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Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution

A breath of fresh thinking on what's wrong with our political and economic systems and how to transform them.

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• State socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was structured around state ownership of productive wealth.

• Corporate capitalism has so far come in three broad flavors:

1. Fairly pure corporate domination of the kind that emerged in the late nineteenth century in this country—and to which the trends may now be pointing again unless a different path forward is developed (the end point of which could be a corporate state).

2. “Managed corporate capitalism” balanced by labor of the kind common in many European nations (with union strength, as in Sweden, sometimes more than double our own) and, to a much lesser degree, the system mainly operating in the United States circa 1945–80.

3. Fascism—corporate capitalism managed by authoritarian rule of the kind that existed in Germany, Italy, and Spain during the 1930s and 1940s and (in different form) among some Latin American dictatorships until recently.

• Socialism with Chinese characteristics has so far been an odd mix of corporate ownership plus state ownership, with authoritarian rule.

Once again, a reminder and a basic point to keep in mind about the above: The most recent estimate is that a mere 400 individuals in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 180 million Americans taken together—a degree of wealth concentration that is accurately, not rhetorically, properly designated medieval.1

Since political power in large part seems to go along, one way or another, with economic power, this particular number (along with the corporations that such wealth concentration also controls) is obviously something to keep your eye on.

The first system question to struggle with—if you don’t happen to like any of the above—is whether there might be an alternative, even in theory.

The second question is whether there might be a path from here to there even if we knew where “there” was.

Both questions, in turn, lead to two additional questions.

Are there any ways to begin to conceive of a different system that might truly democratize the ownership of wealth in some way that points in the direction of a democratic system in general? (Especially since in different systems political power seems inevitably related, directly or indirectly, to a greater or lesser degree, to wealth?)

And are there any processes at work that might begin to move us in a new direction, even over long periods of time?

Those are the (first) big questions, and wer're going to take them in steps.

Gar Alperovitz is the Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and the co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative. His new book, What Then Must We Do? has just been published by Chelsea Green.