[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]
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?