The Economic Revolution Is Already Happening -- It's Just Not on Wall St.
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America is in the midst of a new revolution. But this revolution is quiet, incremental, nonviolent and traveling beneath the mainstream media's radar.
The new American revolution challenges the current notions of dog-eat-dog capitalism -- through the building of a parallel economic system that shares, co-operates, empowers and benefits fellow workers and community members.
Over the past few decades, thousands of alternatives to the standard, top-down corporate model have sprouted up -- worker-owned companies and co-operatives, neighborhood corporations and trusts, community-owned technology centers and municipally owned enterprises.
In fact, today, involvement in these alternative models of business outnumber union membership as the means by which private-sector workers and community members are taking their economics into their own hands. The story is revealed in the 4-year-old book, America Beyond Capitalism, written by University of Maryland political science professor Gar Alperovitz.
Maria Armoudian : How big is this economic movement in the United States?
Gar Alperovitz: It's a huge development. But the president doesn't cover it, and the press, on the surface, is not aware of it.
At the grassroots level, there is a lot of activity that is changing the ownership of wealth and making it benefit neighborhoods, workers, cities and communities, at large. There are 11,000 worker-owned companies in the United States, and more people involved in them than are members of unions in the private sector. There are also 120 million Americans who are members of co-operatives -- a huge number, about a third of the population.
About 20 percent or 22 percent of our energy is done under public utilities of one kind or another. There are another 4,000 or 5,000 neighborhood corporations, in which neighborhoods own productive wealth to benefit the neighborhood. Much of that is related to housing and land development, but also stores, businesses and factories.
One estimate is that there are 4,500 of these. One, called Newark New Communities, does several million dollars a year in business and pours profits back into helping service the neighborhood -- health care and nutrition, education and jobs. So when you really begin to take the lid off of what is emerging in society, there are many forms of decentralized public ownership, social ownership or democratized wealth.
MA: Are there also new developments on the municipal level?
GA: Yes, because of fiscal crises, many cities, even under Republican mayors, are putting cities into enterprises. It was once called municipal socialism, but Republicans call it the "enterprising city," and it includes development of [municipally owned] cable television, Internet services, land and hotels.
Many cities are capturing methane from garbage areas and using it to produce electricity, create jobs and make money. They're dealing with greenhouse gases as an enterprise.
On a larger, regional scale, the Tennessee Valley Authority is a gigantic, ecological operation that controls the river systems and is an energy system. On the state level, Alaska derives a great deal of money from its energy resources, oil. It captures the profits and pays dividends to every Alaskan as a right. In the year 2000, every person in Alaska, as a legal right, received $2,000 [through this process]. So a family of five [together receive] $10,000.
MA: Worker-owned cooperative seem to be the most progressive and democratic models. They're usually nonprofit with profit circulating back to workers and communities, and they practice democracy in the workplace -- one person, one vote. How would you compare this model with other models?
GA: The one-person-one-vote worker co-operatives in the United States are the most democratic, advanced and ideal. But they number at about 500 maximum, maybe 1,000. These co-ops are on the cutting edge of the democratization process and where the learning will be taking place for the rest of the movements. People are experimenting with full democracy and full equality.