“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. 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.
“Even in ’employee owned’ businesses someone has to make the final decision,” came an objection. “Sometimes a decision has to be made that isn’t popular but necessary. That’s the difference between a leader and a committee.”
My answer to that objection is that under my system the CEO is still the CEO, the managers are still the managers. Only if a decision is completely unacceptable to a significant portion of the partners will there even be a vote. If the majority votes to support the management, the decision stands. If the majority votes not to support the management, the decision does not stand. The manager may continue to try to persuade the majority ad infinitum, but until she or he succeeds, the status quo prevails. This is also why the partners in a business must be informed of the issues, which is better for the business overall. The CEO still gets to make decisions, but she or he cannot make any radical decision affecting everyone without majority approval. It’s kind of like the American government–a supermajority can ‘override a veto’, so to speak, but it would have to be an egregious decision for that to happen. The fact that the majority voted for that person to be the CEO means they will trust and support most of her or his decisions.
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:
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.
With Sisyphus Shrugged, 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 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.