We hear a lot about “polarization” these days. And for good reason. It impacts all of us.
There are two types of polarization: political and financial. You can probably make a case they’re related, but we’re talking about the financial variety.
Most conversations about financial polarization tend to take the same shape. They begin with the observation that more wealth is becoming concentrated in fewer hands. Among the reasons, they say, are – big companies growing bigger through mergers and acquisitions; and systemic inequalities in the accumulation of personal wealth. The conversation typically continues with a description of how things are getting worse over time. As the financial poles move further apart, they’re pulling most of us toward the direction of declining spending power. Conversations about financial polarization tend to end with the same conclusion: there’s somewhere between “not-much” and “absolutely nothing” we can do about it.
Tamara Prosper and Daniela Rivero-Bryant don’t buy that conclusion. The interesting thing about Tamara and Daniela is, they’re not making academic observations about economic theory. They’re actually doing things in the real world to spread the wealth.
Tamara is Loan Steward at Cooperation New Orleans.
Cooperation New Orleans is an organization that develops worker-owned cooperatives.
A worker-owned cooperative is a business that is owned by the employees who work there. Rather than a single owner or partners reaping the rewards of the company’s profits – and other advantages of owning a company, like tax breaks – those benefits are shared by all of the employee-owners.
According to a 2021 study, at that time there were 612 worker cooperatives in the US. When we get more updated statistics the expectation is that the number of cooperatives will have risen dramatically over the last few years. They’re certainly catching fire in New Orleans.
Daniela Rivero-Bryant is co-founder and COO at Reimagine Development Partners. They’re property developers. And as their name suggests, they’re reimagining what property development looks like.
Like other developers, Reimagine takes advantage of the Federal Historic Tax Program. But, unlike other developers, Reimagine replaces the lender – normally an institution like a bank – with a crowdfunding model. In this way, members of the local community chip in five to ten thousand dollars and become investors in the kind of property development deal normally reserved for financial institutions or wealthy investors. So, regular folks get access to the kind of potential profit, and the immediate real-world tax advantages, normally only available to property developers.
Reimagine Development Partners’ focus is on smaller projects in rural areas. The kind of developments that are too small for regular investor syndicators, but that have a big impact on a local community.
In any conversation about the direction of the over-all economy, it’s worth making the point that Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook, and every other CEO with a giant income, live in the same world we do. If we’re not doing well, their businesses are not doing well either.
So, an economy that’s on a polarizing trend – where more of us have increasingly less wealth and spending power – benefits nobody.
You won’t find an economist in the US who disagrees with the notion that a strong and expanding middle class is better for everybody. You’ll also have difficulty finding an economist who can tell you step-by-step how to actually reverse polarization and expand the middle class.
But thisis exactly what Daniela and Tamara are both in the process of actually doing. It’s remarkable that they’re both in New Orleans. The work they’re doing is impressive and potentially has enormous impact.