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Job Creators

Ken Lyotier RIP

Ya gotta love job creators. They have an idea and the wit to develop it and in the process create employment - employment upon which most of us depend.

I know a job creator - Ken Lyottier - he founded the company I work for and now is a member of the Order of Canada. He was living on the streets scrounging money by collecting pop and beer cans and turning them in for the deposit. He and a few colleagues got tired of being hassled by grocery stores (and the stores were tired of being hassled by the binners) So they set up a container recycling centre - 20 years later we have just moved into brand new custom built premises. We have a staff of 40 in the depot now, and another 50 work in a lane cleaning project - basically a needle sweep of the neighborhood.

Hehehe - we're now even recycling cigarette butts - really. (We have bins on poles outside pubs and a person gets paid minumum wage to go around and empty them every two weeks. This was not our initiative - there is a multinational corporation working on it - and they have contracted us to do the work.) Container recycling in BC is a very effective social enterprise. It provides a lot of employment for people who are hard to employ because the work is hard so the barriers to entry are low. And it's effective because we collectively recycle about 95% of the aluminum used in containers in BC. Ken is a job creator. He's a pensioner now living just up the street on a modest Canadian pension. He's not a millionaire trying to dodge taxes.

The story took an interesting twist a while ago. Ken was a binner and set up an organization that binners were comfortable in. (Binner: One who collects recycleable material from garbage bins) An organization that emphasized freedom for it's employees. People could come in and work a few hours and then be paid in cash when they wanted to leave. Then they could come back later (after they'd had the fix or whatever) and work a few more hours and be paid in cash again. That's changed now - more on that later. And the depot itself is a huge social service - we inject many thousands of dollars in cash into the poorest neighborhood in Canada. And this is a profitable outfit - we don't live on government grants or charity. Our existence is enabled by the custom in Canada of paying a deposit on drink containers to encourage people to bring them back to be reused. I remember scouring construction sites when I was a kid to get the bottles the workers would leave behind to turn them in for a 2 cent refund for each bottle. Let me be plain - the only reason Ken could create the jobs he did was because Canada had established a system of paying deposits on drinks - it's been around forever. We're all used to it. Certainly nobody thinks of the deposit we pay automatically for our drinks as a tax. It's just a part of the price. So certainly Ken is a job creator and he did a brilliant and original thing. But he didn't do it on his own. The whole project would be impossible in a society that didn't automatically collect deposits for drink containers and repay those deposits when the containers are turned in.

So let's think about what this means for job creation. Well - we see several elements here - Ken's good idea in a particular economic situation that let's lots of people participate easily.

Our company is different now - Ken resigned from the Board a couple of years ago. What happened is that our operation had grown into a very profitable one with no financial controls at all. We were doing all sorts of interesting social projects; flower store, bike repair shop, computer repair place that weren't making money.

And of course we were being ripped off right left and center. The company had to straighten up and fly right and that changed the culture a lot.

I got to watch the transition - in fact I'm actually have been making software that helps enable it. We got a board of directors composed of business people instead of community activists and they have done a good job for us in that they have returned us to financial viability in a new facility. And the new facility is important - the old place was a rat and roach infested place where the structure was so rotten the floor would move as you walked on it And it was so crowded and chaotic that it would make people be crazy.

In the new place there is MUCH less insanity even though the people are the same. I've seen a change in the spirit of the place - now it's sort of normal and boring - before it was an adventure every day. And a big change is that we're no longer going to specialize in employing hard to employ people - before long unless you have good attendance you will be out of a job at United We Can.

That's unprecedented for us What does this tell us about job creators? That they are sparks that fall on dry tinder that flares up into a process that develops on it's own. Who creates the jobs? The spark? Or the tinder?

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.