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Mini-cast 72: An EO Look at Another Debate

Democratic candidates for president held another debate this week, this time in advance of the South Carolina primary. Unlike a previous debate, employee ownership was not explicitly mentioned. Bret Keisling looks at how some of the candidates are discussing EO, even if they don’t use the words or realize they’re doing it.

The audio clips from the February 25, 2020 Democratic Party Debate were quoted from the CBS News 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 72 Transcript

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

Bret Keisling: 00:14 Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. In last week's episode of the Mini-cast, number 71, we discussed a historic democratic presidential debate that had been held that week in Las Vegas -- and historic for employee ownership because it's the first time employee ownership has ever been mentioned in a presidential debate. Now, if you go back to Mini-cast 71 you'll hear my take that it was not necessarily mentioned in the best possible way. Well since then, another debate has been held in South Carolina and employee ownership was not mentioned during this debate, but I'm struck and continued to be struck by how closely the candidates are talking about employee ownership, even though they're not saying the words. The reality is that employee ownership, in my view, takes care to address many of the problems that are important and being discussed to all Americans of any political stripe party, et cetera.

Bret Keisling: 01:22 My approach here is a nonpartisan approach. I'm not looking to endorse candidates or even party. I am however, looking to expand the debate of employee ownership or the conversation I should say. Before I talk about the debate and we are going to run some clips, I do want to turn to NCEO. NCEO is a great source of information, hard data about employee ownership. In our show notes, we're going to have a link to NCEO's 2018 Update on Employee Owners, but there are some stats that I'd like to share with you from that publication and to me it informs what I, all political candidates, not just the presidential candidates, not just Democratic candidates, but candidates all over the country at any level, any party are missing the boat if they don't adopt employee ownership.

Bret Keisling: 02:18 So I'm going to read a list of benefits available at jobs, and again, this is from NCEO, and we're going to share how the benefits are available to employee owners and non-employee owners. So a flexible work schedule: 63% of employee owners have a flexible work schedule, only 40% of non-employee owners. Medical, surgical or hospital insurance that covers injuries or major illnesses off the job: 97% of employee owners have this, only 69% of non-employee owners. Life insurance that would cover you for your death if it wasn't connected to your job: 92% of employee owners have it, 60% non-employee [owners] don't. Paid maternity or paternity leave: 67% of employee owners have it. 32% of non-employee owners have it. A retirement plan other than social security: 92% have -- of employee owners -- have it, 55% of non-employee owners have a retirement plan. And I'm assuming that they mean a retirement plan in addition to the ESOP employee ownership as well, because as folks know, cut everything we talk about employee ownership and ESOP is a qualified retirement plan. Tuition reimbursement, reimbursement for certain types of schooling: Two thirds of employee owners have this benefit, only 26% of non-employee owners have it. Company provided or subsidized childcare: 26% of employee owners have this benefit, 6% of non-employee owners. The reason I bring this data to your attention is that so many issues regarding healthcare, childcare, education, wealth and wage inequality among gender and racial groups. All of these issues are finely addressed by employee ownership. So now let's turn to the Democratic debate. I'm going to play a couple of clips for you and I'm asking you to listen to the clips in the same way that I do, which is to hear if you can, how close they're talking about employee ownership, but they're not getting there. Let's go to the debate and the very first question that was asked by Norah O'Donnell of Bernie Sanders.

Norah O'Donnell: 04:33 Senator Sanders, we haven't had a national unemployment rate this low for this long in 50 years. Here in South Carolina, the unemployment rate is even lower. How will you convince voters that a Democratic socialist can do better than President Trump with the economy?

Bernie Sanders: 04:52 Well, you're right. The economy is doing really great for people like Mr. Bloomberg and other billionaires. In the last three years, last three years, billionaires in this country saw an $850 billion increase in their wealth. But you know what? For the ordinary American, things are not so good. Last year, real wage increases for the average worker were less than 1 percent. Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck; 87 million Americans have no health insurance or are underinsured; 45 million people are struggling with student debt; 500,000 people tonight are sleeping out on the street, including 30,000 veterans. That is not an economy that's working for the American people. That's an economy working for the 1 percent. We're going to create an economy for all, not just wealthy campaign contributors.

Bret Keisling: 05:52 I certainly understand that there is strategy in presidential debates and campaigns that I don't understand, but I wish rather than just attacking the billionaires, and by the way, folks, this is not a defense of billionaires, et cetera, et cetera. - pretty sure I don't actually know any personally - but in the conversation he easily could have pivoted to the benefits of employee ownership. Here are three clips from Tom Steyer. See if you agree that even though he never says employee ownership, he could be talking about it.

Tom Steyer: 06:28 I don't believe that a government takeover of large parts of the economy makes any sense for working people or for families. I think that what we need to do is to present an alternative that includes a vibrant, competitive private sector. But we all know, unchecked capitalism has failed. The answer is not for the government to take over the private sector, though. We have to show that we can create a growing, prosperous economy that works for American working people.

Tom Steyer: 06:59 I have started a bank to support black ownership of businesses, women ownership of businesses, and Latino owners of businesses, because this financial service industry is prejudiced.

Tom Steyer: 07:10 Every single policy area in the United States has a gigantic subtext of race. We're talking about education. We're talking about criminal justice. We're talking about housing. We're talking about loans. I started a bank to basically to correct the injustice in the financial services industry. Basically, to make loans to black-owned, Latino-owned, and women-owned businesses.

Bret Keisling: 07:38 By the way, if you are interested in data that supports the argument that employee ownership is a great path to addressing race and gender pay gaps and wealth inequality, then I would direct you to the Rutgers Kellogg report called “Building the Assets of Low and Moderate Income Workers and their Families: The Role of Employee Ownership,” and we're going to have a link to that in our show notes and we also discussed it in Mini-cast Episode 43 which you can find at along with all of our archived episodes, but this will show some of the data that employee ownership, it's not just me talking, really has a tangible effect on many, many of the economic issues that are being discussed. Let's return to the debate with comments from Elizabeth Warren.

Elizabeth Warren: 08:32 We talk about how to build a future. That's what matters. I talk to people in selfie lines every day who tell me about the importance of getting real help on health care. It's why I also have a way to pay for health care that doesn't raise taxes on middle-class families. But it's so much more than that. As Democrats, we need to speak to the future we can build together. We need to speak of the prosperity we can build together. How about a wealth tax in America?

Bret Keisling: 09:02 Senator Warren goes on to speak about the importance of the wealth tax. I'm not arguing for or against and it's outside the purview of the podcast, but I am going to say this: A wealth tax in and of itself, regardless of how you feel about it, does not directly necessarily create wealth for the rest of us. I understand it will fund programs. I understand that, for example, Senator Sanders has made a morality argument against billionaires. I'm a capitalist. I'm not fundamentally opposed to people making money or even significant amounts of money, but I'm an inclusive capitalist, so I'd like more people to be making the money, creating more of the wealth and that path is through employee ownership. So for me, we tee things up that are important to employee owners. But when Senator Warren pivoted to the wealth tax, it was a missed opportunity. Our final clip from the debate is a question asked of Vice President Biden and his response.

Bill Whitaker: 09:59 Vice President Biden, black men earn 73 cents for every dollar earned by white men, are about twice as likely to be unemployed, five times more likely to be incarcerated, conditions that ripple across black families and have endured during both Democratic and Republican administrations. How do you convince black voters that you can change years of inequities?

Joe Biden: 10:26 The way we do this, we've got to help them create wealth, and that's why we double the amount of money that is available for young entrepreneurs and black entrepreneurs, are as successful as any other group of people in the country.

Bret Keisling: 10:39 Supporting entrepreneurship is very, very important, supporting businesses, very important, supporting better jobs, addressing issues between, again, gender and race, pay and wealth inequality. To me, employee ownership gives significantly more opportunity for more people to participate. I've started a number of businesses in my lifetime. I have been described as a serial entrepreneur and the reality is entrepreneurialship is risky and the way most entrepreneurialship is set up is that if the founder or entrepreneur is successful, they tend to get much of the financial benefits and wealth that arise from it. That's why I think employee ownership really does address more broadly, more fairly, more across the board, all of the issues that are very important.

Bret Keisling: 11:32 Now, there is a candidate who was in the presidential debate who has done more for employee ownership than probably any other political leader in the United States in its history. Regardless of what you think about his politics, his policies, his electability, his friendliness, regardless of what you think of Senator Sanders factually, he has done more to support employee ownership than anyone else in the country from an elected official perspective. In 2018 I had the pleasure, and it really was a pleasure, to hear Senator Sanders address a relatively small crowd at the Vermont Employee Ownership Center Conference. It was, I believe May, 2018 [Correction: Friday, June 8th, 2018 at the UVM Davis Center in Burlington, Vermont] we covered this on Mini-cast 43 [Correction: The ESOP Podcast Episode 37] and included an excerpt, or I'm sorry, it included a speech that Bernie Sanders made to that group. Got to tell you I was star struck and it was just so cool. This is in between his presidential runs in 2018 to hear someone so passionate, so I'm going to close today's episode with some excerpts from that speech to the Vermont EOC. You can find the entire podcast episode and much more from Senator Sanders in Mini-cast 43 [Correction: The ESOP Podcast Episode 37] which again is available at and as you listen to Senator Sanders, imagine if all of the presidential candidates could pivot to employee ownership or would pivot to employee ownership during the debates during the campaign speeches. I suspect that employee ownership at that point would begin to really catch fire among government officials and more importantly, the public and the voters. Here's Senator Sanders as excerpt from Mini-cast 43 [Correction: The ESOP Podcast Episode 37.]

Bernie Sanders: 13:24 We live in a economy which has enormous challenges and which is changing every day as a result of technology and trade agreements, et cetera, and it has always seemed to me that when we talk about democracy in a nation, by the way, which has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country on earth, when we talk about revitalizing democracy, when we talk about getting people in general involved in the process, what we are talking about through employee ownership is something pretty profound and that is what we are all saying is that when somebody goes to work tomorrow, that person, that person should not consider himself or herself just a cog in a machine. And right now all across this country today, millions of people get up in the morning, they say, Oh God, it's not Saturday. It's only Friday. [Laughter.] I hate it but I got to make a living and I need some healthcare, got to take care of my family. Oh God, please, I've got to go to work.

Bernie Sanders: 14:44 Think about it for a moment. People spend 40, 50, 60 hours a week and work and millions of people hate having to go to work. And what ESOPs are about employee ownership is about is turning that around in so many ways. It saying for a start that you can have a more productive and profitable company when you listen to all the people who are working. It seems to me that we should start making some serious money available to those companies who want to transition away from an individual owner of a company to employee ownership of a company. [Applause.]

Bernie Sanders: 15:37 If you have in Vermont and in fact all over this country, somebody starts a company when he or she was young, they work hard, the company grows, and then that person is about to retire. Very often that employer respects his or her employees, has worked with them, knows that the success of the company has been based on their work, wants to do the right thing. Would like to transit that company into employee ownership but it is hard to do. So we want to make sure that there are tax benefits and other benefits. We want to make sure that the employers have the knowledge to know how to deal with what is sometimes complicated. We're going to work hard on that. We're going to work even harder. Because I believe that in a time when there is so much uncertainty in the economy that there is nothing more than people feeling proud of the work, knowing that they own the places in which they work. So we've made some good progress. Vermont is clearly one of the states leading the nation, but let's figure out how we can go even further. I look forward to working with all of you to make that happen. Thank you so much. [Applause.]

Bret Keisling: 16:59 As I said, you can hear all of Senator Sanders comments to the Vermont EOC as well as more information we learned in Vermont in Mini-cast Episode 43 [Correction: The ESOP Podcast Episode 37]. I'm going to close with this thought. Imagine if candidate debates, whether presidential, gubernatorial, or even township commissioners or county commissioners had an employee ownership component and imagine if more political leaders and even interested citizens took up employee ownership as a cause. It doesn't matter in this instance that Senator Sanders identifies as a democratic socialist. We've had on the podcast state representative Greg Rothman from Pennsylvania who is an avowed and proud capitalist. He feels as strongly about employee ownership as Senator Sanders does. With that, thank you very much for joining us. I hope we'll see you next week, next Tuesday ,for The EO/ESOP Podcast, and if you have any comments, here's Bitsy McCann to tell you how to get ahold of us. Have a great weekend. Bye bye.

Bitsy McCann: 18:14 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.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Temi, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The ESOP Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.


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