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There Are Good Alternatives to US Capitalism, But No Way to Get There

Jerry Mander's new book explores the fatal flaws of the "obsolete" capitalist system and strategies for change.

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We could have better guarantees for workers’ rights and better public services for everyone—health, education, transportation, childcare, elder care. We could prevent corporations from abandoning local communities and moving to China. And we could establish a new, more realistic relationship with the natural world, one based on equality, mutual dependence, and the full acknowledgment of limits.

Mostpeoplewouldappreciatetheseinterventions.They’re all good. I’m sure they would make us a happier society. Maybe Americans would start voting again and eating less junk food while permitting the natural world a deserved breather and long-term protections. Only oligarchs and “free-market fundamentalists” would oppose them. Unfortunately, however, they are in charge.

Those and a hundred others ideas are all doable by relatively simple acts of Congress and the President. Many other modern countries— like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Iceland, and Japan—already enjoy many of those practices within their own versions of a kind of “hybrid” economics, an active collaboration of capitalist and socialist visions that most of these countries call “social democracy.” Of course, they have problems, too—some of them caused, actually, by U.S. deregulation of finance under Clinton and Bush II— but, according to friends in Europe and members of my own family who live in Scandinavia, as well as the statistics we cited in the last chapter, these countries are in far better shape than we are in terms of public satisfaction, economic balance, environmental awareness, levels of equality, quality of public discourse, freedom from ideological domination, willingness to adapt, and happiness.

Could Americans living in the world headquarters of laissez-faire capitalism do anything like that? Obviously, such changes could happen in the United States only if the powers that be were willing to allow them. They won’t. In the United States, ruled by the most ideologically rigid form of capitalism in the world, any level of government engagement, intervention, or partnership in anything but military adventures quickly gets labeled “socialist” or “communist.” It makes transformation very difficult.

Unless there is an astonishing shift in political realities, or a massive uprising many times larger than the Occupy movement, viable changes would be incremental and politically unlikely. With government and media owned and operated by the super-wealthy, we can’t expect much help from them. They don’t represent us.

So then. What we can do right now is start discussing and creating alternative pathways, so we know what we agree on and what direction to start walking in. Hopefully each new path will fill with walkers and lead to others. Critical mass is the goal.

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Published with permission from Jerry Mander. 

Co-Founder, International Forum on Globalization