Nancy Folbre, UMass Amherst economics professor, discusses “shared capitalism,” a term for arrangements that businesses can make to share profits with employees, in her Economix blog. She notes that her departmental colleague, Fidan Kurtulus and another economist last week offered evidence that companies with employee ownership showed greater employment stability during economic downturns between 1999 and 2008. The study was presented at the London School of Economics. (New York Times, 5/30/11)
How could public policies promote and expand this shared capitalism? Public policies already offer companies tax benefits for setting up employee stock-ownership plans, and these could be increased. It would also be relatively easy to encourage companies to offer more workers incentive pay based on company performance.
In a report published by the Center for American Progress in March, Professors Freeman, Blasi and Kruse point to a strange anomaly in current tax policy: Companies are allowed to write off costly stock options that represent incentive pay for top executives, despite a lack of evidence that such incentives lead to improved company performance.
Why not restrict the tax benefits to companies that provide the same type of incentive pay for all full-time employees, stipulating that the value expended on the bottom 80 percent of employees by salary must equal at least that expended on the top 5 percent?
Similar restrictions have long been in effect for employee retirement and health plans. The costs of these programs are not tax-deductible unless they are offered in a nondiscriminatory way to all workers.
Private-sector precedents are also strong. Two very successful American companies, the Wegmans supermarkets and Cisco Systems, offer broad-based incentive systems that effectively meet these restrictions.
If America’s capitalists mean what they say about the virtues of an ownership economy, they should throw their weight behind modest changes in tax incentives that could expand it. If they don’t, we might infer that they prefer to keep the benefits of ownership to themselves.