Category Archives: Articles

Building a System-Changing Response to Trump and Trumpism at All Levels

TruthoutIn this op-ed for Truthout, originally published on November 30, 2016, Democracy Collaborative co-founder Gar Alperovitz discusses the possibilities for designing a new system in the Trump Era:

Any serious perspective on how to respond to the election of Donald Trump must begin by recognizing that his victory flowed in substantial part from the growing global crisis of capitalism, which demands a specific strategic response. The response must begin with — but also go beyond — the urgent work of defending, wherever and however possible, the individuals and communities most at risk.

At the most obvious level, our collective response must build upon the energies illuminated by Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialist” campaign, Black Lives Matter, climate justice, the mobilization in Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Green Party, LGBTQ activism, immigration activism, People’s Action and many, many other efforts. It must also find ways to bring such energies together with the community-level organizing aimed at democratizing the economic system from the ground up, starting with the development of alternative institutions and building toward a larger vision.

Read the full article here.

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Systemic Crisis and Systemic Change in the United States in the 21st Century

Systemic Crisis and Systemic Change in the United States in the 21st CenturyThis new working paper by Gar Alperovitz, Gus Speth, Ted Howard, and Joe Guinan from The Next System Project—prepared as an invited contribution to the “After Fossil Fuels: The New Economy” conference in Oberlin, Ohio from October 6-8, 2016—explores the intersections of systemic economic and ecological crisis, and propose that only a break with the mechanisms of corporate capitalism is capable of guaranteeing a sustainable future.

The challenge of mounting an adequate response to climate change has to be understood within the context of the larger systemic crisis facing the United States. The perpetuation of generalized austerity and the continued reliance on traditional— and manifestly insufficient—policy solutions which do not address the underlying drivers of inequality, poverty, and ecological overshoot is especially wrongheaded given the historically unprecedented productive capacity our nation enjoys, and the growing consensus on the fundamentals of post-scarcity monetary theory. As the ecological rift widens, we must recognize the incompatibility of core features of the current corporate capitalist system with a sustainable, just, and equitable future…

Read the full paper here.

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Obama’s Visit Raises Ghosts of Hiroshima

By David E. Sanger. Originally published in The New York Times on May 10, 2016.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-1-39-57-pmGar Alperovitz has been a leader of the conversation about the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for decades. Here, he is cited by New York Times journalist David Sanger for his evidence that dropping the bomb was an unnecessary part of the Japanese surrender and the end of World War II:

“The top American military leaders who fought World War II, much to the surprise of many who are not aware of the record, were quite clear that the atomic bomb was unnecessary, that Japan was on the verge of surrender, and — for many — that the destruction of large numbers of civilians was immoral,” Gar Alperovitz, a leader of the movement to revise the United States’ own historical accounting, wrote last year in The Nation…

Click here to read the full article in The New York Times

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Do We Really Need a Billionaire Class? Gar Alperovitz on inequality and excess

Too Much LogoThe Institute for Policy Studies’ publication Too Much focuses on inequality and excess. In this interview originally published on February 21, 2016, Too Much editor Sam Pizzigati speaks with Democracy Collaborative co-founder and Next System Project co-chair Gar Alperovitz about his “long-haul perspective on how we can go about shearing inequality down to democratic size:”

Too Much: You see capital — who gets to own it, to benefit from it, and derive political power from it — as a key to both understanding and ending our staggering levels of contemporary. What do you mean by capital?

Alperovitz: In the formulation I use, capital amounts simply to wealth ownership of any kind, ownership that can be translated into power. You can sell it to get income. You can hire people with it. It’s another word for wealth ownership.

Too Much: We’ve become so unequal, you’ve also noted, that we’ll never become significantly more equal unless we have a fundamental shift in who controls capital, in who owns wealth. A shift to what?

Alperovitz: Wealth brings power, political power, institutional power. Wealth on its own gives people the capacity, as a friend of mine likes to say, to “rent” politicians and control the political process. Wealth gives the wealthy access — access to political levers that alter the way the economy works.

Wealth gives the wealthy the capacity to ‘rent’ politicians and control the political process.

In all the advanced countries, labor organizations used to provide a counterbalance to this wealth. On the shop floor and in the political system, unions directly challenged capital on wages and the distribution of income.

But in the United States we’ve always had a much weaker labor movement than most other advanced capitalist nations, and today our labor counterweight is disappearing. Increasingly, we have no institutional counter to the political power of capital.

Many activists today think that building a movement will solve this problem. We obviously need a movement. But at the heart of the movement that helped make America more equal in the middle of the 20th century, we also had an institution, labor unions.

Unless you can build both institutions and a political movement, you won’t have the power and wherewithal to really challenge capital.

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Wall Street Journal embracing the democratization of wealth?

Just three years ago, I worked with the staff here at the Democracy Collaborative to write this article, which made a very basic point about the way systemic solutions to economic inequality were treated by the business paper of record, the Wall Street Journal.  As you can see, business structures that directly democratized ownership of the economy received short shrift:

But three years later, as the crisis of inequality continues to deepen—and after Piketty and Corbyn and Sanders and Pope Francis—the WSJ seems to have changed its tune.  The system question—that is, the question of how the ownership of capital should be structured in society that purports to be a democracy—is clearly on the table in a remarkable long essay published this past Saturday, written by the authorized biographer of Margaret Thatcher.

The piece begins with the simple imperative: “If Western countries want to disprove the dire forecasts of Karl Marx, we must think creatively about how to make the middle class more prosperous and secure.“

Let that sink in for a minute. The threat, according to this featured piece in the Wall Street Journal, is not just Marxists and their ideas, but the possibility that they might be right about capitalism after all. The author strikes the same note in his conclusion:

 […] Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labor lack that power. This makes it hard for society to be shaped in their interests. In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don’t want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right.

And what is the alternative that this author sees as the way forward to avoid the hypothetical looming dictatorship of the proletariat?  Simply put, the author insists that we need to “take ownership much more seriously,” and put democratic control back into corporate governance:

Why are so few companies owned by the people who work for them, and why do both liberal and conservative political parties not offer greater incentives, such as tax advantages, for this to change? It is extraordinary that the joint stock company, the foundation of modern commercial and industrial wealth, is still so little influenced by the views of shareholders. This is perhaps most evident in the preposterous salaries paid, particularly in the U.S. and Britain, to top executives of public companies. If the owners of these companies truly exercised authority over what is theirs, this wouldn’t happen. If these enterprises had grown over the last 20 years at the same rate as pay for the men who run them (it usually still is men), no one would be talking of a crisis of capitalism.

But even more strikingly, the author goes beyond the idea of shareholder democracy, and insists on a large-scale push to imagine and implement the democratization of wealth, not through redistribution, but through newly revitalized forms of cooperative and democratized ownership and control of our economic institutions:

The Victorians were more imaginative than we are about principles of mutuality—credit unions, building societies, the cooperative movement. Such organizations feel creakier in an age when people want larger sums, faster. But is it really beyond the skill of our great modern business brains to develop these concepts and adapt them to modernity?

Admittedly, this is a single article that does little in the long run to correct the systemic bias revealed in the graphs above: the WSJ is by no means running regular coverage of the growing number of experiments in community wealth building and democratized cooperative ownership that are emerging throughout the nation (yet). But the oddity of the WSJ, bastion of capitalism’s most defended ideological heights, running such a forceful indictment of the current system and its tendency to reproduce and deepen levels of inequality inimical to democracy cannot be ignored: the system question may not quite be on the table in the mainstream media in the way it ultimately needs to be, but it’s getting close.

 

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