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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.

Wall Street Journal embracing the democratization of wealth?

Just three years ago, I worked with the staff here at the Democracy Collaborative to write this article, which made a very basic point about the way systemic solutions to economic inequality were treated by the business paper of record, the Wall Street Journal.  As you can see, business structures that directly democratized ownership of the economy received short shrift:

But three years later, as the crisis of inequality continues to deepen—and after Piketty and Corbyn and Sanders and Pope Francis—the WSJ seems to have changed its tune.  The system question—that is, the question of how the ownership of capital should be structured in society that purports to be a democracy—is clearly on the table in a remarkable long essay published this past Saturday, written by the authorized biographer of Margaret Thatcher.

The piece begins with the simple imperative: “If Western countries want to disprove the dire forecasts of Karl Marx, we must think creatively about how to make the middle class more prosperous and secure.“

Let that sink in for a minute. The threat, according to this featured piece in the Wall Street Journal, is not just Marxists and their ideas, but the possibility that they might be right about capitalism after all. The author strikes the same note in his conclusion:

 […] Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labor lack that power. This makes it hard for society to be shaped in their interests. In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don’t want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right.

And what is the alternative that this author sees as the way forward to avoid the hypothetical looming dictatorship of the proletariat?  Simply put, the author insists that we need to “take ownership much more seriously,” and put democratic control back into corporate governance:

Why are so few companies owned by the people who work for them, and why do both liberal and conservative political parties not offer greater incentives, such as tax advantages, for this to change? It is extraordinary that the joint stock company, the foundation of modern commercial and industrial wealth, is still so little influenced by the views of shareholders. This is perhaps most evident in the preposterous salaries paid, particularly in the U.S. and Britain, to top executives of public companies. If the owners of these companies truly exercised authority over what is theirs, this wouldn’t happen. If these enterprises had grown over the last 20 years at the same rate as pay for the men who run them (it usually still is men), no one would be talking of a crisis of capitalism.

But even more strikingly, the author goes beyond the idea of shareholder democracy, and insists on a large-scale push to imagine and implement the democratization of wealth, not through redistribution, but through newly revitalized forms of cooperative and democratized ownership and control of our economic institutions:

The Victorians were more imaginative than we are about principles of mutuality—credit unions, building societies, the cooperative movement. Such organizations feel creakier in an age when people want larger sums, faster. But is it really beyond the skill of our great modern business brains to develop these concepts and adapt them to modernity?

Admittedly, this is a single article that does little in the long run to correct the systemic bias revealed in the graphs above: the WSJ is by no means running regular coverage of the growing number of experiments in community wealth building and democratized cooperative ownership that are emerging throughout the nation (yet). But the oddity of the WSJ, bastion of capitalism’s most defended ideological heights, running such a forceful indictment of the current system and its tendency to reproduce and deepen levels of inequality inimical to democracy cannot be ignored: the system question may not quite be on the table in the mainstream media in the way it ultimately needs to be, but it’s getting close.


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The New New Deal: Gar Alperovitz on Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Originally posted on Radio Open Source/90.9 WBUR Boston on September 24, 2015.
Produced in partnership with The NationAvailable in podcast form on iTunes.


An American conversation with global attitude.

This week with the new economist Gar Alperovitz and Felicia Wong, the head of the Roosevelt Institute, Radio Open Source explores the creation of an economic platform in search of a 2016 candidate. What would a presidential candidate have to say this summer to win over the discouraged workers, the house-poor, the indebted students, the indigent elderly?

Read More »

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The Clean Power Checkerboard

Originally published on TruthOut on September 10, 2015.

With President Obama’s announcement of the Clean Power Plan, almost 50 new fronts are going to open up in the battle for energy democracy. It’s time for an all-out mobilization with potentially far-reaching consequences.

Following the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2014 affirming the Environmental Protection Agency’s right to reduce carbon pollution, President Obama has introduced a major program in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks at the end of this year that seeks to significantly reduce carbon emissions from US power plants, targeting a 32 percent drop from 2005 levels by 2030. This is a substantial executive action in a hostile legislative context, although many climate activists rightly demand far more ambitious targets.

What few have noticed is that the implementation phase of the Clean Power Plan is where things could start to get very interesting as there are almost certainly going to be very important opportunities for powerful local organizing. Read More »

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The War Was Won Before Hiroshima—And the Generals Who Dropped the Bomb Knew It

Originally published in The Nation on August 6, 2015.

Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum—America’s shrine to the technological leading edge of the military industrial complex—hear a familiar narrative from the tour guides in front of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped an atomic weapon on the civilians of Hiroshima 70 years ago today. The bomb was dropped, they say, to save the lives of thousands of Americans who would otherwise have been killed in an invasion of the Home Islands. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were largely destroyed and the lives of between 135,000 and 300,000 mostly Japanese women, children, and old people were sacrificed—most young men were away at war—as the result of a terrible but morally just calculus aimed at bringing an intractable war to a close.

This story may assuage the conscience of the air museum visitor, but it is largely myth, fashioned to buttress our memories of the “good” war. By and large, the top generals and admirals who managed World War II knew better. Consider the small and little-noticed plaque hanging in the National Museum of the US Navy that accompanies the replica of “Little Boy,” the weapon used against the people of Hiroshima: In its one paragraph, it makes clear that Truman’s “political advisors” overruled the military in determining the way in which the end of the war in Japan would be approached. Furthermore, contrary to the popular myths around the atomic bomb’s nearly magical power to end the war, the Navy Museum’s explication of the history clearly indicates that “the vast destruction wreaked by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of 135,000 people made little impact on the Japanese military.” Read More »

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The Next System Project at Left Forum 2015

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