Originally published in Classism Exposed on May 18, 2015.
I often open my lectures by explaining that the current distribution of wealth in the United States—with the richest 400 people owning more of the country than the poorest 180 million combined—is, essentially, a medieval arrangement, with a vast underclass and a tiny elite. After one talk, a medieval historian approached me to offer a correction—today’s distribution of wealth is, in fact, far more unequal than anything seen in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the fact remains that we are living in profoundly unequal times, and without addressing this fundamental imbalance in who owns our economy, we are going to be stuck with a politics that answers to the rich, rather than the needs of the poor or even the (shrinking) middle class.
Such a transformation is obviously not going to be quick or easy: it is the work of at least a generation or two. But there are thousands of small (and even some medium-sized) projects across the country that understand the necessity of this transformation, and are working to democratize wealth in the here and now by building cooperative and community owned economic institutions. It’s my belief that such work lays important groundwork—building skills, ideas, experience and creating shared values—for the larger scale transformations we’ll ultimately need to really address the problem. But even at a small scale, we can see clearly how ownership translates into power. Read More