Unite or Stagnate?


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“A long era of economic stagnation could well lead to a profound national debate about an America that is dominated neither by giant corporations nor by socialist bureaucrats. It would be a fitting next direction for a troubled nation that has long styled itself as of, by and for the people.”

So who are “We The People”?  And what do “we” want?  Do we want unity?  What would that look like?  Is it possible?  Every system we’re familiar with is a combination of factors each with their own opinion on what should come from the individual, from volunteers and which services would be guaranteed through legislation and the development of an agency.  But the real problem isn’t about who does what and what system we call it, it’s that there are crooks espousing them all and that contradictions, immorality and hypocrisy abound within them all.

When we lived in smaller communities, we knew each other.  When someone was ill or needed a barn built everyone in that community responded to the needs of that family.  When something happened to us or our family, we could count on our community for that same support.  This was not described as being dependent, or socialist, or amoral, it was simply being a community.  Sadly this is not the case.  Today we live in large communities filled with people we don’t know.  Most of us don’t even know our neighbors.  Here in Arizona we don’t have front porches and our homes are surrounded by 6′ to 8′ tall brick walls.  As a side note, there’s some irony I’m sure in that we have walled ourselves off from each other and then go to psychiatrists to deal with feelings of estrangement.  

This separation and subsequent attitudes of superiority, fear, and paranoia, encourage further separation and disunity and work into the governing of the distribution of wealth and the economics of our community.  Today people are represented not by their name but by a number, in a list of statistics.  This dehumanizing separation makes it easy to point to someone on the other side of our brick wall who’s going through tough times and self-righteously declare the solution, “All they need to do is get a job and on their way there, get a bath.”  How arrogant and uninformed.  How immoral.  Has anyone who created this problem gone to prison?  No.  Yet we look at the millions who have lost their homes, lost their jobs, who had nothing to do with causing the problem as somehow to blame?!  Wall Street and the pretender lender banks got the government assistance, then voted themselves record bonuses while stealing our homes.  And they’re self-righteous about that being ok.   Is that unifying?  Is that “we” the people?

Maybe the best thing for us is, as the author says below, “an extended period of economic stagnation”.  Maybe if ALL of us hit rock bottom we would be forced into serious reflection followed by worthy, honorable and moral action.  Is that what it will take to unify?

There have been studies done (I’ve forgotten the source at this moment) that show when people have a longterm view of their lives and actions, the more they see the value of any idea with a positive outcome and come onboard to make it happen.  Conversely, the shorter the vision then the less people see the world as relating to their lives and the more disconnected they feel.  Unity and taking the larger perspective are integrally related.  

These people on Wall Street and running the pretender lender banks are very short sighted.  They did egregious acts to us as individuals and to us as a country.  They want us to be that way too.  I say it’s time to say hi to your neighbor.  It’s time to arise.  It’s time to connect across this great nation of ours and create a long term vision of who we want to be.  It’s time to unify.  

Worker-Owners of America, Unite!



College Park, Md.

THE Occupy Wall Street protests have come and mostly gone, and whether they continue to have an impact or not, they have brought an astounding fact to the public’s attention: a mere 1 percent of Americans own just under half of the country’s financial assets and other investments. America, it would seem, is less equitable than ever, thanks to our no-holds-barred capitalist system.

But at another level, something different has been quietly brewing in recent decades: more and more Americans are involved in co-ops, worker-owned companies and other alternatives to the traditional capitalist model. We may, in fact, be moving toward a hybrid system, something different from both traditional capitalism and socialism, without anyone even noticing.

Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions.

And worker-owned companies make a difference. In Cleveland, for instance, an integrated group of worker-owned companies, supported in part by the purchasing power of large hospitals and universities, has taken the lead in local solar-panel installation, “green” institutional laundry services and a commercial hydroponic greenhouse capable of producing more than three million heads of lettuce a year.

Local and state governments are likewise changing the nature of American capitalism. Almost half the states manage venture capital efforts, taking partial ownership in new businesses. Calpers, California’s public pension authority, helps finance local development projects; in Alaska, state oil revenues provide each resident with dividends from public investment strategies as a matter of right; in Alabama, public pension investing has long focused on state economic development.

Moreover, this year some 14 states began to consider legislation to create public banks similar to the longstanding Bank of North Dakota; 15 more began to consider some form of single-payer or public-option health care plan.

Some of these developments, like rural co-ops and credit unions, have their origins in the New Deal era; some go back even further, to the Grange movement of the 1880s. The most widespread form of worker ownership stems from 1970s legislation that provided tax benefits to owners of small businesses who sold to their employees when they retired. Reagan-era domestic-spending cuts spurred nonprofits to form social enterprises that used profits to help finance their missions.

Recently, growing economic pain has provided a further catalyst. The Cleveland cooperatives are an answer to urban decay that traditional job training, small-business and other development strategies simply do not touch. They also build on a 30-year history of Ohio employee-ownership experiments traceable to the collapse of the steel industry in the 1970s and ’80s.

Further policy changes are likely. In Indiana, the Republican state treasurer, Richard Mourdock, is using state deposits to lower interest costs to employee-owned companies, a precedent others states could easily follow. Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, is developing legislation to support worker-owned strategies like that of Cleveland in other cities. And several policy analysts have proposed expanding existing government “set aside” procurement programs for small businesses to include co-ops and other democratized enterprises.

If such cooperative efforts continue to increase in number, scale and sophistication, they may suggest the outlines, however tentative, of something very different from both traditional, corporate-dominated capitalism and traditional socialism.

It’s easy to overestimate the possibilities of a new system. These efforts are minor compared with the power of Wall Street banks and the other giants of the American economy. On the other hand, it is precisely these institutions that have created enormous economic problems and fueled public anger.

During the populist and progressive eras, a decades-long buildup of public anger led to major policy shifts, many of which simply took existing ideas from local and state efforts to the national stage. Furthermore, we have already seen how, in moments of crisis, the nationalization of auto giants like General Motors and Chrysler can suddenly become a reality. When the next financial breakdown occurs, huge injections of public money may well lead to de facto takeovers of major banks.

And while the American public has long supported the capitalist model, that, too, may be changing. In 2009 a Rasmussen poll reported that Americans under 30 years old were “essentially evenly divided” as to whether they preferred “capitalism” or “socialism.”

A long era of economic stagnation could well lead to a profound national debate about an America that is dominated neither by giant corporations nor by socialist bureaucrats. It would be a fitting next direction for a troubled nation that has long styled itself as of, by and for the people.

Gar Alperovitz, a professor of political economy at the University of Maryland and a founder of the Democracy Collaborative, is the author of “America Beyond Capitalism.”

3 Responses


  2. I almost forgot…

    Remember how, shortly after 9/11, we learned that the Feds had been warned by several countries, including France a few hours earlier, that the attack was coming and how the government poopoo’ed the warnings? If I recall, it cost about 3500 lives at the time and the toll keeps mounting with NY firefighters having developped severe illnesses afterwards.

    Well, warnings about what was going on in the real estate market were sent to our government as early as the mid-90s, with a very precise description of what was in store if adequate measures weren’t immediately implemented.

    TMT posted this interview of Bill Black yesterday. For those of you who missed it, it’s really enlightening! 52 minutes of solid wisdom and a pretty good description of what’s in store if we don’t prosecute…


  3. Good morning everyone,

    Great news from Yves Smith: DeMarco and Schneiderman appear to be joining forces toward criminal actions. So, we now have Harris in CA and DeMasto in NV joining investigative efforts. Schneiderman and DeMarco and Schneiderman and Biden doing likewise.

    Martha Coakley is running her own investigation. Lori Swanson has spoken against an agreement with banmks which would , in essence, give them immunity and, according to Bill Black, because those states represent a very large chunk of the population of the US, the deal AGs are scrambling to put together will not be feasible. I hope he’s right.

    All those people fighting hard for us deserve to hear from us that we support their efforts, especially given the intense pressure(s) under which they find themselves to drop their investigation.

    Please, write to them and tell them you support what they do.


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