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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.

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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In conversation with Michael Albert

An abridged version of the following conversation with Michael Albert, developer with Robin Hahnel of  the participatory economics model or “Parecon” appeared on Truthout.

MICHAEL ALBERT: Participatory economics proposes a small set of institutions that define the heart of a new type of economy. These institutions are conceived to further various values: self-management, solidarity, diversity, ecological sanity. The idea is that as you carry out economic activities—in other words, as you produce and you allocate and consume—you simultaneously accomplish not only those functions, but by virtue of what the institutions require of us as we operate, you also advance those values.

The basic institutions that are meant to accomplish this are few. There are worker and consumer self-managing councils; where self-management means that people should have a say in decisions proportionate to the degree they are affected by them. There is equitable remuneration—referring to the share we get in the economy in the form of income, our claim on the social product. Under participatory economy these are in proportion to how long we work, how hard we work, and the onerousness of the conditions under which we work. There is also what’s called balanced job complexes, which is a way of organizing the tasks that we do, so that our work lives, our economic activity and production, has a comparably empowering effect on us all. Finally, there is an allocative system to apportion work, labor and effort—the goods and services we produce—that isn’t a market or central planning but is something we call participatory planning. So in a nutshell, that’s participatory economics (http://zcomm.org/category/topic/parecon/).

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Even though I disagree with many aspects of Michael’s model, what I like about it its rigor and clarity. Parecon is a very tough-minded economic vision and model and it sets a standard for us to look at.

One place to start (with my own work) is that—given the specific historical conditions we face in the United State—I’m primarily interested in the question of how we begin to move in the direction of a model that realizes the kinds of values that Michael just laid out though is different in structure. I am interested in the political economy of institutional power relationships in transition. The question is one of “reconstructive” communities as a cultural, as well as a political fact: how geographic communities are structured to move in the direction of the next vision, along with the question of how a larger system—given the power and cultural relationships—can move towards managing the connections between the developing communities. There are many, many hard questions here—including, obviously, ones related to ecological sustainability and climate change.

I’ve called the model for what this might plausibly look like in practice “the pluralist commonwealth”: commonwealth because it seeks transitionally to restructure political reality by democratizing the ownership of wealth, pluralist because it embraces a variety of institutional approaches towards that end. The model includes some planning, a great deal of decommodification, and partial use of markets in certain areas. It adheres to the principle of subsidiarity, meaning we decentralize as far as possible to the local level where direct democracy is truly possible, but we are also not afraid to look towards institutional forms like regional or national public ownership when the problems are best solved at those scales…

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