Category Archives: Articles

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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Is Worker Ownership a Way Forward for Market Basket?

Originally published on Truthout.

The Market Basket situation is indeed, as many commentators have remarked, nearly unprecedented in the annals of American labor relations: When have we ever seen so many workers protest so vigorously for, rather than against, their boss! (For those new to the story, the New England supermarket chain has been wracked by massive employee protests, organized without any union involvement, after a faction of the family that owns the chain took control and ousted extremely popular CEO Arthur T. Demoulas. The mobilization in support of the former chief executive has resulted in nearly empty shelves and the mobilization of angry communities of formerly happy customers.)

But beneath the surface of the singular job action, in which workers and community have banded together to demand the reinstatement of the former CEO, the conflict in New England points toward something much more fundamental: the need to build institutions that can sustain the kind of community- and worker-friendly business leadership that earned “good brother” Arthur T. such incredible loyalty.
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America Has a Scary Sewage Problem: Let’s Clean It Up and Jumpstart the Economy While We’re At It

Originally published on Alternet.

The problem is simple, surprising, and quite honestly disgusting: Our nation’s older cities depend largely on sewage treatment systems that overflow when it rains, dumping 860 billion gallons of raw sewage a year into “fresh” water across the country—enough to cover the entire state of Pennsylvania an inch deep.

This problem is very, very real for people like Lori Burns in Chicago, whose basement full of sewage and “climate change maggots” recently found its way into the Washington Post. Or for the people of Toledo, where a chronic “combined sewer overflow” problem has combined with runoff from industrial agriculture to drastically alter the ecological balance of Lake Erie, with toxic algal blooms making the city’s drinking water poisonous.

But the stormwater crisis is also a tremendous opportunity to move in the direction of a new, community sustaining local economy.
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The Cooperative Economy: A Conversation with Gar Alperovitz

Published in the May/June & July/August 2014 issue of Orion magazine

IN THE MID-1960s, when author, historian, and political economist Gar Alperovitz was working as legislative director for Senator Gaylord Nelson, change was in the air. Ink had dried on an early version of the Clean Air Act, the civil rights movement had won major victories, and the first Earth Day was in the works. The U.S. still faced plenty of serious challenges, but many Americans felt their country was capable of dealing with them successfully.

Today, things feel very different. “From climate change to a medieval level of wealth disparity, what we face in this country is no longer a regulatory crisis,” says Alperovitz. “We face a systemic crisis. And if you begin there, you begin to wonder: Is capitalism itself in profound trouble?”

Alperovitz believes it is. The author of several books on the subject, including America Beyond Capitalism, and a professor of political economy at the University of Maryland, he points to capitalism’s increasing dysfunction as the impetus for the rise of another economy, one built from the ground up by democratically owned organizations like cooperatives, community land trusts, and municipal institutions.

Orion editor Scott Gast spoke with Alperovitz after the publication of his most recent book, What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution, which explores whether the cooperative economy can provide the seeds for a system that isn’t capitalism and isn’t socialism, but something entirely new.

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SCOTT GAST: You’ve been thinking, writing, and speaking about alternatives to capitalism for a long time. Where did your interest in cooperatives begin?

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