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Politics as usual can’t solve massive inequality or climate catastrophe
Crossposted from Classism Exposed.
I often open my lectures by explaining that the current distribution of wealth in the United States—with the richest 400 people owning more of the country than the poorest 180 million combined—is, essentially, a medieval arrangement, with a vast underclass and a tiny elite. After one talk, a medieval historian approached me to offer a correction—today’s distribution of wealth is, in fact, far more unequal than anything seen in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the fact remains that we are living in profoundly unequal times, and without addressing this fundamental imbalance in who owns our economy, we are going to be stuck with a politics that answers to the rich, rather than the needs of the poor or even the (shrinking) middle class.
Co-Authored By James Gustave Speth
It's getting harder and harder to be an optimist. A deep economic crisis has given way to a profoundly unequal recovery. Climate catastrophe is steadily unfolding across the globe. And the work of building a racially inclusive society appears to be stalled -- indeed, in many areas, to be losing ground. All of this in an age of unprecedented technological progress, which has manifestly failed to keep its promises. If there is one saving grace, it is that the pain caused by these interconnected failures make it possible -- for the first time in modern history -- to pose the question of system change in a serious fashion, even in the United States, the faltering heart of global capitalism.
Our newest report, Healthcare Small Business Gap Analysis, prepared in partnership with New Orleans based DMM & Associates on behalf of the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA), outlines procurement practices and supply chain needs of New Orleans healthcare institutions and the capacity local business to fulfill those needs. The report provides recommendations on how to leverage New Orleans’ hospitals’ $1.5 billion in procurement spending to promote greater local procurement and economic inclusion in a city where only 48 percent of African American adult males are in the formal labor force. This report is based on interviews with nearly 50 representatives from area hospitals, additional anchor buyers, technical assistance organizations, small businesses, and other public stakeholders.
It is easy to be distracted by what passes for economic news these days, focused as it is on short-term fluctuations and assurances of recovery and revitalization. The simple truth, however, is that year by year, decade by decade, life in the United States is steadily growing ever more unequal.
These Cities Built Cheap, Fast, Community-Owned Broadband. Here's What Net Neutrality Means For Them—and All of Us
Publicly owned broadband lets local communities from Iowa to Louisiana control a vital economic resource—rather than leaving it in the hands of a few monopolistic corporations. The outcome of this week's FCC vote could either help or hinder the path forward.
Community-Owned Energy: How Nebraska Became the Only State to Bring Everyone Power From a Public Grid
In this red state, publicly owned utilities provide electricity to all 1.8 million people. Here's our Research Director Thomas Hanna's take on how Nebraska took its energy out of corporate hands and made it affordable for everyday residents.
Quite apart from the political challenges it represents, the current New York City police slowdown illuminates a classic general issue that must be faced by those concerned with how to structure a next system that moves us beyond the problems of both traditional corporate capitalism and traditional state socialism.
While we may enjoy some satisfaction in the NYPD's attempt to enrage its critics by giving them exactly what they've been asking for - i.e. a drastic reduction in the criminalization of the lives of poor communities of color - it's important to confront the additional question of who should be able to make these kind of decisions and how, both now and in serious system-changing discussions. (If every decision about how the NYPD operates were left up to its workers, that would certainly not further the goal of real justice.)
Far too many vets lack an income to support themselves. Why don't we just provide it to them?
Community foundations are seeing growing activity in building community wealth.
“You can feel the toe of the tsunami,” said one person in the circle. “There’s a great wave rising, and you can feel the power of it, even though it’s just beginning.” The time was mid-December 2014, and I was seated with 20 others in a circle at a San Francisco gathering of community foundations wanting to learn more about impact investing as a tool for building community wealth. Someone else shared a new report on Millennials, and how they are seeking jobs and investments with meaning. There in the room, we could feel the power of something profoundly new arising.
Our Research Associate Jarrid Green authored this report, highlighting the successes of Namasté Solar in democratizing energy in Colorado:
More than a decade ago, my colleagues and I at The Democracy Collaborative began using a term for a new kind of economic development – Community Wealth Building. For years, the term was so uncommon that it almost invariably appeared within quotation marks when used.
Today, a Google search identifies 124,000 entries and is growing daily.
Originally published in the CSRWire on November 24, 2014.
Interest in impact investing is growing more rapidly among community foundations than any other foundation group, reports Peter Berliner of Mission Investors Exchange.
A New Anchor Mission for a New Century: Community foundations deploying all resources to build community wealth
As the community foundation field reaches the century mark and faces growing pressure on its business model, many communities at the same time are struggling with economic distress. To meet these converging challenges, an innovative group of community foundations are beginning to deepen and shift how they work—adopting an anchor mission that seeks to fully deploy all resources to build community wealth. They are calling on all assets at their disposal—financial, human, intellectual, and political—in service of their communities’ economic well-being. Moving into territory relatively uncharted for community foundations, they are taking up impact investing and economic development—some in advanced ways, others with small steps. This report offers an overview of how 30 representative community foundations, large and small, urban and rural, are working toward adopting this new anchor mission.
“Even if the United States deals with its carbon emission problem, the Chinese won’t. So what’s the point?”
“You can’t condemn the entire global South to abandon energy development, and you can’t provide enough with solar and wind. So what’s the point?”
“Besides, the whole enterprise of trying to achieve a future sufficiently carbon-free to deal with the most important problems is politically hopeless.”
These challenges are sometimes spoken, sometimes not, but they commonly and powerfully weaken efforts to deal with the climate crisis. Despite the well-funded bluster of disingenuous or, at best, delusional skeptics and deniers, a majority of Americans believe the climate is changing in worrying ways, and many (PDF) also believe that these changes pose a threat to current and future generations. But this belief has not yet translated into action at a scale adequate to the problem we face.
The 2014 midterms did not change the dominant reality we face - one of substantial ongoing political stalemate and decay - and this sets the terms of reference for those serious about long-term fundamental change.
Building economic power through community ownership is the antidote to the systemic failures of our current system. Gar Alperovitz's lead article in the new issue of Shelterforce explores a vision for system-changing community economic development.
Modern monetary theory destroys the intellectual basis for austerity but needs a more robust political economy.
On 2 January 1879 the United States returned to the gold standard. Specie payments had been quietly suspended in 1861 to meet the costs of the Civil War, with Congress authorising the issuance of $450 million in ‘greenbacks’ – legal tender treasury notes – that greatly increased commercial liquidity and triggered an economic boom. But with wartime exigencies over, banking interests demanded a return to financial propriety and redeemable hard money. ‘Though the Civil War had been fought with fifty-cent dollars’, historian Lawrence Goodwyn explained, ‘the cost would be paid in one-hundred-cent dollars. The nation’s taxpayers would pay the difference to the banking community holding the bonds’ (Goodwyn, 1978, 11). What followed was one of the most extraordinary and creative episodes in the history of popular democratic understanding of money.
This article originally appeared in the September 4, 2014 edition of the Los Angeles Times.
The concept of "secular stagnation" — that the economy may be facing a protracted period of low growth and high unemployment — has been seeping back into economic and policy discourse. Once relegated to the margins of heterodox economic theory, the idea of stagnation as a likely ongoing direction for the economy, in fact, is now virtually mainstream, expounded by such well-known figures as Lawrence Summers and Paul Krugman.
Stagnation, however, is not a new problem. Careful examination of the U.S. economy over the last century suggests that stagnation may not be the exception but just possibly the rule of modern economic performance — a rule that was mainly broken only by the stimulus effects of massive military expenditures at three crucial junctures....
The Market Basket situation is indeed, as many commentators have remarked, nearly unprecedented in the annals of American labor relations: When have we ever seen so many workers protest so vigorously for, rather than against, their boss! (For those new to the story, the New England supermarket chain has been wracked by massive employee protests, organized without any union involvement, after a faction of the family that owns the chain took control and ousted extremely popular CEO Arthur T. Demoulas. The mobilization in support of the former chief executive has resulted in nearly empty shelves and the mobilization of angry communities of formerly happy customers.)
But beneath the surface of the singular job action, in which workers and community have banded together to demand the reinstatement of the former CEO, the conflict in New England points toward something much more fundamental: the need to build institutions that can sustain the kind of community- and worker-friendly business leadership that earned "good brother" Arthur T. such incredible loyalty.
Happily, such institutions already exist, here in the United States. While undoubtedly not perfect as a form of workplace democracy, the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) offers a proven template for making the interest workers have in a thriving business part of the discussions about a company's future.
The problem is simple, surprising, and quite honestly disgusting: Our nation’s older cities depend largely on sewage treatment systems that overflow when it rains, dumping 860 billion gallons of raw sewage a year into “fresh” water across the country—enough to cover the entire state of Pennsylvania an inch deep.
But the stormwater crisis is also a tremendous opportunity to move in the direction of a new, community sustaining local economy.
In an Al Jazeera article Democracy Collaborative co-founder Gar Alperovitz presents a critical perspective of Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century— emphasizing how democratizing ownership of capital can address the vast wealth inequalities that Piketty so powerfully documents.
Guest Essay in The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
“What kind of economy is consistent with living inside a living being?” This was a question posed to us under a leafy canopy, deep in the woods of southern England, not far from Schumacher College where I’d come as a teacher. I stood listening with a group of students as resident ecologist Stephan Harding posed what for me would become a pivotal question – the only question there is, really, as we negotiate the turn from the industrial age into an entirely new age of civilization.
Ted Howard, Executive Director of The Democracy Collaborative moderated a plenary panel at CleanMed 2014 on the Cleveland anchor institution framework. A video of the discussion, which featured top leadership from the Cleveland Foundation, the City of Cleveland, University Hospitals, and the Cleveland Clinic is available here.
Democracy Collaborative Executive Director Ted Howard talks to ICIC about how anchor institutions can play a key role in inclusive development in traditionally underserved communities.
Research Associates Dave Zuckerman and Sarah McKinley discussed impact metrics for anchor institutions at the Community-Campus Partnership for Health Conference along with David Perry of the University of Illinois, Chicago and Leif Elsmo of the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Democracy Collaborative co-founder Gar Alperovitz joined BALLE co-founder Michael Shuman in a conversation on how to build sustainable communities through inclusive local economic development.
Senior Research Associate Thomas Hanna and Andrew McLeod of Collective Seeds Consulting Cooperative guest edit Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO)’s blog series, Scaling-Up the Cooperative Movement. The series includes essays from The Democracy Collaborative’s Gar Alperovitz, Joe Guinan, and Thomas Hanna, as well as several co-op experts, including Hilary Abell author of Worker Cooperatives: Pathways to Scale.