated wealth, the primacy of shareholder interest in shaping company behavior, and the institutional weakness of labour has helped turn many companies into engines of wealth extraction for external owners, institutional investors, and senior management, often at the expense of the workers and communities who generate value. Any attempt to transform our economy will therefore require reshaping company ownership so that it is democratic, inclusive, and purposeful by design.
That is why the growing interest in “ownership funds” on both sides of the Atlantic is an exciting development, part of a wider debate on how to transform our unequal and dysfunctional economies. In the UK, the Labour Party adopted a policy of ‘inclusive ownership funds’ at its autumn conference; and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders recently announced that he would require large companies to issue shares into worker-controlled funds, a similar concept. This briefing note has been prepared by the Democracy Collaborative and Common Wealth to introduce readers to the various (and often complementary) models for creating ownership funds at different scales and with different characteristics.