Saturday, April 16, 2016
First Steps. How to Democratize the Economy.
There were two very dispiriting essays this week. The first came from Chris Hedges on Monday. The other was Monbiot's op-ed on neoliberalism in The Guardian yesterday. Both are must-reads. If you're in a rush, my precis version of them can be found here and here.
Digesting these opinions invites an exercise in layering. To Monbiot and Hedges, I added the Leap Manifesto and some of the things I've picked up in reading Phillips, Galbraith, Mirowski, Alperovitz and the gaggle of leading "steady state" economists - Daly, Prugh, Costanza, Cumberland and Norgaard.
I kept getting drawn back to social economist and historian, Gar Alperovitz, and his book "What Then Must We Do." Yes, it's a title he shamelessly filched from Tolstoy. At least it wasn't Trotsky.
Hedges article speaks of decline and the rise of "crisis cults" - pretty dystopian stuff. Monbiot's focuses on our zombie economy - the now thoroughly dead corpse we call neoliberalism - and why the Left has failed to grasp the opportunity to bury it and introduce a new mode of economics and social organization.
Could it be that the demands of today, with all these looming crises and the deterioration bequeathed to us by neoliberalism, no longer admit of universal magic wand solutions? To this question perhaps Alperovitz has at least a partial solution.
In his book, Alperovitz focuses on community-oriented responses. He draws from examples of already successful initiatives where ownership of means of production is taken from the rentier class (what Galbraith calls the "looter class") and put in the hands of workers.
One example given was a failing window factory whose employees were on the verge of losing their jobs. The absentee owner was disinterested, indifferent and just looking to cut and run. In response the workers formed a co-op to acquire the business and to help them they harnessed the support of their community - the local credit unions, local businesses, suppliers, the churches, their elected representatives. They discovered that everyone had a stake in their success and the role it played in the long term viability of their community.
The workers had better ideas how to improve the business, turn it around. Their objectives were long term. They were out to secure their jobs and their investment. Profits were important but secondary.
They concentrated on rebuilding the company, tending to what needed repair or modernization. After the business was revitalized, profits went to clearing their debt. After a lot of work they wound up with their jobs secured, participation in company profits and security for retirement. Everybody in the community benefited from the democratization of their local economy.
If you're interested in this idea, Alperovitz and Keane Bhatt, have a helpful guide entitled "What Then Can I Do? Ten ways to democratize the economy." After getting through the Hedges and Monbiot essays this is at least a ray of hope. Check it out.