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Gar Alperovitz is the author of What Then Must We Do?, America Beyond Capitalism, and The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, and an advocate for a new, community-sustaining economy.

Inequality’s Dead End—And the Possibility of a New, Long-Term Direction

Originally published in the Nonprofit Quarterly on March 10, 2015.

It is easy to be distracted by what passes for economic news these days, focused as it is on short-term fluctuations and assurances of recovery and revitalization. The simple truth, however, is that year by year, decade by decade, life in the United States is steadily growing ever more unequal.

Statistics illuminating this historical trajectory are easy enough to come by. For a start, the income of the top 1 percent has more than doubled in the past two decades, from roughly 10 percent of all income in 1980 to more than 22 percent in 2012.1 Meanwhile, wages for the bottom 80 percent of American workers have been essentially stagnant in real terms for at least three decades.2

The growing gaps in income inequality are matched or even exceeded by gaps in wealth. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have recently demonstrated, for instance, that American economic life is as unequal now as it was at the outset of the Great Depression. Wealth—and with it, political power—is concentrated more and more in the hands of the richest of the elite.3 From 1962 to 2010, the top 5 percent of Americans increased their share of national wealth from 54.6 percent to 63.1 percent, while the bottom 40 percent’s nearly insignificant 0.2 percent share actually declined to a negative 0.9 percent, as mounting consumer debt outpaced stagnant wages.4 The top 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom 180 million Americans taken together.5

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These Cities Built Cheap, Fast, Community-Owned Broadband. Here’s What Net Neutrality Means For Them—and All of Us

Originally published in Yes! Magazine on February 23, 2015.

Just before his State of the Union address last month, President Obamashowed up in the small city of Cedar Falls, Iowa, to highlight the work of Cedar Falls Utilities, a publicly owned utility that operates an Internet network in the city. Cedar Falls has one of the oldest community-owned networks in the country and, with recent upgrades, is now one of the fastest. In addition to having higher-speed connections than neighboring communities in Iowa, the publicly owned network’s more than 11,000 subscribers pay around $200 less per year.

While in Cedar Falls the President stated his opposition to the spread of corporate-backed state laws banning local communities from operating their own networks. An accompanying White House report highlighted several community broadband success stories, including efforts in Chattanooga, Tenn., Wilson, N.C., and Lafayette, La.—all of which further document the possibilities of a forward-looking community broadband strategy.

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New York Police Slowdown and the Classic Challenges of Alternatives to Capitalism

Originally published in Truthout on January 14, 2015.

Quite apart from the political challenges it represents, the current New York City police slowdown illuminates a classic general issue that must be faced by those concerned with how to structure a next system that moves us beyond the problems of both traditional corporate capitalism and traditional state socialism.

While we may enjoy some satisfaction in the NYPD’s attempt to enrage its critics by giving them exactly what they’ve been asking for – i.e. a drastic reduction in the criminalization of the lives of poor communities of color – it’s important to confront the additional question of who should be able to make these kind of decisions and how, both now and in serious system-changing discussions. (If every decision about how the NYPD operates were left up to its workers, that would certainly not further the goal of real justice.)

A common position among some theorists is that the answer to the failures of state socialism, for instance, is simply to encourage worker-ownership and self-management of virtually all industry, instance by instance, case by case. Historically, this position was commonly termed “syndicalism.”
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A guaranteed income for veterans

Originally published in Aljazeera America on January 12, 2015.

Whether or not one agrees with the decisions taken by our political leaders who sent them off to war, it’s undeniable that the veterans of the various post-9/11 wars are suffering. The nearly three million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have returned to civilian life are afflicted with an official unemployment rate of around 9 percent — substantially higher than the overall rate of 5.6 percent. Another half million have the left the labor force entirely. Many struggle with poverty, foreclosure and homelessness brought on by an anemic and uneven recovery and compounded by the mental and physical scars of war.

The plight of veterans of recent wars who continue to fall through the social safety net offers a unique opportunity to reimagine the way government provides for the welfare of its citizens. Too often discussions concerning the provision of basic needs for Americans get tied up in questions of desert: The “undeserving” poor see their lifeline slashed to incentivize them to pull harder on their own bootstraps. But only the most callous among us would find it easy to disown the obligation we owe to those who have demonstrated willingness to put their bodies in the line of fire on our behalf. Veterans offer a chance to think clearly about how best we can help those in need — and if the primary problem we must solve is that far too many veterans lack an income to support themselves, why don’t we just provide it to them?
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Playing the Long Game

Originally published in TruthOut on November 9, 2014.

There have been endless post-mortems on the 2014 midterm elections, complete with explanations proffered as to why Democrats and their allies failed so spectacularly, and projections of doom and gloom lasting until the next election cycle. However, in a profound sense this election changes very little. The dominant reality we face is one of substantial ongoing political stalemate and decay, and this sets the terms of reference for those serious about long term, more fundamental change.

First things first: There is little indication that, even when elected, Democrats employing traditional liberal strategies will have the capacity to change most of the deteriorating or stagnating economic, social, and environmental trends – including, among others: rising inequality, high levels of poverty and child poverty, continued discrimination against women and minorities, declining corporate taxation, staggering levels of incarceration, increasing corruption of the political system and a rapidly changing climate.
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