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Mini-cast 71: EO and the Democratic Debate

History was made earlier this week when employee ownership was discussed at the Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. In today's episode, Bret Keisling discusses this important milestone and asks whether 19+ million television viewers saw employee ownership at its best.

The audio clips from the February 19, 2020 Democratic Party Debate were quoted from the NBC/MSNBC coverage of the public debate per 17 U.S.C. § 107: Fair Use. The full original of the source we quoted can be viewed here.


Mini-cast 71 Transcript

Announcer: 00:03 Welcome to The ESOP Mini-cast, a great way to wrap up the week.

Bret Keisling: 00:13 Hello my friends. Thanks for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. Earlier this week, history was made when employee ownership was mentioned for the first time ever in a presidential debate. 19 plus million television viewers watched as employee ownership was discussed and a number of the candidates made clear their support for employee ownership and even at times spoke in the language of employee ownership whether they realized it or not. Here's Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Pete Buttigieg: 00:51 I think that employee ownership of companies is a great idea.

Bret Keisling: 00:55 It's wonderful to have a presidential candidate make such a clear declaration of support for employee ownership. Here's vice president Joe Biden using the exact same language many employee ownership advocates use when they're extolling the virtues of employee ownership.

Joe Biden: 01:13 We should be rewarding work, not just wealth. And the American people, the middle class is getting killed, and the poor have no way up.

Bret Keisling: 01:22 Not to outdone, Senator Bernie Sanders, who's been promoting employee ownership since the 1970s and 80s had this to say regarding Mike Bloomberg's comment that Bloomberg had worked really hard and earned the money that he made.

Bernie Sanders: 01:38 It wasn't you who made all that money. Maybe your workers played some role in that, as well. And it is important that those workers are able to share the benefits, also.

Bret Keisling: 01:50 I don't think anyone who promotes and works for employee ownership, whether in the transaction side, whether in the culture side, whether a generalist advocate, I don't think there's anyone who would disagree with the comments of Senator Sanders, Vice President Biden, and certainly not the comments of what Mayor Pete said. Now, not to take away with my great enthusiasm that employee ownership was discussed. The reality is the EO sandbox didn't get to choose how the issue was raised or how the candidates responded. Here's NBC Chief White House Hallie Jackson, and her question to Pete Buttigieg that led to the segment of the debate.

Hallie Jackson: 02:32 Senator Sanders has a proposal that will require all large companies to turn over up to 20 percent of their ownership to employees over time. Is that a good idea?

Bret Keisling: 02:42 My response when I heard this question frankly was: Ugh. It's a fair question. It's an appropriate question. I so appreciate Ms. Jackson asking a question about employee ownership and I appreciate what the candidates had to say, but it honed in on one aspect of employee ownership that reasonable people within the EO sandbox may not agree. Here's Mayor Pete with his full answer to the question.

Pete Buttigieg: 03:11 I think the employee ownership of companies is a great idea. I'm not sure it makes sense to command those companies to do it. If we really want to deliver less inequality in this country, then we've got to start with the tax code and we've got to start with investments in how people are able to live the American dream, which is in serious, serious decline.

Bret Keisling: 03:32 In answering this question, Mayor Pete pivoted from employee ownership to what needs to happen regarding taxes as it relates to the American dream. I would have loved to have him stay on employee ownership as a path to the American dream, more shareholders, more equity, et cetera, et cetera. Listen to a fuller clip of Vice President Biden discussing rewarding workers rather than wealth.

Joe Biden: 04:02 The fact is that we ought to start rewarding work, not just wealth. The idea that we have a tax rate for corporate America at 21 percent is ridiculous. It should be at 28 percent. That would raise almost...

Bret Keisling: 04:14 I'm not taking anything away from the importance of the tax discussion at a presidential debate obviously, but what could have started a lengthy segment on the wonderment of employee ownership ends up with 45 seconds of tax inequality in the United States. As you hear him still discussing behind me. Wouldn't it be great if political candidates instead of using employee ownership to pivot to some other issue, use the other issues to pivot back to employee ownership. Okay. Now that the Vice President has done talking about taxes, let me go into one other area that I think makes things a little bit complicated for employee ownership and it's in the context of the millions of people who heard the debate but don't really know anything about employee ownership. Here's Senator Sanders who tees up with a statement everybody employee ownership would agree with and understand, I assume, but then he makes a proposal that is certainly controversial even within the sandbox

Bernie Sanders: 05:16 When we have so many people who go to work every day and they feel not good about their jobs, they feel like cogs in a machine. I want workers to be able to sit on corporate boards, as well, so they can have some say over what happens to their lives.

Bret Keisling: 05:31 Senator Sanders has a proposal. Some people like it, some people don't. What's the big deal? Listen to the follow-up question and response from Mayor Bloomberg.

Hallie Jackson: 05:42 Mayor Bloomberg, you own a large company. Would you support what Senator Sanders is proposing?

Mike Bloomberg: 05:45 Absolutely not. I can't think of a ways that would make it easier for Donald Trump to get re-elected than listening to this conversation. [Applause.] It's ridiculous. We're not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that. It was called communism, and it just didn't work.

Bret Keisling: 06:03 And this my friends sums up our dilemma in employee ownership. We finally made it to the big stage. It was in the context of several proposals, even controversial within employee ownership, and that segment of the conversation ended with Mayor Bloomberg denigrating one of the proposals and equating employee ownership to communism. Folks, I am not an economist, I am not a political scientist, but I do need to say that I think Mayor Bloomberg misspoke, communism doesn't have any ownership whatsoever, so employee ownership has no role there. But now I see the problem employee ownership, something that I believe in so many other people passionately believe can affect so much positive change in the United States is reduced to a talking point that puts us in a bad light or a controversial light. It's used as a springboard to other issues. And even though we made the big time, I'm not sure we benefit in the long term from the type of conversation that was had.

Bret Keisling: 07:11 So what can we do about it? I think one of the ways is to submit questions when whoever's moderating or holding the debates opens it up to citizens and submit questions related to employee ownership, but also reach out as individuals to the campaigns and let them know that employee ownership is important to you. As I've said on many podcasts in the last two and a half years, and particularly in the last six months, there are way too many employee owners, 17 million across all of the employee ownership types, to have zero impact on our political process, just as we have essentially zero impact as consumers. So, we hit an important milestone. I'm grateful that employee ownership was mentioned on the debate as I pointed out, I could have been grateful-ler. If you have any opinions, please, we'd love to hear from you, but one thing I do want to point out, I've been very careful in this episode to not pick sides and not pick personalities and to keep the focus and the discussion on how employee ownership is presented. If you'd like to comment along those lines and anything that furthers the discussion of employee ownership, we'd love to hear from you. Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you'll join us Tuesday for The EO/ESOP Podcast. This is Bret Keisling. Have a great day.

Bitsy McCann: 08:34 We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling, and I'm Bitsy McCann.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.


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