Monthly Archives: May 2015

Why democratic ownership matters if we care about class

Originally published in Classism Exposed on May 18, 2015.

I often open my lectures by explaining that the current distribution of wealth in the United States—with the richest 400 people owning more of the country than the poorest 180 million combined—is, essentially, a medieval arrangement, with a vast underclass and a tiny elite.  After one talk, a medieval historian approached me to offer a correction—today’s distribution of wealth is, in fact, far more unequal than anything seen in the Middle Ages.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that we are living in profoundly unequal times, and without addressing this fundamental imbalance in who owns our economy, we are going to be stuck with a politics that answers to the rich, rather than the needs of the poor or even the (shrinking) middle class.

Such a transformation is obviously not going to be quick or easy: it is the work of at least a generation or two.  But there are thousands of small (and even some medium-sized) projects across the country that understand the necessity of this transformation, and are working to democratize wealth in the here and now by building cooperative and community owned economic institutions.  It’s my belief that such work lays important groundwork—building skills, ideas, experience and creating shared values—for the larger scale transformations we’ll ultimately need to really address the problem.  But even at a small scale, we can see clearly how ownership translates into power. Read More »

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We need a new economic system

Originally published in AlJazeera America on May 20, 2015.

As the 2016 election begins to come into focus, economic populism appears to be the order of the day. The Center for American Progress, the Campaign for America’s Future and National People’s Action, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Bill de Blasio and the Roosevelt Institute have all in the last few months released programmatic calls to action highlighting the need to tackle economic inequality. This is, of course, laudable — it’s not every day that virtually the entire spectrum of Democratic Party insiders and outsiders concurs that our increasingly unequal distribution of income and wealth is a central problem to be addressed. But are calls for reform and redistribution enough?

I am opposed to very little of what is being presented in these various platforms and proposals. They are, for the most part, perfectly sensible ideas — such as financial transaction taxes, increases to the minimum wage and using government funds to build and repair infrastructure such as roads and railways — that would be, for the most part, noncontroversial if we were living in an era of sensible politics. But the fundamental fact is that we are not. Read More »

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