America Beyond Capitalism: the Pluralist Commonwealth

notes on Alperovitz, Gar. “America Beyond Capitalism: The Pluralist Commonwealth.” [this was a slightly longer version of another essay, notes on which can be found here. I didn’t repeat myself here, so these two posts should be read in tandem]

The most progressive social-democratic proposals based on European precedents are unlikely to be achieved in  more than marginal ways in the United States.

What is actually happening ‘on the ground’ in a number of key areas involves the build-up of a mosaic of entirely different institutions that suggest the direction of new answers — and further, a process which at this stage of development is both peaceful and evolutionary.

At the heart of the emerging model is the principle that ownership of the nation’s wealth must ultimately be shifted, institutionally, to benefit the vast majority.

Pluralist commonwealth: social/common ownership which will “nurture greater diversity, decentralization, and democratic control of crucial economic institutions and processes.

Key locally-based institutions: employee-owned firms, co-ops, neighborhood-owned corporations, a wide range of municipal and social enterprises.

Most important are enterprises that are practical, anchored locally and which either alter inequality directly or use profits for public or quasi-public purposes.

There already exists a practical basis for this kind of sector:

Worker-owned firms:

  • About 10,000 American businesses, comprising about 11.2 million workers
  • Appleton Co., Reflexite, W.L. Gore (maker of Gore-Tex)
  • 300-500 of these are worker co-ops, but most are organized through ESOPs
  • 40% of those ESOP corps. pass voting rights through to plan participants, but this percentage has been rising steadily since the 1980s.

Municipal Enterprises:

  • Land development – like Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which brings in so much more money for the city than just property tax revenues would have
  • Internet and related services – as municipally owned and offered utilities
  • Venture capital investments – owning stock in businesses that benefit the city economy
  • Municipally owned sports teams
  • Health services, environmental management.

Neighborhoods and Nonprofits

  • A Community Development Corporation (CDC) “combines the community-serving mission of a nonprofit organization with the wealth-building and ownership capacities of an economic enterprise.”
  • 4,600 CDCs have been formed since the 1960s
  • Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in Brooklyn and New Community Corporation in Newark are both leading CDCs.

State and National Innovators

  • State-owned Bank of North Dakota, Wisconsin State Life Insurance Fund
  • Maryland’s Enterprise Investment Fund “provides promising high-tech startups with capital in exchange for equity shares for the state and a guarantee that the firm will continue to operate in Maryland for at least five years.”
  • Federally — public ownership of stock in corporations
  • Federal, state, and municipal private employee retirement system boards.
  • CalPERS directly invests in state’s economy, enforces transparency and environmental standards

Though they have progressive, redistributive and community building impact, at the local level they are rarely divisive.

The fiscal crisis on the one hand, and globalization on the other, are forcing ever-greater attention to neighborhood, municipal and other forms of enterprise which produce income flows for services — and to employee-owned firms and other institutions which anchor jobs in local communities threatened by global trade disruption.

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