In this op-ed for Truthout, originally published on February 25, 2016, Democracy Collaborative co-founder Gar Alperovitz and Next System Project director Joe Guinan discuss the propensity for true socialism in the United States, given the discussions swirling around the 2016 presidential candidates:
Bernie Sanders has made an unprecedented and extraordinary contribution to the US political landscape this election cycle. Whatever the outcome of the primaries, a whole generation has learned that talking about socialism, explicitly and proudly, is no longer as politically radioactive as once supposed. But can we not expect more from our economic populism than just knitting back together a frayed social safety net, kick-starting the engines of Keynesian demand with ecologically appropriate infrastructure and imposing some long overdue reforms on our largest financial institutions? Might the United States not be ready for a socialism that actually takes the question of “who owns the economy” seriously?
Though perhaps tactically understandable, given his own previous efforts, it’s a little surprising that Sanders has not made ownership (and new forms of ownership) more of a theme in his campaign. “I don’t believe the government should own the means of production,” he emphasized in his major speech on democratic socialism in November 2015, even though elsewhere he has given vociferous support for expanding the scope of the US Postal Service into retail banking. Community development advocates are scratching their heads, wondering why Sanders’ longtime support at the municipal and state level for transformative ownership strategies – employee ownership, community land trusts, cooperative low-income housing – haven’t shown up on the stump. Hillary Clinton’s tepid profit-sharing plan, where businesses could claim a tax credit for 15 percent of the amount of profit they share with their workers, and which grows out of Larry Summers’ “inclusive capitalism”framework, at least opens the door to a (very) weak form of ownership.
A look at what’s brewing on the other side of the Atlantic gives us some reason to dream a little bigger about what might be possible and also politically viable here, especially given the new direction socialist thought is taking all around the world.