"Do you know when the kibbutzim system failed?" the old fellow was testing me, on a hot twilit evening in Eugene. I gestured for him to continue.
"It happened when they started hiring people."
He was there. In the early day of the kibbutz movement, immigrant idealists joined together to work the land. It stayed egalitarian for as long as they were poor.
But, inevitably, someone with extra time would build something, say, a fire engine. And then the kibbutz suddenly had five orders for fire engines. And then they transformed, from little communes, into little corporations.
The moment they hired people, they were participating in the establishment economy. They lost their radical idealism. They lost the notion that individuals could maintain their individual freedom, and yet cooperate freely.
In the U.S., we're all trained to be part of a corporation, owned for the time we work on private property, managed as a herd by a hierarchy of "good" or "bad" bosses. This is a tenacious system. One of the main lessons of the Internet boom in silicon valley, for me, was that despite the unprecedented money & freedom, where co-operative work would have seemed natural, instead the bureaucratic ecology reasserted itself quickly, and entrepreneurs hired people who needed, and wanted, to be told what to do. People came from big old corporations, arriving at young small corporations, and brought their habits with them. They fit perfectly. They were still wage slaves, doing what they were told. They were still not free.
I hope this is because of habit & culture, and not something innate in people. I always tell people that "hope" isn't a very good strategy. So, what can we do to move people away from these habits?
From the federal government's point of view, it isn't possible to run a company where everyone is an independent person. The IRS forbids it. The nominal objective is to prevent abuse of labor. Which obviously hasn't worked. The true objective is the IRS ensnarement of as many people as possible into the regular corporate payment of income tax. The side-effect is that it's very hard for people to stay independently self-employed.
A self-employed person doesn't really have the rights of a "one-person corporation", which is terribly ironic, since the laws defining corporations intended to create a "legal person", or an abstract individual. Anyway, just as a start, to promote true individual freedom, people need the rights of corporations.
Just as importantly, they need to co-operate. To keep people free, and to allow them to initiate cooperation easily & officially, an easy "consortium corporation" is needed. This is so individuals can represent themselves as a group, or a project, without being forced to hire themselves into a corporate bureaucracy, become employees, and thereby forfeit their economic identities as independent individuals.
If such an ad hoc co-op model was common currency, it could be put together quickly, for any project, short or long or permanent. It could circumvent the temptation to make ourselves slaves to our own dreams, or to someone else's. With government-economic-engineering-pressures out of the way, we could then concentrate on the important work of getting along, for the good of the individual and the community.
June 20, 2004