Today, we begin a series of posts that articulate a vision forward, a path to a more democratic economy, revisiting a recurrent theme of Retake’s blog–the need to explore and ultimately develop entirely new economic and political systems, essentially democratizing our economy, the workplace, and our democracy. Reminder of Retake’s organizing meeting tonight. Details.
Democratizing Our Economy and Our Political System
For some time, Retake has challenged capitalism as an economic system predicated upon continuing growth in a world in which continuing growth will translate into extinction. But Roxanne has long cautioned me that our choice of words matter, that terms like capitalism and socialism resonate in entirely different ways for those on the left than they do for those in the center. And so, when I read The Guardian’s The New Left Economics: How a Network of Thinkers is Transforming Capitalism, I was struck by Andy Beckett’s use of the phrase “democratizing the economy.” I am thinking that this term could be very palatable to moderates and even conservatives while still representing the change required. Just as “democracy” has never been practiced in our economic system, it is also a stranger to our political system, and so, it may be that the concept of democratizing democracy could resonate as well. In any case, I’d welcome comments on this.
Beckett’s article weaves in a bit of the history of English and American economic thinking going back over a century, but the focus is on trends in recent economic theory as it is unfolding in England and the US. He points to an emerging economic theory that he feels has been absent from the left.
For almost half a century, something vital has been missing from leftwing politics in western countries. Since the 70s, the left has changed how many people think about prejudice, personal identity and freedom. It has exposed capitalism’s cruelties. It has sometimes won elections, and sometimes governed effectively afterwards. But it has not been able to change fundamentally how wealth and work function in society – or even provide a compelling vision of how that might be done. The left, in short, has not had an economic policy.”
In This Is Not Normal, a recent post, Retake entertained how privatization, deregulation, trickle down and a panoply of regressive policies and media compliance has produced a debilitated democracy with the media and politicians marginalizing criticism of either the political or economic systems as being naïve, extreme and even dangerous. From Beckett: “Privatisation, deregulation, lower taxes for business and the rich, more power for employers and shareholders, less power for workers – these interlocking policies have intensified capitalism, and made it ever more ubiquitous. There have been immense efforts to make capitalism appear inevitable; to depict any alternative as impossible. Rightwingers and centrists have caricatured anyone arguing that capitalism should be reined in – let alone reshaped or replaced – as wanting to take the world “back to the 70s”. Altering our economic system has been presented as a fantasy – no more practical than time travel.”
Beckett goes on to describe that while voters in Britain and the US have not formed a vision for an alternative system, they have begun to understand that the current system is not meeting their needs. “The voters have revolted against neoliberalism. The international economic institutions – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund – are recognising its downsides. Meanwhile, the 2008 financial crisis and the previously unthinkable government interventions that halted it have discredited two central neoliberal orthodoxies: that capitalism cannot fail, and that governments cannot step in to change how the economy works.” To date, the most pronounced manifestation of dissatisfaction has been Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the ascension to power of numerous populist tyrants across the globe, but Beckett also notes that there is a corresponding emergence of transformational thinking from the left.
A set of economic principles and concepts is emerging from the left that calls for a significant redistribution of economic power: “The new leftwing economics wants to see the redistribution of economic power, so that it is held by everyone – just as political power is held by everyone in a healthy democracy. This redistribution of power could involve employees taking ownership of part of every company; or local politicians reshaping their city’s economy to favour local, ethical businesses over large corporations; or national politicians making co-operatives a capitalist norm.” When Roxanne and I went on our 10,000 mile US Road Trip, we found manifestations of this kind of local experimentation with co-operative development in Buffalo, Rochester, Madison, and Jackson. We wrote about what we found in these cities back in August, Worker Cooperatives, An Alternative to Amazon’s Oppressive Worker Policies, a post that included links to resources for legislators at the state and local levels interested in investing in cooperatives.
Beckett points out that “democratic economy” is not some idealistic fantasy: but that as noted above, there are models being developed throughout England and the US. These models stand in stark contrast with prevailing economic oppression experienced by workers worldwide and Beckett fears for the viability of democracy itself in the face of this oppression and a political system unresponsive to addressing that oppression. “If we want to live in democratic societies, then we need to … allow communities to shape their local economies,” write Joe Guinan and Martin O’Neill, both prolific advocates of the new economics, in a recent article for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) – a thinktank previously associated with New Labour. “It is no longer good enough to see the economy as some kind of separate technocratic domain in which the central values of a democratic society somehow do not apply.”
Beckett describes how left economists are noting the development of disparate models of cooperative business development, but feel that this is largely in an inchoate form disconnected from and without influence upon the larger economic system, sort of like bright shiny Christmas ornaments on a withering tree. “Instead of such limited, patchily successful interventions, the new economists want to see much more systemic and permanent change. They want – at the least – to change how capitalism works. But, crucially, they want this change to be only partially initiated and overseen by the state, not controlled by it. They envisage a transformation that happens almost organically, driven by employees and consumers – a sort of non-violent revolution in slow motion.” And he cites a number of economic theorists who for the first time feel that such a broad transformation might be realistic.
“Troubled American cities are in a more advanced state of decay than their British equivalents,” says Guinan, who has worked for the Democracy Collaborative for a decade. “But American local government also has greater powers. So you have the ability to create radical new models from the ground up.”
When we were on our Road Trip we met with folks in Madison, Rochester, Buffalo and Jackson to learn more about the cooperative movement and how cities could support their development. When in Cleveland we also conversed with the leadership from the Democracy Collaborative, a think tank founded by Gar Alperovitz in 2008. The Democracy Collaborative followed an Alperovitz strategy called “community wealth-building”. It aims to end struggling local economies’ reliance on unequal relationships with distant, wealth-extracting corporations – such as chain retailers – and to base these economies around local, more socially conscious businesses instead. Working first in Cleveland, but now offering training, conferences and consultation with cities around the nation, the impact of the Democracy Collaborative is palpable and growing.
In Cleveland, the Democracy Collaborative helped set up a solar power company, an industrial laundry, and a city-centre hydroponic farm growing lettuces and basil. All three enterprises were owned by their employees, and some of their profits went to a holding company tasked with establishing more cooperatives in the city. All three enterprises have succeeded, so far. The goal of the project was summed up in blunt, almost populist terms by one of the Democracy Collaborative’s co-founders, Ted Howard, in 2017: “Stop the leakage of money out of our community.” Yet “community wealth building” also has a more subtle purpose: it is a concrete demonstration that economic decisions can be based on more than neoliberalism’s narrow criteria.”
Beckett feels that the various economic experiments and economic theories that are emerging are destined to coalesce into a kind of “transition” in how business is done on much larger scales. His concern is that the movement could be coopted by the corporatocracy, and that the powers will reassert control. He cites the 1930s and the Great Depression as a time when Democrats aligned with labor to advance significant reforms to the economy and worker-employer relations and to create an array of egalitarian systems supporting working families: social security being the crown jewel of these advances. But he also notes, that after making necessary concessions, the right succeeded in eroding those reforms and returned us to more “pure capitalism.”
Beckett also wonders if the left has figured out a way to convey a vision of a more just, sustainable economy that voters can embrace. He points to how the corporate sector, reinforced daily in the media, focus exclusively on the stock market and its knee jerk spasms in reaction to projections related to future growth as being the way to measure the health of our economy. In that context, selling concepts like “De-growth” or the Green New Deal become a challenge. Again, as noted above, the media will do its best to characterize criticisms of the current economic model as being extreme, naïve, or pure fantasy, but it seems clear that whether you look toward the growing Sunrise Movement, the debate about the Green New Deal, the emergence of AOC, Ilhan Omar, Pamela Jayapal, Ro Khanna and others in the US House or even the increasingly progressive rhetoric of politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and to a lesser degree most of the Democratic candidates, it is hard to deny that “something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
My takeaway from the above, is that the path to greater justice in NM and the US is through the development of local models of economic justice, worker owned cooperatives that shine a bright spotlight on what justice looks like while at the same time working to support and elect those candidates who see oppression for what it is, who name it, and who are willing to entertain the idea of a ‘next economic system,’ a democratized economy that works for all of us.
If there are any researchers or thinkers out there who’d like to do a bit of research to develop some practical ways in which NM cities could embrace and support the development of worker owned cooperatives, please write to me. There is a wealth of research out there (including the Retake article cited above) and lots of models where cities have done this. It may not transform the nation, but it can offer more examples of alternatives to the servitude model in place in most work places.
I only touched upon all that Beckett covered in his Guardian article, so if you’d like to read more about the emergence of new thinking on the economy and the workplace, click here to read the full Guardian article.
Paul & Roxanne
Categories: Economic Justice, Community & Economic Development, Uncategorized
Good article Paul. I, like many have been writing for several years about the need to turn away for the Neoliberal economic and social model of governing and begin to move toward a more fundamental socially based system that has education as its foundation and a mixture of socialistic and capitalistic forms of bringing people together to create sustaining businesses that can hire and spend locally. I have found it to be a surprisingly difficult concept for Americans to seem to understand and wrap their minds around, despite it being one that benefits everyone. The main obstacle, of course, is the brainwashing the American people in all economic levels of our country have been living with for over 50 years.
We are seeing this apparent “division” in our collective mentality already being presented daily by the standard bearers of propaganda, the American “news media” as it challenges the progress ideas (none of which are radical) of some of the Democratic candidates running for office. The “watering down” will heat up going forward as the neoliberal establishment sets its heavily financed propaganda machine loose on the public. So, we may once more see the “system” replace any form of real change within our country and subsequently the world, regardless of who we elect.
I have come to believe that the only way to create this change and truly reverse this evolutionally error we have made is to first win an election with a progressive candidate and win full control of government at the same time. Of course that is the current goal, but it is being marginalized by those currently in change of the Democratic establishment. Despite that, it can be beaten this time and only needs to hold to a strict Sanders style message of issues only politics. The key is honesty and specificity which will cross party lines.
Now, to the part you are currently discussing. We saw in the last legislative session just how easy it was for certain paid off democrats to block legislation, but that can be changed. The leadership led by the Governor and followed up by the democratic controlled House and Senate must be made to also follow the same agenda as the national political leaders, if those people win in 2020. That means n overall plan must be in place at the State level to address these leaders and force them to make changes within the sitting Chairs of our Legislature! From there we can move to address a local alternative to the neoliberal model which is strangling our world. I don’t think this can work any other way, because the current systemic opposition and fear of change by voters is so ingrained by decades of propaganda that without a united effort all minimal changes are brought down to nothing. Success will follow success, if we can force a change at the top. That means convincing the democratic party Obama/Clinton faction that they can only win with a strong progressive agenda.
I too share your vision of altering our current neoliberal governing system toward democratic socialism. Perhaps I’m a bit more pragmatic though since it may only require that we simply take that ball ourselves rather than waiting for our elective process to change direction. One way to start this process is for a group of like minded people to get together and work toward establishing a cooperative business. One such opportunity could exist within the new development off of Cerrillos Road and Governor Miles Rd. Wouldn’t it be the perfect setting for a small community grocery store/coffee shop? Lots of housing all within walking distance. If you know of interested community members please pass on my info.
I heard recently that America is the most capitalistic country in the planet. The brainwashing existed from the beginning and goes on daily. We can decide when it all began, 7,000 years ago or in 1776? The paradigm we need to change exists in all Americans, in our mind and heart. We know all the theories of change but our personal transformation is another issue. And it needs to begin with each of us. How do you propose we start? What is the first, second, third….step? And, how do we help change those in the top 1%? Because they and the next 9% will not give up their place!
Will not be easy to get 100 Ocasio-Cortez-like representatives and senators to achieve the kind of change the planet needs (forget what we need). . . .
eduardo, very true. Well said.
About changing the top 1 or 10%, it is interesting to note that the energetic campaigner for civil and human rights, Roger Baldwin (who became the first head of the ACLU), was from an elite Massachusetts family and a graduate of Harvard – truly a one-percenter who worked all his life for the “regular” people.
Maybe there are others like him in today’s 1% or 10%.
Hi Roxanne, and Paul. Roxanne, you started this by cautioning Paul about the unintended consequences of the use of words, because they can create dramas within the brains of various listeners. Apropo. But I wish it were as easy as just choosing the right words. IMO, after working with language for many decades, I have concluded that the process of using language to generate critical thinking cannot hold up to the forces of emotional drama creating worded artifacts that are used as manipulations in the exercise of control.
In the context of creating sustainable human behaviors (behaviors that are not self- or planet-destroying cancers), words and language are more successful in the tail wagging the dog than the dog being able to demonstrably communicate a true sentiment.
The human ‘takers’ of this world use various ‘language artifacts’ to exercise control and dominance. Your description of what many expansive thinkers visualize as a novel and desperately needed vocabulary that must supplant the current primeval regime, employs, via absolute necessity, very complex, literate, contextually interrelated ‘language iconography’ as the ground floor of the superstructure of new thinking and doing.
Now just look at that last sentence of mine: that is as simply put as I could make that word salad. Compare that to the artifacts of control; drain the swamp, bleeding-heart liberals, snowflakes, libtards, tree huggers, make murka great again, my country right or wrong, etc., etc.
We are an ailing species on a dying planet. We are, and have been, almost exclusively, dominated by madmen, across several millennia. To actually have exited the ‘swamp’ of our beginnings took many centuries, and our literacy has almost always been outpaced by our manipulative skills and our thirst for drama and the soothing comfort of addictions. Ethos, including ethical considerations, is a seriously literate realization. My entire adult life has been woven around this core behavior, and I still struggle with equality, context and self-less behaviors.
Democracy is NOT just a word. But it is mostly used as an artifact, a blurry icon rife with dramatic vagueness. The construct of the word is intricate and quite complex, and even its core notion, that of self-determination via an equal voice and an equal need, cooperatively exercised, swirls in a stirred soup of wants vs. needs, pain vs. pleasure, decisiveness vs. gridlock, justness vs. expediency, theory vs. fact, fact vs. alternative fact, right vs. wrong, majority vs. minority, strong vs. weak.
And I left out the nefarious intentionality of the madmen.
To survive as a species, if that is yet possible, those of us who actually work hard at literacy, on many levels, must develop, quickly, a sustainable ‘language iconography.’ We cannot allow a needed good idea to quickly degenerate into a ‘racket.’ That is what the takers have successfully employed for centuries, and do so now, to their utter demise as well. They are, after all, mad, the Mad Hatters circling the rabbit hole of existence.
I have always liked Gene Roddenberry. ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’ We can spin off every necessary ecological function, which includes most of our so-called lofty ideals, from the overwhelming context of that one phrase. Spock has been uttering it for nearly 50 years in re-run central.
It’s worth a try.
“The needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few” is the core principle of eminent domain which the fracting industry is using to the max resulting in mass destruction of the planet. Can this be a principle that saves our planet too?
It ought to be “The needs of the many outweigh the wants and desires and greed of [the few, all of us, each of us at times]”…
Excellent post and equally excellent comments to date. I would agree that the most creative and enduring changes must come from the bottom up, and many of them from outside the electoral/legislative process. Also, I’d suggest that to be successful, almost everything–programs or words–needs to have a place within a cultural framework that is alive, evolving, organic. Sounds amorphous and vague, I know; the work will be in creating the specific connections that make a community strong and resilient.
We have to break through the brainwashing. Identifying where it is coming from would be a start. The big tech companies have been above the law, and no government agency has caught up. The messages in our media, both nationally and on the local level, should really be cause for alarm. While technically factual, a lot of key information is left out, distorting the facts.
Our airwaves are full of propaganda, we need to be reminded that “We the People” own the airwaves, internet, radio frequencies, and even the 5 G spectrum. The cable networks, weaponized the news, mixed it up with corporate and military advertising. Take a look at how our local media is soft peddling the fact that Facebook, and Google not only allowed extremist content, they amplified it. They took advantage of it, to build up their advertising metrics. Controversy is profitable. Click Bait “builds engagement.” We did not see any real evaluation, or acknowledgement after the 2016 election, by our media.
Our nation is clearly in a crisis, but business goes on. All I can think of is Nazi Germany, when I was a kid and learned of the horror and atrocities, it was hard to understand how so many people could let it happen. Now it is here, and take a look at how the fourth estate has covered it.
I just found out about this on Tuesday,
Check it out, the story is that there is debate over the use of the words concentration camps. Protests by Japanese Internment camp survivors, were not covered by the paid media. They turned it into a “debate.”
https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/border-patrol-head-condemns-agents-offensive-facebook-posts/article_ff082c29-b28a-52b5-a48c-51a24b6f9f05.html Nothing to see here folks, the Border Patrol is on it.
I would suggest that people read Doughnut Economics by Rahway. This is an analysis of neoliberal economic thinking and offers a Planet and People based economic system that is neither capitalism nor socialism. It is the most profound analysis of the economy that I have read.
Paul – I do not confess to be a scholar on this subject but when in college I read “Small Is Beautiful : Economics as If People Mattered” by E.F. Schumacher. It was an engaging read that shaped my world view ever since.