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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.

Forging a Transformative Vision

Originally published in Shelterforce on FALL/WINTER 2013/14.

Despite its great wealth, the United States today faces enormous difficulties, with no easily discernible answers in sight. Elections occur and debates ensue, but many of the most pressing problems facing ordinary citizens are only marginally affected. For the average American, the trends have been bad for a very long time. Real wages for 80 percent of American workers have been stagnant for decades. At the same time, income for the top 1 percent has jumped from roughly 10 percent of all income to roughly 20 percent. Put another way, virtually all the gains of the entire economic system have gone to a tiny, tiny group at the top for at least three decades.

At the most superficial level, Washington—as the saying goes—is broken. The political system is simply incapable of dealing with the challenges. It focuses on deficits, not assets or answers. Long-term, unchanging trends are a clear signal that it’s not simply partisan bickering and congressional stalemate that are causing the problems. We all know that something different is going on—both with the economy and, more fundamentally, with democracy itself.

While there are growing difficulties in our nation’s suburban and rural areas, nowhere are the problems more evident than in far too many of our nation’s cities. The National League of Cities (NLC), which annually publishes a research brief on city fiscal conditions, has documented the rapid deterioration of municipal finance. The NLC’s most recent brief, published last year, found general revenue declines for six consecutive years, an unprecedented average annual decrease of more than 2.5 percent per year, and a cumulative decline in excess of 15 percent.

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Gar Alperovitz on The Laura Flanders Show

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David Harvey and Gar Alperovitz on Cooperation and Capitalism

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Is economic stagnation the new normal?

Originally published in the Los Angeles Times on September 4, 2014.

The concept of “secular stagnation” — that the economy may be facing a protracted period of low growth and high unemployment — has been seeping back into economic and policy discourse. Once relegated to the margins of heterodox economic theory, the idea of stagnation as a likely ongoing direction for the economy, in fact, is now virtually mainstream, expounded by such well-known figures as Lawrence Summers and Paul Krugman.

Major economic floundering in the first quarter of the 20th century was relieved by the boost World War I gave to the economy, and the tremendous economic collapse in the second quarter was ended by World War II’s huge increase in military spending. In the third quarter, the Korean War, the Cold War and the Vietnam War added major stimulus at key times.

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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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