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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.

The Next America: The Emerging New Direction as the Old Order Decays

Video from my recent talk at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics:

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How to Democratize the US Economy

The following adapted excerpt of my book What Then Must We Do? appeared in the 10/28 edition of The Nation

Everyone knows the United States faces enormous challenges: unemployment, poverty, global warming, environmental decay—to say nothing of whole cities that have essentially been thrown away. We know the economic system is dominated by powerful corporate institutions. And we know the political system is dominated by those same institutions. Elections occur and major fiscal debates ensue, but most of the problems are only marginally affected (and often in ways that increase the burdens).

The issue is not simply that our situation is worrisome. It is that the nation’s most pressing problems are built into the structure of the system. They are not unique to the current economic slump or the result of partisan bickering, something passing in the night that will go away when we elect forward-looking leaders and pressure them to move in a different direction.

Not only has the economy been stagnating for a long time, but for the average family, things have been bad for a very long time. Real wages for 80 percent of workers have not gone up more than a trivial amount for at least three decades. At the same time, income for the top 1 percent has jumped from roughly 10 percent of all income to more than 20 percent. A recent estimate is that a mere 400 individuals in the United States own more wealth than the bottom 180 million Americans taken together.

Unfortunately, what we call traditional politics no longer has much capacity to alter most of the negative trends. To be clear: I think projects, organizing, demonstrations and related efforts are important. But deep down, most people sense—rightly, in my view—that unless we develop a more powerful long-term strategy, those efforts aren’t going to make much of a dent.

 Read the rest at The Nation

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Five years after the big bailout: Time to begin building a “new economy”

new-economy-week-fb-banner Five years ago today, on October 3rd, 2008, the federal response to the financial crisis began with the signing into law by then President Bush of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). After a half-decade of emergency measures—including not only the bailout, but the temporary nationalization of major auto manufacturers and round after round of “quantitative easing”—have we managed to put the economy back on a secure footing?

Unfortunately, the clear answer is that we have not.

To the consternation of both the public and the economists, this “recovery”—and the two which preceded it—have been “jobless recoveries.” While the government measure of the unemployment rate has declined to a modest extent, the absolute percentage of the population employed has remained more or less constant since 2009, as people resign themselves to joblessness and leave the labor force. Furthermore, even this anemic and halting climb back towards increased employment has been vastly uneven: a massive gap exists between the unemployment rate of lower income families (21%) and the rate for higher income families (3.2%). 15% of Americans—nearly 1 in 6—are seemingly consigned to live in poverty. Meanwhile, the banks that were “too big to fail” in 2009 are, despite scandal after scandal, bigger than ever. And while wages stagnate, corporate profits and the income of the 1% is soaring.

The title of my recent book, taken from Tolstoy, is straightforward: What then must we do? For some, the answer is simply that we need to remove or neutralize the conservative forces holding back a sensible Keynesian economic policy; a little more stimulus, a little more public spending, a few reforms around minimum wages and everything will be back on track. Yes, this would be better than nothing. But when we look soberly at the long-term trends, it is clear that we face a systemic crisis: a deep failure of the institutional basis of the traditional strategy for holding corporate capitalism in check. Poverty rates, income inequality trends, global warming, incarceration rates—these and many other three and four decade trends began long before the recent House Republican difficulties—and they are all but certain to continue on their current course long beyond the political problems of the moment.

In short, what we need is not just simply more pressure for reform around the edges of the system, but a movement to build a new economy, a movement that will build steadily over time as the civil rights, feminist, environmentalist and, indeed, conservative movements built up long term strength, step by step, until major political power was achieved.

Thankfully, a “New Economy” movement is beginning to emerge all around us, and part of helping it grow is making it more visible. A recent debate on new banking institutions appeared yesterday in the New York Times. Annie Leonard’s just released new video The Story of Solutions is a powerful followup to her Story of Stuff that highlights transformative work in the new economy. Worker-owned co-ops are developing in many areas. Even the august Academy of Management—an organization of leading business school professionals—opened a serious debate on the future of capitalism at their annual meeting this past summer.

And importantly the New Economy Coalition is organizing a week of events this month to highlight the activity bubbling up at the grassroots across the country. A pilot for what they hope to become an annual event, “New Economy Week” will bring together communities across the country in local celebrations, screenings, and lectures. (I will be speaking in Amherst and Great Barrington, Massachusetts on October 10th and 11th, and answering questions online for a national audience via the website Reddit on October 15th.)

Building effective movements for change rarely, if ever, happens overnight: The New Economy Week is a small but necessary step towards the one we need right now.

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What Then Can I Do? Ten Ways to Democratize the Economy

Read my article with Keane Bhatt on Truthout or here on garalperovitz.com.

And find out how to host a community screening of my new film, The Next American Revolution or organize a reading group around What Then Must We Do? here.

whatthencanido

The richest 400 Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 180 million taken together. The political system is in deadlock. Social and economic pain continue to grow. Environmental devastation and global warming present growing challenges. Is there any path toward a more democratic, equal and ecologically sustainable society? What can one person do?

In fact, there is a great deal one person working with others can do. Experiments across the country already focus on concrete actions that point toward a larger vision of long-term systemic change – especially the development of alternative economic institutions. Practical problem-solving activities on Main Streets across the country have begun to lay down the elements and principles of what might one day become the direction of a new system – one centered around building egalitarian wealth, nurturing democracy and community life, avoiding climate catastrophe and fostering liberty through greater economic security and free time.

Margaret Mead famously observed: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Some of the ten steps described below may be too big for one person to take on in isolation, but many are exactly the right size for a small and thoughtful group committed to building a new economy, restoring democracy and displacing corporate power.

As the history of the civil rights movement, women’s movement, and gay-liberation movement ought to remind us, it’s precisely actions of this sort at the local level that have triggered the seismic shifts of progressive change in American history…. Read more »

 

 

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Podcast: Left Forum 2013

In June at Pace University in New York City, I participated in a number of panels, two of which are available as podcasts.

The first panel was an exchange with my friend and colleague, Marxian economist Richard Wolff, regarding workplace democracy and democratic ownership.

Download this segment

Introduction – Maliha Safri

7:00 – Opening statements by Richard Wolff

36:00 – Statement by Gar Alperovitz

1:03:00 Questions

1:09:00 Richard Wolff responds

1:18:00 Gar Alperovitz responds

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In the second panel, “Is There an Ecologically Sustainable Alternative? Democracy, Planning and Markets in the Next System,” I had a lively discussion with researcher Richard Smith of Institute for Policy Research and Development.

Download this segment

Introduction

2:15 Richard Smith

32:00 Gar Alperovitz

56:00 Q&A

[Subscribe on iTunes * Podcast link]

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