Monday, December 29, 2008


Kwanzaa, which takes its name from the Swahili word matunda ya kwanza meaning “first-fruits”, was started in 1966 by Ron Karenga to "...give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." (Source: Wikipedia)

The holiday is divided into seven days in which each day represents one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The principle of Ujamaa, or “Cooperative Economics”, is celebrated on the fourth day of Kwanzaa and occurs on December 29th. According to the official Kwanzaa web site this principle means, “To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.” (Source: Official Kwanzaa Web Site.)

One of the early African-American advocates of cooperative economics was W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In 1888 he graduated from Frisk University and later received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895. As a professor at Atlanta University between 1897 and 1914 he published 16 research monographs; most notably the landmark sociological study “The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study”, which was the first of its kind. Du Bois’ extensive work helped to establish him as one of the pioneers in the study of African-American society.

Early on W.E.B. Du Bois found himself in conflict with Booker T Washington when he concluded that the only way African-Americans could achieve equality was through demanding it and through protest. Du Bois laid out in his opposition to Washington’s views in his landmark book “The Souls of Black Folk.” It was his book that established Washington and his supporters as “conservatives” while Du Bois and his supporters were labeled as “radicals.” History, of course, ultimately proved Du Bois right and Washington wrong.

In 1905 Du Bois was one of the prominent founders of the Niagara Movement, which helped lead to the establishment of the NAACP. In addition to the founding of the NAACP he edited the magazine The Crisis. Du Bois is also widely known for being a pioneer for the Pan-African movement. Plus, he’s known for his support of black literature and the recognition of “Beauty in Black” through his editing of The Crisis.

For Du Bois, cooperatives were the wave of the future for African-Americans. He was able to show that since the early days after the end of the Civil War cooperatives had played a major role in the economic survival of African-American communities. He used as an example the Dry Dock Cooperative and the African-American cooperatively-owned railroad in Wilmington, North Carolina. Du Bois recommended that African-Americans use these cooperative enterprises as models to develop an alternative economy to capitalism in which African-Americans would cooperatively own and operate their own enterprises.

While I disagree with some of his views that he held (later in life he advocated the Soviet model and gave up his US citizenship) Du Bois was without a doubt a great man and a great advocate of cooperative economics.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Health Care Crisis

The cost of health care has skyrocketed in the last few years. Americans spend more on health care than food. In fact, 16 percent of our GDP goes to health care (as of 2004). Compare this to 1960 in which it was only 5.2 percent. This is bad enough but it’s really severe if one doesn’t have health insurance. In America there are 46 million without health insurance. 8 million of those uninsured are children. Not having health insurance can be a death sentence if one becomes seriously ill. According to one study those individuals who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer were 70 percent more likely to die if they lacked health insurance than those who were covered.

Usually the debate over health care is presented as being between just two alternatives. One choice given is to leave the current system of private insurance and private providers essentially the same. Possibly add a safety net here or a tax deduction there but not do much else. The only alternative to the status quo is usually presented as the specter of “socialized medicine” with the entire medical system owned and operated by the Federal government. According to this scenario all doctors would become government employees while all private hospitals and clinics become government facilities.

But as my regular readers should expect I believe that there is a third way to solving this crisis. A major component of this third way alternative would be a single-payer health care system. According to the Physicians for a National Health Care Program (PNHCP), the “National Health Insurance Act” HR676, which is currently up before Congress, introduces a “publicly financed, privately delivered health care program that uses the already existing Medicare program by expanding and improving it to all U.S. residents, and all residents living in U.S. territories.” PNHCP states at their web site, “This program will cover all medically necessary services, including primary care, inpatient care, outpatient care, emergency care, prescription drugs, durable medical equipment, long term care, mental health services, dentistry, eye care, chiropractic, and substance abuse treatment. Patients have their choice of physicians, providers, hospitals, clinics, and practices.”

While HR 676 would be a great leap forward the business model of medical providers also needs to be changed. Rather than corporate ownership, medical facilities and clinics must be converted into non-profits institutions. Many should be community-owned while others should be established as non-profits.

In addition to removing corporations as medical providers there needs to be an end to Big Pharma. Unfortunately, how to change the way we create pharmaceuticals requires far more than this one post can address and will have to wait until another time.

It’s important to note that in such a health care system with single-payer insurance, non-profit and community-owned medical providers and a reformed pharmaceutical system there would still be private practitioners. Americans would still be able to choose their own doctors.

In a third way medical system the power over life and death of Americans would no longer be a commodity controlled by a corporate oligarchy nor would it power belong to the State. That power would rest where it belongs; with the American people.

To learn more about HR676 visit the RESULTS web site.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Baby You Can Drive My Car

The astronomer Fred Hoyle once wrote that “Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards.” Last week the auto industry executives went before Congress to tell them that there would likely not be any new Americans cars to go anywhere, much less to outer space, unless they were soon given billions of dollars in government loans.

The financial woes of the Big Three, and their request for aid, have sparked a national conversation as to what should be done to help the American auto industry. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what to do.

One choice is to do nothing at all. The classic capitalist mantra is that if these companies can’t survive in the jungle of the marketplace then they don’t deserve to exist. The graven idol of Smith’s Invisible Hand demands a blood sacrifice so what better one is there than the jobs of thousands of American auto workers.

Others take a more Keynesian and less Social Darwinist approach. They say that we should go ahead and give the auto industry the money they’re asking for. Those that support this position point out that when Chrysler was on the ropes in the late 70’s they were granted loans, which pulled them out of a similar tail spin. The government even made a profit by doing so. Though bailout advocates fail to explain why if it was such a success that this same company is in need of another bailout. The bailout advocates say that regardless of the Big Three’s poor track record and the high cost being requested, the massive loss of jobs if nothing is done would be too great with the economy in the midst of a recession, which might be heading into a depression, to handle.

What the media isn’t saying is that we aren’t limited to just these two choices. The acclaimed filmmaker Michael Moore has proposed an intriguing alternative. At his web site he recommends a three point plan. One element of his plan is that because transporting Americans is an important responsibility of the government the president along with Congress should direct the automakers, “to build only cars that are not primarily dependent on oil and, more importantly to build trains, buses, subways and light rail (a corresponding public works project across the country will build the rail lines and tracks).” The second element of Moore’s plan is for the government to buy all of the common shares of General Motors, which are worth only about $3 billion. The third element would be, rather than government officials running the auto industry, to hire the greatest minds of the transportation industry to develop a 21st century Marshall Plan that would, “switch us off oil-dependent vehicles.”

To read the details of Moore's proposal visit his web site:
Saving the Big Three for You and Me: A Message from Michael Moore

While I strongly endorse Moore’s plan I would add something to the third element of his proposal. After purchasing the stocks the government should turn the ownership and management of the enterprises over to the auto workers. In other words, GM and any others purchased should be reorganized as worker-owned cooperatives. It’s an established fact that employee-owned enterprises are more efficient than investor-owned firms, which would solve the American auto industry’s historic problems of quality and overhead. In addition, while cooperatives have a history of being more socially responsible than IOF’s the government could mandate that their cooperative bylaws include a clause that would require them to operate as a public trust. This would insure that they make socially responsible products such as Moore addressed in his three point plan.

We can solve the problem with the American auto industry. All it takes is the political will to do so.