Welcome Gar Alperovitz (GarAlperovitz.com) and Host Mike Konczal (NextNewDeal/Rortybomb)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy

What is the future of progressive politics? What is the world that we are trying to build? In some ways these are the wrong questions. There’s so much in terms of low-hanging fruit that needs to be accomplished. From mass unemployment, to climate change, to immigration reform, to slowing the power of the military-industrial complex, to shepherding and building on complicated financial and health care packages, there’s no lack of things that need to get accomplished.

But, as Gar Alperovitz’s America Beyond Capitalism notes, the means of politics by which left-liberal reform happens is breaking down, and it can only be rebuilt by changing the long-horizon vision of what justice will look like on the left. The old, post-New Deal model involved organized labor acting as a countervailing force to balance the power and wealth of corporate interests. This model is failing with the decimation of unions, and Alperovitz says it is time to move on to a new model.

His vision is a “Pluralist Commonwealth.” It calls for a democratization of wealth across the country, based on increased principles of democracy. The pluralism refers to the emphasis on democracy and liberty; the commonwealth shows the importance of public institutions in “pluralist” to emphasize the priority given to democratic diversity and individual liberty; “commonwealth” to underscore the centrality of new public and quasi-public wealth-holding institutions.

The Pluralist Commonwealth model would focus on building an economic democracy at the local level, through worker-owned enterprises. This model is already being built in many communities across the United States. This would bring democracy to the workplace while also sharing wealth more broadly.

Meanwhile at the national level, a public trust is set up to guide the investment of shares democratically, while also building out large-scale public investments. The profits of these investments are used to broaden the base of wealth that goes to all citizens. This increases the power and liberty of all citizens, and will likely lead to other good outcomes, like the reduction of the work week.

Compared with many other books on the future of left visions for building towards a post-capitalist society, Alperovitz’s stands out for several reasons. Compared to other books which look, like Marx, to give a vision that exists outside any specific country, this is a distinctly American book. From how to deal with how big the country is to showing how important left economics is to the importance of Liberty, people thinking about America specifically will gain a lot. Also compared to many other books on left economics that invoke very abstract conceptions of economics, like the market socialism of David Schweickart, America Beyond Capitalism deals with plenty of real-world examples to ground the abstract principles of the Pluralist Commonwealth.

I’m looking forward to discussing the book with Alperovitz on his vision of progressive economics and how to get there. To start, the main part of the text was written in 2005, before the financial crisis imploded. One thing left activists, including Occupy, have tried to deal with is what kind of vision they want for the financial sector. So far, “move your money” campaigns have been very active, with an overall vision of people investing in more community-focused financial institutions. What would a more radical vision, in line with your vision of a Pluralist Commonwealth, be for how the financial sector should look down the road?

76 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Gar Alperovitz, America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy”

BevW June 3rd, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Gar, Mike, Welcome to the Lake.

Mike, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

hpschd June 3rd, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Welcome Gar Alperovitz and Mike Konczal.
I’ve been looking forward to this one!

I have been wondering about problems of scale. I’ve been involved in many co-ops and they seem to have limits to size. Not sure why, but they stay small.

In the Pluralist Commonwealth, how would employee owned and cooperative organizations grow large enough to survive without falling to market pressure from outside?

Mondragon seems to be moving into new markets and expanding, but isn’t this just more capitalism?

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 2:03 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hi Mike, Bev..
Looking forward to the discussion.
To begin, some thoughts on Mike’s question:
The principles, again, would be radical decentralization and “subsidiarity” starting from the bottom and moving to higher levels only when necessary: Thus, credit unions, community-financial institutions like current CDFI’s backed by federal support; state banks following the model of the current 90 year old Bank of North Dakota; but also nationally turning some of the banks that are “too big to fail” into public banks as well (since in practice they cannot be effectively regulated, and in practice even if “broken up” are all but certain to re-concentrate over time as “the big fish eat the little fish.”) I agree with Willem Buiter–the Chief Economist of Citigroup–that if the public underwrites the costs of bailouts, “banks should be in public ownership…”
We tend to think such strategies are far from American experience, yet there have been a large number of small and medium-sized public banking institutions operating in the United States for a long time. They have financed small businesses, renewable energy, co-ops, housing, infrastructure and other specifically targeted areas. There are also 7,500 community-based credit unions. Further precedents for public banking range from Small Business Administration loans to the activities of the U.S.-dominated World Bank. In fact, the federal government already operates 140 banks and quasi-banks that provide loans and loan guarantees for an extraordinary range of domestic and international economic activities. Through its various farm, housing, electricity, cooperative and other loans, the Department of Agriculture alone operates the equivalent of the seventh largest bank in America. Republicans and Democrats recently re-authorized the Export-Import bank to help finance US trade.

Nineteen states have introduced legislation to set banks on the model of the North Dakota bank. Several cities are also looking at using city deposits in a new way. Most recently, San Francisco and Portland have proposed legislation that would use city deposits to create either a credit union or a public bank. (The funds would be directed to be recycled back into the community-building investment.) It is also noteworthy that 130 million Americans are members of credit-unions—roughly 40 percent of the society.

Mike Konczal June 3rd, 2012 at 2:04 pm

BevW, thanks for inviting me.

Hey Gar, looking forward to discussing the book. I put my first question above, and I think it is important, because a real critical left theory of what we want a financial sector to do is missing from much of the post-bailout debates.

Second question: Much of your book was written in 2005 – and I’m curious how the subsequent 7 year have treated the potential for the long-term health of the previous liberal order you diagnosed as dying (and in need of replacement) since then? What else has changed in a way that has surprised you?

Elliott June 3rd, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Welcome to the Lake, gentlemen, this will be a very interesting discussion.

dakine01 June 3rd, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Good afternoon Gar and Mike and welcome to FDL this afternoon.

Gar, I have not read your book so forgive me if you answer this, but given that the world we are in today has been over 30 years in the making, how long would it take to get even half of what you propose implemented?

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 2:07 pm
In response to hpschd @ 2

Good question: If you look at the Cleveland model cooperatives, there is a careful planning structure emerging: The large hospitals and universities in the city purchase $3 billion in goods and services, some of which is now directed to these coops. The idea is both to partly stabilize the market and also to help rebuild the community. Very similar ideas of using public and quasi public markets could ultimately be applied at scale. (We have worked this out, for instance, for mass transit and high speed rail in future planning.) In some larger industries new forms of public and worker structure would be appropriate. Interstingly, when the US nationalized GM and Chrysler a quasi-worker owned (UAW union) structure was made part owner, though this would clearly have to be improved on in future designs

Phoenix Woman June 3rd, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Welcome to the Lake, Gar!

Gar, I notice that your book has a very optimistic tone, one that’s hard to find nowadays in this post-Citizens-United world where it seems that billionaires can dictate our politics through focus-group-tested stances and media manipulation (if not outright ownership).

Do you think that it’s “game over” for democracy — that it’s been too heavily flooded with money and expensive psychological manipulation (aka “public relations” Edward Bernays-style)? Or is there some hope, as your various instances of worthy initiatives (many of them in very conservative, money-controlled states) would seem to indicate?

Mike Konczal June 3rd, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Another question to get us started. Gar, you start your book talking about how quickly and rapidly change can happen, using examples from your impressive career. You mention how environmentalism became a political force quickly; you mention the rapid turns against Vietnam and McCarthyism.

A lot of progressive are disheartened by the political world we currently inhabit. What advice would you give to those discouraged to the point of defeat and/or nihilism?

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 2:11 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 6

Good question: I come out of straight progressive politics, having managed and directed House and Senate staffs, so no illusions here. HOWEVER, I think we are now entering a long period of stalemate, stagantion, and decay. Times are likely to get worse before they get better. The thousands of experiments now developing are developing precisely because there are no traditional answers–only pain and failure, unless one innovates. That is what is driving things. As a historian (and political economist) I see the next two or three decades as similar to the final three decades of the 19th century–the potential “prehistory” of the next great progressive era. Potential not inevitable. What IS clear is the traditional prorgressive model (based on labor union power) is now in decay–the times in history when new movements begin to build, and new ideas begin to become necessary… Possible, not inevitable, and positive no matter what.

perris June 3rd, 2012 at 2:12 pm

America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy

good topic, came down to comment, then will read more of the dialogue

I have said for a while, capitalism is not the problem, corporatism is, capitalism is the host for a malignancy the founders knew to guard against, if there was no capitalism but corporatism still existed, then socialism would be the sorry host, as a matter of fact, that’s what happened (it was called fascism)

from the very begging, even before we rose to walk on two legs we have had capitalism, whence care of our young was paid for with food, whence we would barter our hunt for shelter, and we could buy some skins for drawings on our wall.

so to say in one paragraph;

there has been, there always will be capitalism and it is not the problem, it is the sorry host, corporatism is the problem

What is the future of progressive politics? What is the world that we are trying to build?

progressives, though they don’t want to and it will take some doing, need to embrace capitalism if they want to claim an important dynamic

we can say “corporatism has stolen capitalism from the people” of something like that me thinks that would be quite the winning strategy

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 2:15 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 8

See previous comment: Several logical possibilities:
[1] game over
[2] stalemate and decay, Rome declined
[3] violence and repression, corporate state, and loss of liberty
[4] “revolution”
[5] slow building, next several decades, laying ground work for
—-either positive change that “helps” or the pre-history of a great evolutionary reconstruction of the system over time.
Either way building from the bottom is positive…
and (as a historian) a reminder: fundamental change is as common as grass in world history, and the great movements of our era were all “unexpected”…
No promises; but also cool realism about historical possibility

hpschd June 3rd, 2012 at 2:15 pm

One of the more amazing ideas in the book is the financing plan proposed by Louis Kelso. Enabling average people to have the advantage of financial backing and expert advice for investments in such a way the the dividends pay for the original loan sounds like ‘too good to be true’.

Is this idea being put into effect anywhere?

eCAHNomics June 3rd, 2012 at 2:17 pm

It calls for a democratization of wealth across the country, based on increased principles of democracy.

How do you do that in a country where 0.1%ers are determined to destroy democracy & loot all the goodies for themselves via shock doctrine. And they already have most of the loot and all the power.

I have read about the U.S. Gilded Age; it seems like a similar situation in many respects, and the way out was to have workers willing to put their lives on the line. I see nothing like that in contemporary U.S. or western Europe. Greeks like demonstrating en masse (won’t even go that far in the U.S.) but that hasn’t gotten them any relief.

Mike Konczal June 3rd, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Gar,one balancing act a lot of progressives have to deal with is what I call a “back to 2007″ issue. With mass unemployment and a weak recovery a lot of people are simply calling for an unemployment rate under 5% – we want jobs no matter what!

But in the long-run many jobs need to go (incarceration, military, wasteful intermediaries in many other industries), the work week needs to come down, and prosperity needs to be broadly shared.

The right has focused all its energy on its own long-term strategy (eliminate the New Deal/Great Society) while the left is just trying to deal with the short-term issue of weak employment. How do progressives split or incorporate both the short and long term in a useful way?

cmaukonen June 3rd, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 12

I would also like to add another possibility.
[6] Break off of autonomous regions do to lack of support from central government.

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In response to Mike Konczal @ 9

A certain sober realism about history, Mike, as in the above comments. I would add, further, that many of the programs that became the classic elements of the New Deal were developed, quietly, in the state and local “laboratories of democracy” in the decades before the New Deal. That is the kind of thing one needs to ponder and understand. Three other thoughts: The 19th Century feminist movement worked for several decades, decade by decade, state by state against huge odds, until finally the vote was won. Again, that kind of movement. Again, if you study the modern conservative movement IN THE 1940s and 1950s you will see a movement truly marginalized and in despair–but also committed to building for the long haul. Finally: my personal heroes are the Civil Rights leaders IN THE 1930S AND 1940S who understood it would be a long fight. They laid the groundwork for what became the modern Civil Rights movement (and they did it risking and often losing their lives in much more difficult times.) So, work at two levels: whatever that can be achieved in traditional politics, fine; but also building for the long haul from the grass roots up..

Phoenix Woman June 3rd, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 14

I suspect that (to judge from the examples in his book) the change will come from the ground up, in unexpected places, and be quietly adopted — so quietly that it won’t trigger any alarm bells in the halls of capital. (Of course, many capitalists have found that they like a lot of these reforms, so long as the dangerous words “socialist” or “liberal” or even “progressive” aren’t attached to them.)

Grey Wolf June 3rd, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I am very much interested in ESOPs and Louis Kelso’s writings but have experienced disdain from some on the far-left.

While I too feel disdain for the current corporate absentee-owner system, those critics on the far-left have stated that the one-person/one-vote co-op is the only acceptable alternative. While I believe are more realistic.

I cannot see how Publix, the largest ESOP in the US and the largest corporation in Florida, could operate in modern commerce if the bag boys hired just yesterday could out-vote the CEO and the accountants who have invested years at Publix and have intimate knowledge of the corporate strategy.

I am not really that conversant in the legal or organizational structures of co-ops, but if what many say is true, then what they call the strength of co-ops, one-person one-vote, would seem to be a hindrance to efficient management and would answer the question by hpschd, “I have been wondering about problems of scale. I’ve been involved in many co-ops and they seem to have limits to size. Not sure why, but they stay small.”

Your thoughts on resistance to ESOPs from the far-left?

juliania June 3rd, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Professor Alperovitz, an interview you did on Alternative Radio a while back gave me the first intimation that there are practical solutions to the stagnant economy and government that we have today. Thank you for giving me hope. More of what we need to do is already being practised.

However, there are problems. I just head on my local news that due to a ‘glitch’ some public sector workers would not be receiving paychecks on time – unless, that is, they had their accounts at one of the big banks. Call me cynical but I could not help thinking the powers that be don’t want us to say goodbye to capitalism and will be setting up roadblocks. They have been very effective so far.

What strategies do you think we might pursue, other than being patient and waiting for them to self-destruct?

eCAHNomics June 3rd, 2012 at 2:29 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 18

Too weak. If PTB can’t see the change it’s not powerful enough to happen. If they do see it, they’ll destroy it (Occupies) long before it has a chance of effecting change.

eCAHNomics June 3rd, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to Grey Wolf @ 19

Are ESPOs scalable? I.E. they require capital and where is the capital to come from with PTB hoarding it?

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to Mike Konczal @ 15

Good question, Mike. In one sense the answer is very simple, of course: It would not be difficult to develop a comprehensive “plan” involving the needs of the country, the jobs that would be created to meet the needs, the capital investments required, etc. Such a plan, with a transitional schedule, would and should be developed. Moreover, the financing is obviously available in the wealthiest nation in history if the politics can be managed (e.g. revenues from taxation, financing of larger development via longer term deficits and ultimate tax recouping, or continued deficits following Modern Monetary theory, or both.)

The fundamental question is not economic, but political. Much of the argument of America Beyond Capitalism is aimed at steadily building up new institutional bases of power and of change. Including what I call “displacement” strategies: Thus, a steady build up of single payer institutions state by state slowly “displaces” insurance companies, BOTH economically and politically over time. So too with credit unions, state banks and the like, slowly, potentially (but also, given the crises likely in finance, probably also de facto future nationalizations when the next big one hits). At the local level, worker coops give the mayor an alternative to big pay offs to coporations to invest. Traditional liberalism based on unions attempted always to “counter-vail” politically, to balance against corporate power. New strategies as a longer term effort aim self consciously to alter political (as well as economic) power by changing the institutional sub-structures that support or fail to support new political direction.
Though we should work for and take whatever we can get in terms of new policies at the national level, I believe really serious efforts to do what is needed are highly unlikely until we face the need for a long long struggle to build from the bottom a new institutional basis of power.

So again: both doing what can be done now, but also building steadily for the long haul, step by step, laying foundations…for next stages beyond

perris June 3rd, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 18

got to go, my last comment

Of course, many capitalists have found that they like a lot of these reforms, so long as the dangerous words “socialist” or “liberal” or even “progressive” aren’t attached to them.

socialist, liberal and progressive are the words they lobby against today, come up with a different word and they will lobby against that word, they own the media and soon the word becomes pejorative

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 16

This is a really interesting question–and one few take seriously, namely regionalism. America Beyond Capitalism attempts to re-open a debate that was just beginning to get going in the 1930s (before World War II interrupted. The issue is scale:
The United States is what George F. Kennan called a “monster” country. We tend to forget how big it is. Germany, for instance, can easily be tucked into Montana; France into Texas. IT IS MUCH EASIER TO BUILD A DEMOCRATIC CONSENSUS IN SMALLER POLITIES. And as Madison fully understood (when the nation was a mere strip of colonies along the Atlantic seaboard) if the US got too big, he judged it would give large power at the center too much power, making tyranny inevitable. Hence, at some point decentralization would be needed.
Again, U.S. population new just over 310 million is likely to be 500 million in a couple decades. Census Bureau “high” estimates for 2100 are over a billion.
Logically most states (except a few) are too small to manage economic issues; the continent may be too big for democracy. The logical intermediate unit is the region.. and at some point this becomes important to consider for longer term change.
If the stalemate in Washington continues (as is likely; “Washington is broken”) then various functions, again, are going to shift inevitably to the states. And if most are too small, then ultimately we are back to the same logic via a different long term route.
So,yes, I think it is time to begin thinking very seriously about regional issues in a longer term strategy–and reviving the very sophisticated liberal and conservative intellectual and political discussion of the 1930s.

eCAHNomics June 3rd, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to perris @ 24


Every single one of the 56 U.S. international interventions since WWII has been on the side of authoritarianism and making the rich U.S. puppets & U.S. corps richer. They don’t call them banana republics for nothing.

Only existential threat to U.S. PTB is internal. If you think they will treat internal dissent or attempts for more balanced power & resources more gently than they have done in other countries, think again.

eCAHNomics June 3rd, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 25

State & local govts are cheaper & easier to buy (really only a decimal point error for 0.1%ers) than USG. See Walker/Wisconsin.

ubetchaiam June 3rd, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 10

“HOWEVER, I think we are now entering a long period of stalemate, stagantion, and decay. Times are likely to get worse before they get better. The thousands of experiments now developing are developing precisely because there are no traditional answers–only pain and failure, unless one innovates. That is what is driving things. As a historian (and political economist) I see the next two or three decades as similar to the final three decades of the 19th century–the potential “prehistory” of the next great progressive era. Potential not inevitable.” ;
concur and thank you for saying such. In this milieu of constant, almost instantaneous communication and entertainment that presents problem resolution as resolvable in terms of minutes or hours combined with an intentional effort to not have people remember history, it refreshing to have someone state what I deem the obvious.
I am reminded of what Pete Seeger says in The American Ruling class with his metaphor of the teeter totter in reading your commentary.

Grey Wolf June 3rd, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 22

Publix is fairly large (100 Largest ESOPs), with billions in revenue, and ESOPs are actually considered to be lower risk than normal corporations (because they are more productive and the employees are a “captive audience”) from a bank’s perspective.

The problem is that the corporation must already exist to be bought by the employees … banks won’t fund an ESOP start-up … that’s what I’m trying to figure out (I was betting on using crowd-funding to create start-ups, but I think that’s gone.)

cmaukonen June 3rd, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 25

Thankyou, Thankyou, Thankyou Professor Alperovitz. I have been saying this very thing for I don’t know how long and have been “poo-pooed” for it.

Very much so.

Phoenix Woman June 3rd, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 21

Thing is, a lot of these changes benefit various PTBs, so they have defenders among the PTBs. Capitalists may agree on a few basic things, but when it comes to how certain things personally affect them, they are often opposed to each other, and this is what often allows positive change to be created.

Or to quote Marx’s use of the old English proverb, “When thieves fall out, honest men come into their own. Marx knew whereof he spoke — he and Engels noted and often worked to exploit the natural antipathy of the English landed gentry towards the mercantile and industrial interests, and in doing so helped to improve worker conditions in general. (The landed gentry backed investigations into the horrid conditions of mill workers, for example, and the industrialists in turn campaigned against the various policies that gave the gentry such power in Parliament.)

cmaukonen June 3rd, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 27

Why must we always want to control what others are doing where we do not live. And if I don’t like what the citizens of my state are Doing, I’ll bloody well leave.

{takes marbles and goes some where else}

eCAHNomics June 3rd, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to Grey Wolf @ 29

My point (macroeconomics was my field): What % of employment is ESOP and what amount of capital would be required to make ESOPs statistically significant employers.

What makes you think workers have management skills anyhow. Here I am less cynical about chances of ESOP success since I have such a low opinion of PTB management skills.

Still, it’s a Q that required a hard-headed A. Not just a magic wand.

juliania June 3rd, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Back in the day when I liked Thom Hartmann better, he used to use a nice example from the natural world. He said that in a herd of deer, the way they decide upon a direction and when to head there was not to follow a leader’s individual decision, but as they grazed, each would turn until all were facing the same way, and then at the right moment all would move off.

I don’t know how accurate that story was, but it seems to me your path has much to admire in it, not least that it gives us many avenues to pursue instead of waiting for Godot. To have a good idea of workable concepts from trial and error on the small stage, and then to be ready for whatever comes, sounds good to me.

(Of course the deer might have behaved differently had someone sent in the drones, but we won’t talk about that.)

RFShunt June 3rd, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Forgive me for not having read your book. From the description and your comments, it’s a must. I am in total agreement on the need to lay groundwork work towards a very long-term vision.

I have 2 questions.

1. Do you have an opinion on the role of decentralized and people-driven new technologies? I’m thinking about the free software movement (an example would be the apache web server that runs over 90% of the internet and is totally free and open) but also emerging technologies like home manufacturing with 3D printer technology or advances in materials science that have the potential to eliminate areas of scarcity. I see these as game changers and wonder if you have a take on them.

2. If you were to advise someone on one thing they could do, today, to advance the kind of society you envision, what would that one thing be?

eCAHNomics June 3rd, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 32

U.S. PTB fancy themselves global empire. If you want to know why, ask them, not me.

Phoenix Woman June 3rd, 2012 at 2:54 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 30

It’s actually a notable part of his book: The US is simply too big to be effectively governable, even under authoritarian methods. (China is also running into this problem.)

cmaukonen June 3rd, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 37

One of the reasons the Soviet Union fell apart too, I believe.

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to hpschd @ 13

Kelso is indeed an interesting figure. All of the ESOPs (Employee stock ownership plans) are based implicitly on his ideas (10,000 of them; 10 million worker-owners). However they are aided by large subsidies that were not part of the original plan (developed by Kelso with help from Senator Long, then Chair of the Senate Finance Committee).

His original plan would have provided support for broader financing of employee ownership without the large subsidy, and though some models along this line exist, they are no where near as widepsread as the above.

His basic point is still relevant: If a business plan is viable (ie there is a market and a serious production and distribution plan) then it can be financed IF YOU HAVE COLLATERAL. (But only the rich have collateral. Why not, he held, provide public support to back investments by everyone, so the profits could be distributed as a “second income” to one and all, including those who didnt have collateral. Very intersting logic coming from a banker and corporate lawyer;….

eCAHNomics June 3rd, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 31

Think you labor under false assumption.

Namely PTB recognize what is in their short- vs. long-run benefit, and secondly that they care.

To take Israel as an example, it has only ever benefited from usurping Palestinian territory & resources for 45 years. Think that’s a time horizon long enough for richy riches, and far too long for grass roots to sustain effort.

eCAHNomics June 3rd, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 39

10 million employees out of 243 million. I rest my case.

ubetchaiam June 3rd, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to Grey Wolf @ 19

You may find this interesting:
“There are stories of extraordinary success and dismal failure.”

hpschd June 3rd, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I am sincerely hoping that Gar’s analysis and proposals are ideas ‘whose time has come’. Health care in Canada started in one province pushed forward by Tommy Douglas, ‘the greatest Canadian’. It has spread to the whole country. And yes, it works.

Hopefully, we have the seeds of a new system, not ‘programization’, that people will see as neither left nor right, but the way forward.

There is the old saw about the really relevant politics is local politics. Gar is showing us a way to build democracy one community at a time.

He also says the I must commit to many years of work.
OK, if that’s what it takes.

(I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

cmaukonen June 3rd, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 40

But isn’t economic control what they have been trying in the Eurozone and it’s failing miserably.

Well see when Greece gives them the finger followed by Spain and Italy.

cmaukonen June 3rd, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to hpschd @ 43

Bravo !

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:03 pm
In response to Grey Wolf @ 19

There have indeed been some bad experience with ESOPs–so it is reasonable to question them. However, they are by far the most widespread form of worker-ownership: 10,000 and 10 million people in one form or another. One person one vote coops number only about 3-500 nationwide. I think the really interesting question is why progressives have not turned their attention to thinking about how to transform and organize ESOPs. There are, in fact, a number that are unionized; and a number, too, where representation has been democratized. And in the state of Ohio preliminary studies show that as ESOPs become majority owned over time as more stock is accuumlated by workers, then de facto they become more participatory.Furthermore there has been legislation that would boost them and democratize them (some by conservatives who urge one person one vote.)–
I think progressives have so far missed the boat here in not turning attention to how to democratize and build forward here–at the same time every effort is made to build coops. Democratize the old and build the new.
But dont just ignore..

Grey Wolf June 3rd, 2012 at 3:03 pm
In response to ubetchaiam @ 42

believe me, i’ve already read that – and every other page of http://www.nceo.org

eCAHNomics June 3rd, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 44

Miserable failure for whom? Not 0.1%ers.

Grey Wolf June 3rd, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 46

“I think progressives have so far missed the boat here … Democratize the old and build the new.
But dont just ignore.”

OK, you seem as puzzled as I am by the left’s attitude toward ESOPs …

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:13 pm
In response to RFShunt @ 35

Continuing reply (I accidentally hit Enter again)..

So, first learn about what others are doing (and you could do too.)
Second, get together with friends, a small group, both to learn practical and to learn theory–ie read books and debate strategy. The Right has done this well. They have a theory and it gives them power. I think a theory of change is available to our side too, but we need to work at it. (My book is an attempt to help stimulate a debate on this-i.e. the kind of thing we are doing today…)
Finally, a small group can give support to further action. Most people don’t take small groups seriously. Margaret Meade famously pointed out very little begins without small groups first. Think of the handful of people who sat down at those lunch counters in the early days of the Civil Rights era..

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to juliania @ 20

Hi Juliania..
Please see several other responses for my thoughts on this..

hpschd June 3rd, 2012 at 3:16 pm

The ‘Public Trust’ seems a necessary component of community commonwealth building. Is there one working in Cleveland? Are there ‘land trusts’ as well?

How is a Public Trust set up (licensed?). How is it managed?

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:17 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 14

Please see series of responses on this general topic

RFShunt June 3rd, 2012 at 3:21 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 50

Interesting – very much so. My local occupy is kinda casting around for what to do next. There’s some tasty food for thought there.

Also, iff your reply to me was a part 2 then part 1 got lost in the digital aether i think.

BevW June 3rd, 2012 at 3:21 pm

You propose a 35 hour work week. It seems like a lot of state / federal laws would have to be amended to accommodate this, otherwise we have the situation we have not with reduced health care and social security.

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:23 pm
In response to hpschd @ 52

To take the second question first: there are many (more than 100) land trusts operating around the country now–and they are growing rapidly as a way to prevent gentrification primarily. Irvine California is preparing to do 5000 units of housing through this mechanism. (see wwww.community-wealth.org for details.)

As to a larger “Public Trust” to hold ownership of the stock of large corporations, as proposed in America Beyond Capitalism. This is really only one strategy–namely setting up a public holding company for large firms. (Think General Motors and Chrysler; instead of Treasury or other Department holding stock, a specified “Trust” would do so.)
But there are other approaches. For instance, the largest public enterprise in the United States is the business we call Medicare or perhaps the business we call Social Security. Public health insurance company and public pension company, if you like (though we dont use that language). So in future there would clearly be a role for some entity of government to hold ownership in enterprises that were made public. (Thomas Hannah and I recently wrote a piece for the Nation outlining some of this that might interest you. It can be found on my website: http://www.garalperovitz.com

bmaz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Hi Mike and Gar, thanks for the discussion here.

This question goes to both of you: I focus mostly on legal matters, especially as they relate to progressive politics and discussion. So far the discussion in this forum is more centered on the the meta social stage; but when you say:

His vision is a “Pluralist Commonwealth.” It calls for a democratization of wealth across the country, based on increased principles of democracy. The pluralism refers to the emphasis on democracy and liberty; the commonwealth shows the importance of public institutions in “pluralist” to emphasize the priority given to democratic diversity and individual liberty; “commonwealth” to underscore the centrality of new public and quasi-public wealth-holding institutions.

that type of process will also require legal constructs, and a structured effort to deliver them. That is something the adversary conservatives are very good at funding and tending on long term bases. How do you suggest the left/progressive side can accomplish the goals you seek without doing the same?

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to perris @ 11

Just a few comments here: America Beyond Capitalism strongly supports genuine small independent businesses, as well especially as high tech private innovative businesses. That is not where the problem lies at all. They are part of the solution, not the problem.

There is a need, as indicated throughout this discussion and in the book, for democratizing wealth. Especially because a mere 400 people now own more wealth (net worth) than the bottom 160 million Americans (and the top 1% owns just under half of all investment capital.) So democratized forms of ownership are critical, too.

As to large large firms and large large banks, in many instances I agree with the founders of the Chicago School of Economics (H.C. Simons for instance, Milton Friedman’s teacher, and many others): Some large enterprises are simply too powerful to break up (they regroup); and too powerful to regulate (they take over the regulators). In those instances, as these conservatives argued forcefully, public ownership is the only answer available.
We also face a growing climate change and global resource limit problem. And Walls Street demands for quarterly earnings growth are directly opposed to the longer term need to curb growth for both reasons. Here, too, we are going to have to face the need for some forms of public enterprise. (Again, see the Nation article done on this for detailed information on the modern experience with efficient public enterprise around the world at my website http://www.garalperovitz.com

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to bmaz @ 57

Really good question!
And also focused: I think we are going to have to do it the hard way at the outset, more support as time goes on : i.e. people around the country who have the skills rolling up their sleeves and just doing it..

HOWEVER, note the trend in what is happening now at Business Schools around the country: More and more of them (including Harvard, Stanford, Duke etc) now give courses and larger training in “social enterprise” development… and I suspect some Law Schools are beginning to get serious too (and certainly could do so).
Also there is tremendous interest in all of this area of work (so-called “New Economy Movement” and I suspect this will generate interest in the important legal questions too, more and more as time goes on.

For info on the “movement” here is a piece I did recently for Alternet that has been moving around the web..


Mike Konczal June 3rd, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Hey Gar, two more on left economics. The first question for many of these is what services and relationships will be turned into commodities. Is health care a right, or is it simple a good we purchase more or less of? What about education? And so on. What areas does the left need to focus on removing from the marketplace? And what perhaps should go into markets?

Second: A lot of “market socialism” on the left involves socializing who gets wealth from ownership, but it leaves the worker-boss relationship in place. You focus on a lot on how employee ownership can mitigate a lot of this – but how do you deal with the issue of “dirty jobs”, the toilets that need to be cleaned, the unglamarous or dangerous jobs that will exist in any world?

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 14

see several responses on politics of the long haul

Mike Konczal June 3rd, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to bmaz @ 57

bmaz: I think that’s an important and well-phrased question. The progressives and New Dealers were social workers and economists, but above all they were lawyers. And while there have been liberal critiques of the conservative revolution, particularly in terms of civil liberties and human rights, the economic space strikes me as underdeveloped.

A lot obvious depends on the Roberts court’s next few moves; if they strike down healthcare under a ruberic of “economic liberty” we have a whole crazy fight to deal with.

I’d like to see more done on legal frontiers with issues of “public utilities.” From finance, to telecomm, to patents, a lot of economic rents get sucked out of the public to the top 1% – but this is a legal choice on how we structure these relationships. These rents will not be going away in the near future – they may even become more of the core of how we exchange value and grow the the economy. The question is who benefits.

juliania June 3rd, 2012 at 3:41 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 51

Thank you, and thank you for being here.

mafr June 3rd, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I have noticed that there are public utilities in the USA, for instance in Palo Alto Ca. that are able to offer renewable power for only slightly more, than power generated by traditional methods.

I don’t understand why this has not received more attention, and why they have not spread to other parts of the country?

What effect do you think that climate catastrophe now unfolding will have on the chances of a better society and world?

p.s. I read your book on the use of the atomic bomb, wonderful education for me, thank you.

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to Mike Konczal @ 60

The entire approach of the book is what I call “evolutionary reconstruction”–
Thus, unlike traditional “reform” which tries to use politics to regulate and incentivize, etc, but not transform institutions–and unlike revolution which changes institutions, but often abruptly and violently, the approach stresses learning and expanding over time as institutions are developed and evolve and change.. (but with intention…)–

So: Ultimately health care should be a right. (But the path there may be complex, different, moving forward over time in in different areas: 15 or more states are now considering single payer even as the national Obama plan may be rejected by the Court or compromised by the Republicans. Slowly agonizingly painfully but still forward… towards a Right. Like Medicare, but beyond.

Education as well–which is now moving radically in the other direction (and which I suspect is going to create a massive backlash). Higher education is now only modestly supported by state government, even the best public universities are now financed mainly by students, by grants, by investments–but less and less by public. Again, ultimately need for major shift here. (I suspect we will see an explosion in due course,… and over time.

Really a very good question in general (and beyond what we can do todayy): A good start on a list of other things that might become rights is to look at the best of the social democratic nations for a start (e.g. child care, time off for men and women to take care of children, vacations, TIME (ie shorter work week, shorter work life as as right, ) etc. Good research topic to work on!

Second question: The traditional answers to the dirty jobs question involve either (1) all must serve at some point, like military or public service, or young folks must apprentice; (2) or simple rotation of all or (3) much higher pay for dirty jobs (e.g increase the pay VERY SUBSTANTIALLY for janitors and garbage collectors, and you might be surprised at the results.) Again, however, good research topic here!

bmaz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 59

Thanks, I will take a look at that. I do not want to hijack this discussion on this, but will note that, at least to my experience, some of the people and desire is there, but the institutional forms not only are not there, but are actively fought off and discouraged by the Democratic party apparatus. This does not occur on the other side of the aisle. I personally know people that have begged to create programs through the DLC (Dem Lawyers Council) and have been both ignored and affirmatively told to go away. And that is where the funding on the left is controlled, especially under the Obama regime. Without money to lay that groundwork, I fret the worthy goals you have laid out are hard to accomplish.

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:53 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 22

The unusual genius of the Kelso-Long strategy was to offer retiring owners major taxbreaks if they sell to workers–and this is how most ESOPs are created. So, as usual, implicitly the capital comes from the taxpayer–almost certainly inevitable, however, in any long evolutionary (rather than violent revolutionary) strategy. In land reform, the land is transferred commonly only after paying the owners (unfortunately, at far more than they should commonly deserve). That is exactly what happens with ESOPs–there is a big pay off to owners who transfer to workers. I think it is worth it, in that it begins to show that we can in fact build practical worker ownership (even though we must move beyond the traditional ESOP form in the next stages of development…)
The other strategy is also public: The federal government bailed out many big banks and AIG. It had de facto ownership (and still has de facto ownership of AIG). Similarly with GM and Chrsyler. In future, there is every reason to consider keeping ownership in selected cases when the profits roll in so the taxpayer can be repaid rather than simply selling these off or giving them back at huge public expense.

BevW June 3rd, 2012 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon discussion,

Gar, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book.

Mike, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Gar’s website and book (America Beyond Capitalism)

Mike’s website (NextNewDeal/RortyBomb)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

bmaz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:53 pm
In response to Mike Konczal @ 62

Right. As you know, this area is my hobby horse in the blogosphere. And I am frustrated because I know excellent liberal/progressive legal talent out there wanting to work these areas (and am sure what I see is but a fraction of what is really out there), and there just seems to be a paucity of vehicles available for them to do so. And save for random litigation on a specific issue, this is not something one can really do individually.

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 41

While you are resting (your case) suggest you read history of how movements have built over time from much, much smaller beginnings…

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Thanks Mike and Bev (and Jane!)–and all those who have participated. Enjoyed the discussion, and appreciated the opportunity!!

hpschd June 3rd, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 50

I guess I’m concerned with the ‘boots on the ground’ aspect of this process. I’ll spend more time at http://community-wealth.org/ and see if I can’t connect with people on the front lines.

Thank you all very much for an inspiring discussion.

Gar Alperovitz June 3rd, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to mafr @ 64

Thanks for this. As you probably know there are 2000 public utilities in the United States. Twenty five percent of electricity is supplied by municipally owned utilities and coops–ie 25% is de facto socialized! There is a slow movement building to do more, in significant part precisely because of better record on climate related issues. Little time to develop this now, but I think it important, and suggest you follow up on the web

Phoenix Woman June 3rd, 2012 at 4:28 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 40

On the contrary, you’re the one who seems to assume they’re all-knowing and all-powerful (and thus that resistance is futile and we should all top ourselves) — and that the PTBs would all a) recognize threats to capitalism and b) act as one to stop any incipient threat to capitalism. As Marx and Engels (and others) have found, different power groups can be and are often played against each other.

perris June 3rd, 2012 at 5:06 pm
In response to Gar Alperovitz @ 58

I agree with this entire post

tongorad June 3rd, 2012 at 8:00 pm

“America Beyond Capitalism strongly supports genuine small independent businesses, as well especially as high tech private innovative businesses. That is not where the problem lies at all. They are part of the solution, not the problem.”

Interesting comment. I’ve worked off and on in IT for 20 years. The small, independent business I occasionally due contract work for now is a “virtual” company. Meaning they rely heavily on outsourcing. I’ve worked for small and large enterprises. As a worker, I had no more control over how my productivity was utilized and exploited than any other field of work.

The high tech industry is no less competitive and ruthless than other industries. The rewards can be good, but long work weeks are commonplace. When I worked full time in the industry it’s safe to say I barely had a life. The company owners and their managers seemed to have much better work-life balances, however.

At a cultural level, the high tech industry is where libertarians go to work. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no democrats in cubicles. The hi tech industry is one of the drivers of the spread of libertarian anti-worker ideology IMO.

The point I want to make is why do so many on the left and right romanticize the hi tech industry? Seems it’s taboo to even suggest that the hi tech industry is anything else but wonderful.
We need a critique of the “innovation” entrepreneur-lead economy.

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