Today, there are plenty of issues that divide the United States, and few that can serve to unite those same states.
The ESOP model of employee ownership is one of those rare issues that frequently provides common ground for potential adversaries. And it has done so for decades.
A key reason for this mutual agreement is that research shows ESOPs benefit employees and businesses alike. So, unlike measures that promote one at the expense of the other, ESOPs draw support from business and employee advocates; from groups with conservative and liberal ideologies—and everything in between.
As our nation grows more polarized, and as its citizens and representatives grow farther apart, ESOPs increasingly are drawing together groups that traditionally would be at odds.
Chamber and CAP
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce—which traditionally holds a conservative view on public policy—recently endorsed ESOPs as one option its members can use to “offer quality retirement benefits to their workers.”
The Center for American Progress—which holds a more liberal view—began endorsing ESOPs in the past two years as a means of addressing growing wealth inequality. In one report, the organization states:
“Employee ownership can be a powerful tool to ensure that workers at all levels are able to share in the gains of a company’s collective performance. Research shows that employee ownership typically provides a host of benefits—not just for workers but also for businesses and investors. If these programs were to grow throughout the economy, they could promote broad-based wealth creation, thereby fostering sustainable economic growth and reducing inequality.”
As a result, the Chamber and CAP offer remarkably similar calls to action:
“Encourage ESOPs—promote the benefits of ESOPs and protect them from frivolous litigation and excessive regulation.” –U.S. Chamber of Commerce
“Increase tax incentives for the formation of employee stock-ownership plans, or ESOPs.” –Center for American Progress
The long-running bipartisan support for ESOPs was evident most recently in two identical pro-ESOP bills introduced in the last Congress.
In the House, HR 2096 was sponsored by 59 Republicans and 36 Democrats. In the Senate, S 1212 was sponsored by 17 Republicans, 15 Democrats, and 2 Independents.
Democrats and Republicans alike on both tax committees—the Ways and Means in the House, and the Finance Committee in the Senate—supported the bill.
Moderates also endorse ESOPs. The Third Way, a self-professed centrist organization, recently published a paper endorsing ESOPs. The paper also pointed out that ESOPs enjoy broad support from all sides.
The paper cites the Republican Party platform, which states:
“We therefore endorse employee stock ownership plans that enable workers to become capitalists, expand the realm of private property, and energize the free enterprise economy.”
The paper also notes that the Democratic Party platform endorsed profit sharing plans, and that Secretary Hillary Clinton “expressed strong support for the idea of employee stock ownership as another example of profit sharing.”
One of the two independents who sponsored S 1212 was Senator Bernie Sanders, an ardent supporter of average pay workers and a legislator known for his liberal public policy agenda.
Senator Sanders and President Ronald Reagan—who espoused conservative ideals—would have been hard pressed to find issues on which they agreed. But both agreed on the value of ESOPs.
Ronald Reagan was the staunchest presidential supporter of ESOPs our county has seen, helping to draw attention to ESOPs and spur legislation that promoted and protected them. And Senator Sanders began his bid for the White House by once again voicing his support for ESOPs, including sponsoring S 1212.
The ESOP model of employee ownership possesses a rare power to unite us. And that power is needed today.
Perhaps instead of focusing so much energy on issues where our nation—and our members of Congress—are destined to disagree, resulting in rancorous debates, we should start by spending a little time focusing on areas where we agree. ESOPs offer a perfect opportunity to build agreement.