How can we get more worker cooperatives?

There are two ways worker cooperatives can form: they can be created from scratch, or an existing business can be converted to a worker cooperative. Since most firms are not worker cooperative we will examine conversions here.

The conversion of businesses to worker cooperatives can easily take place by converting equity to debt and placing control with the workers. The price that equity is converted at should be the net asset value of the business. While technically trivial to implement, the transaction is simple it is unlikely to happen. The primary reason this won’t spontaneously take place is that equity holders are unlikely to be willing sellers at the net asset value. It would be the equivalent of slave owners spontaneously deciding to free their slaves. Legislative action forcing the conversion is needed.

Under this scenario work would continue largely as before, but with members of the new worker cooperatives having a vote on how the business operated. Profits would also be retained by the workers.

We could also ask the same question of a slave owning firm that was suddenly concerned about the inalienable rights of the slaves. Under the ludicrous assumption that the owners of the slave shop need to be fairly compensated for their investment (and ignoring reparations to the slaves) what would be the correct value of their shares? If the slaves were immediately freed and decided to quit the shares would be worth the net asset value. The main point is the same in both cases: The owners never had the rights to the future profits of the business, only the net asset value.

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