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Note: After listening carefully to comments and guidance, I decided to alter the title and a bit of the content of this piece to reflect sensitivity rightfully assigned to the term “Slave Economy”, which holds an emotional and historical connotation similar to any mention of the Holocaust.  There is no verbal substitute for living through and more often dying because of those horrors and I want to make sure my choice of words shows full respect.  Also, I don’t want controversy to detract from the message that the current predatory capitalist economy puts and keeps Americans of all races in bondage marked by three principal inequalities – economic, mobility, and opportunity – and that extended one class worker ownership offers a way out. -MAP-

This year’s Oscar award winning film, “Twelve Years a Slave,” positions the past as prologue. America’s stakeholder versus shareholder dichotomy has grown as large as the .01 percent versus 99.09 percent national economic class divide resulting in the unholy trinity of rising and suffocating inequalities (income and wealth, social mobility and opportunity). Economists and business leaders are beginning to measure GNP net effects but still in their rear view mirrors.

Instead of “masters,” we have local and national oligarchs and plutocrats who prove that corporations are persons and that every dollar equates to a vote by renting elections, journalists, politicians and Supreme Court judges with impunity. U.S. Chamber of Commerce “bundlers” dismember, outsource and off-shore means of production without paying U.S. taxes or creating domestic jobs while Wall Street “Flash Boys” tilt the national trading playing field so steeply that it becomes a no-way-back ravine from greedy gulch.

Similarities abound between today’s declining civic ethos and mid nineteenth century,  pre Civil War era human flesh markets starting with America’s contemporary desperation class composed of  minimum wage workers toiling in America’s most praised corporations (e.g. Wal-Mart & McDonalds) who need public sector-funded food stamps to make basic ends meet.

“No country for any working stiff” self-sustains through a culture of oppression and subterfuge, finding new loopholes to tether human “beasts of burden,” suppress their vote, gerrymander their political districts, threaten any instinct to collectivize and incessantly cross-sell false, hobbesian choices between clean environments and sustaining employment through corporate-owned and advertisement-funded media channels. Extreme economic prejudice has morphed from purely racial to generational.

Life imitates life. FDR’s 1937 greatest generation inaugural cry of outrage (“one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished”) finds its echo in the recent New York Times editorial warning, “Recovery for Whom?” Today, America’s best educated Millennial generation is ill-paid, under-paid, unemployed or a combination of all three, ill-housed in terms of ever achieving home ownership, and illiquid due to crushing student loan indebtedness.

The Times notes that “recovering lost ground may well be impossible” and that “clearly, education alone does not create jobs and opportunities that lead to prosperity.” Rising inequalities have rusted out yesterday’s corporate career ladder rungs and materialist brass rings that allowed predecessor Boomers and Gen Xers to step up, climb, grab and then ingest their slice of the American dream.

Art also imitates life. America’s supposed post-racial society has morphed from purely skin color-fixated to fixed economic caste. The new American bondage-based economy first built on and then dismembered by global labor arbitrage produces more renters instead of owners, more sharecroppers rather than empowered workers, and a rising cycle of self-fulfilling, place-centric poverty marked by statistics that whiplash the nation’s sense of itself from “We Should Be in a Rage” (Charles Blow) to “We’re Not No. 1! We’re Not No. 1!” (Nicholas Kristof).

In “Flash Boys,” author Michael Lewis lays out a Wall Street economy built on moral inertia (“So long as it served the narrow self-interests of everyone inside it, no one on the inside would ever seek to change it, no matter how corrupt or sinister it became.”).  Identical “Flash Boy” practices (front running, rebate arbitrage, slow-market arbitrage) are practiced daily on America’s workers through a predatory, market-sanctioned form of human trafficking. The economic and socio-environmental justice score card speaks for itself: more than 60,000 American factories closed since the 1992 NAFTA trade agreement resulting in 400 individuals owning more wealth than half the country’s bottom 150 million citizens combined, and the U.S. ranking as the most unequal of any developed country, “distinguishing” itself at 65th from the top most free countries based on global social mobility and opportunity measurements.

As a result, there are dual-track Americas: one is fast becoming a majority minority country within the next two decades while the other has already descended into a majority “Absentee Ownership” society. The two do not overlap. The “Eureka” moment in “Flash Boys” comes when the IEX founders realize that what’s needed is for investors and workers to “take responsibility for understanding the market, and then to seize its controls.”

This “seizing the controls” philosophical breakthrough matches Millennial Generational angst at being trapped inside “no way out” status quo-driven, “disparity creator” enterprises instead of being free to pursue triple bottom line corporate experiences, high impact investing, start-ups inventing sustainability functions, applications and products. In revolt with nothing left to lose (the 1960s’ Janis Joplin definition of freedom), Millennials in ever greater numbers seek to abandon the predatory slave-economy and design-build their generational breakthrough apps all over the national location grid starting with benchmarking lifestyle and workplace liberation models that thrive on earned generational equity chops.

Maybe it’s a question of just doing longer term demographic math. The Wal-Mart model eventually runs out of customers who can afford to purchase goods at the cheapest possible prices that are produced anywhere but locally by the same people actually buying them. Robert Reich’s timely film, “Inequality for All,” documents that 70 percent of America’s GNP is tied directly to working and middle class consumer purchase power.

Paul Krugman, in “Three Expensive Milliseconds” and “Wealth Over Work,” points out that unrestrained public wealth transfers to a rapacious financial industry that has “grown much faster than either the flow of savings it channels or the assets it manages” produces the net economic effect of zombie locusts harvesting human productive capacity at will. In line with Thomas Pikkety’s “patrimonial capitalism” indictment, unchecked predatory capitalism literally and figuratively eats one’s young through inherited merit and oligarchic reproduction despite ever more visible declining marginal rates of return. What practical, moral and efficient steps can be taken so that the “invisible hand of the market ensures that private returns and social returns coincide?”

If it’s immoral and illegal to sell human labor on an involuntary basis (bondage), should it be equally immoral and illegal financially and socially to engineer renting labor power at substandard or minimum rates because an offsetting local ownership option is denied or because there are no other viable alternatives in that particular geographical setting? As Wal-Mart so well demonstrates, allowing one’s business to become captive to a massive publically traded company looking to squeeze ever greater profit from its suppliers is an act of suicide. Companies like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods are quick to pick up on local and organic to burnish their images and control those markets while ignoring the labor conditions deployed throughout their respective supply chains. At the same time, part of the Whole Foods strategy is to pull away customers from local food cooperatives and put them out of business.”

The true struggle to regain local neighborhood economic sovereignty to achieve higher standards of individual and community freedom and self-worth starts either by halting the march towards treating corporations as persons or accelerating the treatment of individuals as corporations.  In contemporary absentee shareholder-centric America, treating working class people as people clearly no longer works. The key, then, is to scale on the side of where overwhelming consumer power mathematically resides, remediate past environmental justice abuses, attain geographical infrastructure investment parity, inspire and amplify community voices, earn their votes and then deploy stakeholder critical mass to its fullest potential.

In this context, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), B Lab and Benefit Corporations, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economy (BALLE), Social Venture Network (SVN), the emerging nationwide union co-op movement (, the Heartland Capital Strategies nonprofit and the New Economy Coalition (NEC) serve as liberation vehicles for Millennials to take responsibility for understanding the structural deficiencies of their own generational equity marketplace and then seize control to self-direct business-life experiences (e.g. MBAs Across America).  By default, global labor arbitraging practices become anathema to these new domestic “laboratories of equality” and civic ecosystems that one day may serve as stepping stones to a more democratic global economy where human labor is considered more of a resource than a commodity.

Attracted first by desperation and then empirical rejection, indigenous and ubiquitous interactive social media literati without borders and without economic class restrictions can claim the right to choose work place alternatives with more productive and equitable goals and results.  In one of the models Millennials study closely, Mondragon, the world’s largest employee owned and governed industrial cooperative, workers decided 60 years ago that they should rent capital instead of letting capital rent their labor.

This revolutionary principle, that labor is sovereign and that capital, while necessary, is subordinate to labor – serves both as a rallying cry and proof for those seeking to break away from predatory human bondage-based economies in favor of more healing, profitable, socially just and inclusive forms of virtuous cycle, longer-term capitalism. To paraphrase the 1974 Carly Simon song, Millennials don’t have any more time for bondage economy pain.

Originally posted on the blog.

- Michael A. Peck is Mondragon’s North America delegate and is a co-founder of

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Comment Preferences

  •  Look (10+ / 0-)

    We millennials have had a rough go of it, and I'm ready to fight to change things.  But, my god, it is not chattel slavery any more than Obamacare is the Holocaust.  

    •  What's your monthly school loan payment? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      k9disc, Sunspots, Nattiq

      We have people whose SS benefits are being garnished because of this inescapable debt system.

      You can niggle over the difference in definitions between slavery and endless indentured servitude, but the distinction is lost on its victims.

      "If you want to control a free man, give him a mortgage".

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

      by Greyhound on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 02:49:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Funny, I thought about this when reading the diary (0+ / 0-)
        "If you want to control a free man, give him a mortgage".
        I'm not so sure that owning is all it's cracked up to be these days. The idea of a "starter home" should have given us a clue.

        I also find the indentured servitude, the freedom to starve and die without health care, or prison to be comparable to slavery, granted not commensurate with slavery, but it is a level of ownership of a person or a person's freedom and a removal of self determination.

        I think this is the beginning of a very sharp and dirty curve that humanity is racing towards. Too many people, too few resources and too many sociopathic institutions at the top to not see this indentured servitude and freedom to starve and die without healthcare

        I do have a problem really grasping that though, making the leap from where we are as a corporate sponsored society to the institution of slavery. It is a rather large chasm to cross, I think.

        But a sharecropper society is super close to what we have and that certainly is comparable to slavery.

        Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

        by k9disc on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 04:18:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's not, not at all. I've been on every side of (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          this issue and the only winners are the banks and the real estate "industry".

          First, hardly anyone actually owns their house, what they own is debt. If you can be thrown out in the street, what exactly do you really own?

          Next, people tend to come to believe that, because real estate asshole #1 says your house is worth $50K more than the principle of your loan, they have $50K. The millions of people that had the total accumulation of their life's work stolen by The President's Friends (there should be a tradmark symbol here, but DK doesn't support HTML protocols), re-learned that one the hard way. Oh well, too bad, so sad, sucks to be you. Elections have consequences (just not the consequences you might have thought they would have).

          We've forgotten the very first rule of economics; Everything is worth exactly what you can convince somebody to pay for it at that moment, and not one penny more.

          "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

          by Greyhound on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 06:01:01 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yea, before the bubble burst I was fond of (0+ / 0-)

            fixing that little mistake "You mean the bank owns it, right?"

            You nailed the scam too. The only thing regular people own is the responsibility for our debt and some plastic shit in our homes. Everything else is owned by corporate. Makes me scared to look at the TOS on just about everything.  

            You know the two that I like? Commercial rent and box stores. Mom and pop can't pay the 15$ sq, but big corporate doesn't blink.

            The other? Diesel fuel. Keep the regular gas "cheap" and make people feel like they're not getting screwed, and inflate diesel that makes every single product in America more expensive. Big corporate don't care because they got plenty of money and write that shit off anyway.

            It's a stacked deck, big time, and if people think it couldn't become slavery or sharecropping are fooling themselves.


            Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

            by k9disc on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 08:23:58 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That's it exactly. Not many peole see how the (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              interwoven relationships work to steal their lives, one shift at a time.

              Diesel fuel is an excellent example, it has to be further refined in order to produce gasoline, yet who is demanding an explanation of its retail price? Unleaded costs more because we can skip a process in its production?

              Big Energy is only one of the parasites feeding off American ignorance.

              "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

              by Greyhound on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 08:59:32 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  P/s I guess I should have included the fact that I (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          have re-joined the ranks of renters, and I save more than a mortgage payment doing so with the additional benefit of being free to come and go at will.

          The sewer's broken? Call the manager, it's their problem and their bill. Garbage disposal stopped working? They can buy the new one. The wind blew a tree down and it smashed the roof? I'm going on a trip until the repairs are finished.

          "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

          by Greyhound on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 06:16:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Not as high as chattel slavery. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JamesGG, Meteor Blades, Nattiq

        While student loan payments are crippling, they do not include permission for the loan officer or his appointee to rape you or your spouse.  They cannot sell off your children to the highest bidder.  They cannot brand you.  They cannot whip you into unconsciousness, tearing the flesh in bloody strips from your back, should you object in the least, grab a moment's respite or be on the property when the voices in Master's head tell him it's time to put someone "in their place".  

        There are plenty of gradations of evil and injustice me the oligarchism in Ukraine and Putinism in Russia seem accurate.  The one party/two faces offered by Mexico's PAN and PRI could fit -- a system where 5% of the citizenry is so pressed by poverty and fear that they risk their lives and spend thousands of dollars to pursue undocumented status across the border -- might work as well.  

        "Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage." -- Lucille Ball

        by Yamaneko2 on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 05:26:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  So you chose to ignore the part about quibbling (0+ / 0-)

          over meaningless minutiae. Fine with me, I'm among those that figured out the game. Enjoy.

          "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

          by Greyhound on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 06:19:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Let me just guess that there are several... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JamesGG, duhban

        ...million people in this country for whom mention of slavery—the real thing—in the context of this diary is indicative of a severe lack of understanding of the real thing.

        Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

        by Meteor Blades on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 06:07:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Show me one American with any experience being (0+ / 0-)

          a slave and we can talk. Otherwise, this is just so much distraction and denial of the issue.

          Quibble away, the point remains. If your only choice is to comply or die, you are owned by someone/something and therefore, a slave.

          "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

          by Greyhound on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 07:02:12 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Everybody's choice is to comply or die (0+ / 0-)

            Everybody needs to eat.  Therefore, everybody needs to either grow/gather the food himself, perform some form of labor to acquire wealth to trade for food, or spend some of their pre-existing wealth to trade for food.  The broad and nonsensical definition of "slavery" you advocate is usually something I see in marxist circles and quickly leads to the conclusion that everybody, including the Koch Brothers, is a 'slave' because they must expend some amount of effort to not die.

            •  You just made my point. Thank you. (0+ / 0-)

              "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

              by Greyhound on Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 12:58:29 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  If your point was... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                ... that by your reckoning literally everybody in the world is a slave, then yes.  Now, personally, I think your definition of slavery is overbroad and nonsensical, but stick by it if you like.  We're a planet of seven billion slaves.  Makes perfect sense.

                •  The exceedingly rare Bingo Fail! (0+ / 0-)

                  Not everyone by any stretch, just the overwhelming majority that can't or won't notice their own lives.

                  "I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves." - Harriet Tubman

                  "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

                  by Greyhound on Wed Apr 16, 2014 at 08:02:52 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  Indentured servitude is more along the lines . . . (3+ / 0-)

    of what the status is these days; in practical terms maybe it's also like sharecropping when you factor in student loan debts.  

    A person is free to move where they want, free to work where they want -- all within constraints.  And the person can even be compensated for their labor and vote.  

    The non-dischargeable student loan debt is new, but in time as the wave of millennials starts to vote in larger numbers that may change as well.

    Slavery it isn't.  

    •  It can be very hard to move without corporate (0+ / 0-)

      employment or corporate contractual interaction or obligations.

      Getting identification without a corporate pay stub, credit card, or corporate bill in your name at your address can be extremely challenging. I went through it.

      I was truly surprised at how much trouble it was.

      If you are not dealing with corporate you don't really exist.

      Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

      by k9disc on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 04:22:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There are a lot of businesses . . . (0+ / 0-)

        that fall within that umbrella of "corporate" -- they range from a sole owner business to a mega-corporation.  It includes faceless mega-bureaucracies where those impersonal validators matter to family businesses where they matter a lot less.

        When it comes to getting credit cards, or getting a cellphone, you usually need a job, this much is true.  Although now, even this isn't entirely true with prepaid cellphones and credit cards.  Still, no question that having either a job and/or a lot of money are necessary to keep a large number of doors open.  To the extent those doors are closed, it limits a person's freedom.   And those "doors" can include getting a bank account, being able to rent a property or get a loan, and so on.

  •  Reality Check (0+ / 0-)

    If it’s immoral and illegal to sell human labor on an involuntary basis (slavery), should it be equally immoral and illegal financially and socially to engineer renting labor power at substandard or minimum rates because an offsetting local ownership option is denied or because there are no other viable alternatives in that particular geographical setting?

    "Substandard or minimum" compared to WHAT?  Yes, there is inequality.  Yes, public policy has a role to play in alleviating this.  Yes, there are people who are rich through no merit of their own.

    But the line you are drawing between slavery and a modern retail worker is untenable.  A Wal-Mart cashier is doing quite well for themselves by global standards; by historical standards, he/she is among the richest and freest people who have ever lived on this planet.  Attempting to call him/her a slave because there exist other people who have even more is ahistorical, ignorant of the actual "peculiar institution" of slavery, and unworthy of serious discussion.  This is a classic case of somebody with a good argument undermining their own credibility by overreaching.  

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