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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.

Envisioning Where We Want to Go: An Interview With Evolutionary Reconstructionist Gar Alperovitz

Originally published on Truthout on August 22, 2014. Interview by Leslie Thatcher.

Longtime activist, historian and political-economic theorist Gar Alperovitz, whoseAmerica Beyond Capitalism was serialized on Truthout, conducted an email interview with us on the occasion of the creation of his new website.

Leslie Thatcher for Truthout: Gar, you’ve just created a new website that seems both to sum up the principles of your work on democratic ownership and on building a sustainable and equitable political-economic system and to track your personal trajectory as an activist and thinker over the last 50 years: What are your goals in establishing the website?

Gar Alperovitz: As you know, the Democracy Collaborative does a great deal of direct hands-on work helping establish worker-cooperatives and other efforts aimed at democratizing the ownership of wealth at different levels. The impetus for the website came from one of our lead researchers, Thomas Hanna, who suggested it might be useful to pull together some of the work I had been doing over the past several decades on the theory that informs much of our strategy.

From the late 1960s on, it seemed to me that a serious movement would ultimately have to go beyond simply urging “elements” of the next system (as for instance, simply promoting worker-owned firms, necessary as this is). It will have to begin to develop a clear and explicit larger vision and some quite specific ideas about why the “institutional design and architecture” of that vision would produce results better than the two traditional models – corporate capitalism, on the one hand, and state-socialism, on the other.

The primary goal of the website is to offer some explicit hand-holds (as I see them) for activists and theorists on how we might get serious about what a “next system” might really look like, and why, precisely, it would be better than the traditional models – and better, too, than some of the models that are commonly discussed in rhetorical terms without adequate attention to some of their well-known failings.

Put another way, the goal is to contribute to the discussion that is fast becoming critical: “If you don’t like capitalism and you don’t like traditional socialism, what do you want, and why – specifically, not rhetorically, would it be better?”

We’ve covered this before, but I’d be so grateful if you’d explain what you mean by and how you developed the term, “Pluralist Commonwealth.”

Briefly, I use this term to suggest that a serious next system must be built on the principle of plural forms of common wealth ownership – hence “pluralist commonwealth.” Basically, I’ve been trying to help move the dialogue beyond the oversimplified left debate that poses the only alternatives as either state socialism or worker-owned or worker-self-managed socialism. I think the next system will be much more interesting and complex in its structure – and should be!  Especially, if we want to build a genuine democratic community-nurturing system from the ground up.

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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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Growth for growth’s sake will kill us all: Moral and ecological truths are challenging economic doctrines

Originally published on Al Jazeera America

One economic fact is held to be self-evident: that the future well-being of the United States requires economic growth — preferably, as much of it as we can muster. Despite wildly divergent policy recommendations, this basic assumption is made clear and explicit by everyone from the fiscally conservative Club for Growth to the left-leaning Center for American Progress. In the boardroom of the Federal Reserve, at the negotiating table for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and on the shale fields of North Dakota, our national economic policy is built on the unshakable conviction that the only way to grow the middle class is to grow the economy — by any means necessary.

Aside from the fact that the top 1 percent has taken most of the gains of growth, leaving the rest of society in virtual stalemate for three decades, there is a profound problem with this solution. Indeed, it’s time to face an ecological truth that makes the traditional assumption increasingly untenable, as unpopular and difficult as this conclusion might be: Growth isn’t always possible. Nor is it necessarily desirable.

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