My new book, What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution is beginning to hit bookstore shelves, and should be available to ship online next week. In the meantime, here’s an interview with Laura Flanders exploring the themes of the book:
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Social pain, anger at ecological degradation and the inability of traditional politics to address deep economic failings has fueled an extraordinary amount of practical on-the-ground institutional experimentation and innovation by activists, economists and socially minded business leaders in communities around the country.
A vast democratized “new economy” is slowly emerging throughout the United States. The general public, however, knows almost nothing about it because the American press simply does not cover the developing institutions and strategies.
For instance, a sample assessment of coverage between January and November of 2012 by the most widely circulated newspaper in the United States , the Wall Street Journal, found ten times more references to caviar than to employee-owned firms, a growing sector of the economy that involves more than $800 billion in assets and 10 million employee-owners — around three million more individuals than are members of unions in the private sector.
Worker ownership — the most common form of which involves ESOPs, or Employee Stock Ownership Plans — was mentioned in a mere five articles. By contrast, over 60 articles referred to equestrian activities like horse racing, and golf clubs appeared in 132 pieces over the same period.
Although 2012 was designated by the United Nations as the International Year of the Cooperative — an institution that now has more than one billion members worldwide — the Journal‘s coverage was similarly thin. More than 120 million Americans are members of co-operatives and cooperative credit unions, 30 million more people than are owners of mutual funds. The Journal, however, devoted some 700 articles to mutual funds between January and October and only 183 to cooperatives. Of these the majority were concerned with high-end New York real estate, with headlines like “Pricey Co-ops Find Buyers.”
The vast number of cooperative businesses on Main Streets across the country were discussed in just 70 articles and a mere 14 gave co-op businesses more than passing mention. Together, the articles only narrowly outnumbered the 13 Journal pieces that mentioned the Dom Pérignon brand of champagne over the same time frame, and were eclipsed by the 40 Journal entries that refer to the French delicacy foie gras.
Another democratized economic institution is the not-for-profit Community Development Corporation (CDC), roughly 4,500 of which operate in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Such neighborhood corporations create tens of thousands of units of affordable housing and millions of square feet of commercial and industrial space a year. The Journal ran no articles mentioning CDCs in 2012 and only 43 over the past 28 years — less than two a year. Meanwhile, the word château appeared in 30 times as many articles, and luxury apartments received 300 times as much coverage over the same period.
In this interview, Shareable publisher and editor Neal Gorenflo and P2P Foundation’s Michel Bauwens chat with Gar Alperovitz, the Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative.
NG: In your book, America Beyond Capitalism, you say that 120 million Americans are involved in citizen-controlled cooperatives and credit unions, and that there are 11,000 worker owned companies in the United States. This paints a totally different picture of Americans today than seems to be popularly understood – that ordinary Americans are helpless in the face of corporate and government power. Why are Americans so blind to their own economic power? But on the other hand, are you sure that this actually the case, have some of these older organisations lost their original spirit?
GA: I spend a great deal of time asking, “Is there anything that the major media—which greatly shape Americans’ worldviews and perceptions—aren’t covering?” I try to learn what’s out there, and I’ve been doing it for longer than I care to remember. What I’ve found out is exactly what you describe—an astonishing number of developments that the press doesn’t cover, either for lack of interest or funding for on-the-ground reporting. Read the rest of this entry →