Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Gar Alperovitz suggests in the wake of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century that it's long past time to reconsider who controls capital - and make a concerted effort to democratize that control:
The name of the game — Piketty’s book fairly screams it — is capital: who gets to own it, benefit from it and derive political power from it. Accordingly, it may be of some interest to note that in significant part because of the pain and failure of our current reality, many of those local laboratories of democracy are, in fact, exploring new (and sometimes old) ways to own capital and are seeking to democratize it.

Take participatory ownership. Even as union membership has trended steadily downward, for instance, the number of people involved in worker-owned firms has increased, from 250,000 in 1975 to about 11 million working in more than 11,000 firms today. Add to this approximately 130 million Americans who are members of some form of co-op, another type of democratized ownership; this number is increasing daily just beneath the surface of what our hollowed-out local newspapers are able to report on. Credit unions — member-owned one-person, one-vote banks — control more than $1.1 trillion in assets, as much as those of some of Wall Street’s largest financial institutions.

New ways for capital to be owned broadly by the people — or, again, democratized — are also beginning to show up in city and state politics. Boulder, Colorado, for instance, is in the process of municipalizing its electric utility, what one might call localized nationalization. The city council of Richmond, California, recently voted in favor of the mayor’s plan to utilize eminent domain powers to prevent foreclosures by taking over housing from banks if a major fight over mortgages is not settled in a reasonable way. In recent years, some 20 states have had legislation introduced to establish state banks similar to the one that has been operating successfully in North Dakota for almost 100 years. Land trusts — public or nonprofit ownership of land to benefit the community in diverse ways — have increased from a mere handful three decades ago to more than 250 now operating in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

No one believes these experiments in democratic ownership are at this stage going to alter how capital is owned to deal sufficiently with Piketty’s big trends. On the other hand, powerful forces are driving the new developments — namely, growing social and economic pain and a sense that none of the old ways work.
- And Jared Bernstein and Matt Bruenig make the case for wealth taxes in particular to counter inequality (while likely leading to a more productive economy to boot).

- Thomas Walkom notes that the Cons are trying to take credit for radically changing the temporary foreign worker program when they're really doing little more than changing the titles applied to disposable workers. Bill Curry reports that Jason Kenney wants to preserve low-wage temporary worker streams at least past the next federal election - signalling the Cons' interest in avoiding answering for their efforts to drive wages down. And while Murray Mandryk is far too willing to buy the Cons' spin, he's absolutely right to point out the gall of the Saskatchewan Party in demanding that employers be handed cheap workers rather than paying market wages.

- Trish Hennessy suggests that Kathleen Wynne should use a majority government as an opportunity to eliminate Harris-era anti-tax legislation. And the CP introduces one of the next right-wing strategies to demand a response, as the Cons have assembled a panel to attack Canada's health care system at public expense.

- Finally, Mychaylo Prystupa reports that Kinder Morgan's idea of environmental responsibility is to recycle oil spill response plans which were rejected as ill-founded by the EPA - though there's no indication yet that a National Energy Board more interested in boosting oil shipments at all costs than looking at the merits of an application will take note of the faulty assumptions.


  1. Hi Greg. If you haven't read it, I'd recommend Alperovitz' "What Then Must We Do" in which he discusses at length democratized ownership. He contends that this transfer of means of production from the financial or 'rentier' sector to workers is not only viable and desirable but inevitable. I found his theory quite persuasive.

    1. Thanks for the heads-up - obviously the article starts with that theme, but I'll certainly be interested to see it fleshed out.

  2. Askingtherightquestions8:48 p.m.

    That is a scary announcement from Ambrose, Greg! Note the TWO members from the Calgary School! I really did not think that Harper would have the cohones to tackle health care with the upcoming election and all his dilbit problems.

    1. As much as it would be nice for the Cons to leave health care alone (other than reducing the federal share of its cost which is problematic enough), I'm not too surprised that Harper wants to have some talking point about current action. But the less the panel actually does, the better - meaning that the best-case scenario is now probably a report that gets ignored.