Sunday, December 20, 2009


Senate Democrats Friday reported that they finally have the 60 votes needed to pass health care legislation. But is it really health care reform? Does the Senate bill really put the fear of God in the health care industry? The simple answer is no.

We can debate this aspect or that aspect of the bill but an important indicator is to see who likes it. On Meet the Press today (12/20/09) both Vermont Governor Howard Dean and Joe Scarborough, a previous Congressman and currently the morning host on MSNBC, pointed out that "insurance companies' stocks reached a 52-year high on Friday after this so called reform bill got its 60th vote."

The actions of the shareholders tell us all that we really need to know about the Senate bill. Scarborough described it well when he said on the same show concerning President Obama, "He has made a lot of people with insurance stock a lot richer."

The Senate bill doesn’t reform the health industry but instead uses the power of the State to support the shareholders of the insurance corporations. In other words, it’s business as usual in Washington, D.C.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


"The offspring of riches: Pride, vanity, ostentation, arrogance, tyranny" ~ Mark Twain

On November 27th, 2009 the Los Angeles Times ran an excellent Op-Ed piece by Steve Salerno titled, “Can America afford the 'vanity tax'?” Salerno wrote about how he had a found a pendant for the price of $1,195 at a jewelry store in a shopping center and then a very similar one at Wal-Mart for just $39. While he never explains what the hell was he was doing at Wal-Mart in the article he does a very good job of exploring something he calls the “vanity tax.”

According to Salerno a “vanity tax” is “the difference between what a thing needs to cost (to fulfill a given function) and what it ends up costing (after being artificially inflated by imperatives besides function).” This vanity tax isn’t simply an extra cost tacked on for a better product. In fact, the more expensive item is often worse than the less costly. As he states in his article, “It costs more to own a shoe that does a worse job of doing what a shoe is supposed to do.”

While it’s a great article it fails to explain why this “bastardization of value” exists. To understand this phenomenon one needs to understand the role the market plays in modern capitalism.

As I’ve explained previously the market for goods and services was the world’s first market, appearing shortly after the advent of agriculture. And it’s through this market today that we acquire everything from food to cars to yachts. In fact it’s nearly impossible to survive in modern Western society without buying goods or services from the market. But in modern capitalism the market does much more. Rather than simply providing a mechanism to delivers goods and services or the Darwinian effect of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” the retail market in a modern capitalist system functions, in conjunction with other markets, as a mechanism to distribute wealth to the capitalist class, often in the form of dividends from profits or increased value of stock.

With this knowledge we can see the origin of the vanity tax. The modern capitalist system creates a false need in consumers to purchase items with artificially inflated prices, a “vanity tax” as Salerno calls it, which thereby increases the amount of wealth distributed to the capitalists via the markets.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Main Street v. Wall Street

The November 9th, 2009 issue of Time magazine had an interesting cover which read, “Why Main Street Hates Wall Street.” While there were several interesting articles and commentaries in that issue it’s the cover article that I want to write about.

Before discussing the article though I would like to comment briefly about the cover. The term “hate” really bothers me. In my opinion, we should be angry, frustrated and disgusted with Wall Street. But I would discourage “hating.” When we hate then far too often we forget that the target of our hatred is often times a human being, who then becomes ‘The Other.’ As a result we may begin down a path that ultimately ends in violence. Let us be angry but let us not hate.

Now, back to the subject at hand, the Time magazine article written by Allan Sloan which is actually titled “What’s Still Wrong with Wall Street.” There’s a lot of good that can be said about the article. It starts out with a very good analysis of what led up to the crash, such as the actions of AIG and Citibank. It then dives into the post-crash events in which these fat cats were bailed out by the feds. Sloan also centers his fire on those same execs that won’t have to face justice for swindling so many people and destroying so many lives. The article wraps up with some recommendations on fixing the system.

I have only two real criticisms of the article but I think these are important. My first critique is that it fails to point the blame where it belongs, which is the capitalist system itself. Instead, the article states that the failure was not enough regulations on the financial industry. This mistaken assumption leads to the second criticism, which is that the recommended solutions consist of simply more regulation and a warning not to blindly trust Wall Street.

Progressives need to drop these constant calls to save capitalism. These repeated statements that capitalism can be saved are starting to resemble the plot from “Weekend at Bernie’s.” Let’s just go ahead and acknowledge the demise of capitalism so that we can move on to a better system.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” - Jesus of Nazareth

If you listen to capitalists and their apologists they claim to be the voice of reason while, according to them, those of us on the Left run on passion. But actually it’s the capitalists, especially the current breed who’s been in vogue for the last few decades, who are the ones running on faith.

In his most recent book, No Rising Tide, Joerg Rieger explains that there are several tenants to this bizarre capitalist religion and they are built on blind faith. No amount of rational proof will sway the capitalist from these tenants. According to Rieger those tenants are:

• Economic deregulation always promotes growth,
• Tax cuts for powerful corporations and the wealthy always spur the economy,
• Wealth gathered at the top inevitably trickles down, and
• A rising tide will lift all boats.

The comedian Stephen Colbert hit the nail on the head when he coined the term “Moneytheism” to describe this twisted religion. One must wonder how much longer before people finally wake up and realize that they’ve been duped by false prophets all of this time?

I’ve been lucky to have heard Joerg Rieger speak on several occasions and I highly recommend his new book, No Rising Tide.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Silver Screen

There already exists many reviews of Michael Moore’s new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story. I would echo the various reviewers who have said that this may be his best movie yet. But what's lost in all of these reviews is that this is more than just a good movie.

In his new movie Moore does the one thing no other popular commentator has been willing to do. He’s willing to go on record and call capitalism an evil that has to be replaced. Most will critique and criticize but then they wimp out saying, “But I still support capitalism.” Moore instead steps up to the plate and tells it like it is.

If that wasn’t enough Moore goes one important step further. At one point in the movie he shows a possible alternative to the corporation. And what do we see? He visits two worker-owned cooperatives!

Finally, Moore ends the movie with a call for the viewer to join him in replacing capitalism with a more just system. Amazingly this call seems to be resonating with the audience for at the showing that I attended half of the theater broke out in applause at the movie’s end.

Some criticize Moore for taking liberties with the facts. Admittedly there are times when the critics are right. In the movie he strongly criticizes the bail out yet all evidence points that this Keynesian action may have indeed pulled the economy out of a nose dive.

Yet Moore provides the style and emotion needed to transmit our message via the mass media. With Capitalism: A Love Story Michael Moore has taken a stand and has joined the call for an economic democracy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Olbermann on Health Care

There’s a distinct possibility that most of my readers are already aware of this but just on the off chance that some aren’t I thought I would write about it. Most know that one of Keith Olbermann’s claims to fame is his occasional “Special Comment,” which is usually just a few minutes long. Recently, Keith Olbermann gave another Special Comment but this one was very different than his previous. Olbermann’s most recent Special Comment was an hour long commentary on health care in which he destroyed the false arguments against the public option and presented numerous powerful arguments for the need for universal health care.

This Special Comment is one of his best as well as one of his most important. I highly recommend it to both those who support health care reform and to those who oppose it.

MSNBC will replay this Special Comment on October 16th at 8:00 PM ET. It can also be viewed at the MSNBC web site.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I apologize but due to circumstance beyond my control this week’s blog will be delayed until Friday, October 16th.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


"Now, if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices." President Barack Obama, September 9, 2009, Remarks by the President to a Joint Session of Congress on Health Care.

So here we are at the beginning of autumn and Congress has yet to pass health care reform. To make matters worse the legislation that we’ve been given is the Baucus Bill. While there are numerous problems with the bill I want to center on only two elements: weak, poorly funded health care cooperatives and the lack of a public option.

First, the problems with the provisions relating to health care cooperatives. While I strongly support their creation, which I’ve mentioned previously, the details in this bill will handicap the new co-ops. According to the bill the start-up capital would only be $6 billion, which would be spread among the new co-ops. That’s far too little investment to create the type of co-ops that can challenge the private insurers. Add to this the co-ops will be limited in their scope. Ezra Klein with the Washington Post reports that rather than being able to contract with large employers the co-ops would be limited to contracting only with "small groups and individual markets." Another major flaw in the cooperative provision is that it fails to give the co-ops special pricing power. While they can band together to increase their purchasing power they’re restricted from setting national payment rates. To challenge the big boys these co-ops need this power. As Klein put it, "The insurance industry is, in other words, being protected from not just public competition, but co-op competition." Finally, even if the above flaws are fixed there needs to be a restriction placed on these co-ops that would prevent them from some day demutualizing into private corporations as some co-ops have done in the past.

Second, the Baucus Bill lacks a public option. The poorly funded co-ops, as they would be set up by the Baucus Bill, simply would not be able to reign in the abuses of the private insurers. If we’re not going to properly fund and empower the co-ops where that they’re able to challenge the private insurance companies then why not create a strong public option that could have a real effect on the private insurers?

Let me make my position clear. It’s my belief that quality, affordable health care is a fundamental human right. A sure way to guarantee this right would be through a Single-Payer system operating within a network of private practitioners and community-based, non-profit clinics/ hospitals. But we know that no matter what legislation comes out of Congress this year it will not include this. So whatever legislation that we do get must have the ability to restrict the power of the private insurers and to provide access to quality health care to those who currently don’t. This means that we need legislation that includes either a strong public option or well-funded and powerful health-care cooperatives.

One last comment. I can’t help but wonder why couldn’t a bill include both a strong public option and well-funded, powerful co-ops? What would prevent such a combination? The President said that this legislation will include "quality, affordable choices." Then I say that Congress should give the American people exactly that. Give us the ability to choose either well-funded co-ops with real power or a strong public insurance.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Faith and Economic Democracy

Back in July of this year Bill Moyers sat down with three leading theologians on his PBS show to discuss the role of faith and social justice. One of his guests was Gary Dorrien, who is the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion at Columbia University. He’s the author of 13 books and numerous articles. As I mentioned in a prior post Professor Dorrien is also a strong advocate of economic democracy.

In the Bill Moyers production Dorrien stated,
“That's why I'm for economic democracy, because I think that economic democracy is essentially an attempt to sort of hold down, serve as a kind of a break on human greed and will to power, which are virtually universal, so I'm not talking about anything that requires some kind of idealistic idea about human nature, or what we're capable of, or the like. My main argument for it is the same that Niebuhr, that Reinhold Niebuhr had about democracy. You know, the human capacity for goodness makes democracy possible, but it's precisely the human capacity for evil that makes democracy utterly necessary. There are two sort of fundamental stories or ideas about a just society, what it could be, that have been operative in US American history virtually from the beginning, and that are always there. And that one is the idea of providing unrestricted liberty to acquire wealth.

And there's a politics that goes with that. You want to hold down government. You want to hold - even democracy is not really necessarily a good word, in that conception. And then in the other idea, it's that you want to attain as much through a democracy as you can, over society's major institutions.

You can interpret virtually every decade of U.S. American history by the way these two different sort of conceptions of what a just society would be, end up conflicting with each other, sometimes modifying each other, sometimes changing each other.”

I highly recommend to this episode. You can download the episode’s transcript as well as view the show at the PBS web site.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bad Attitude

“Every hero was once, every villain was once just a boy with a bad attitude.” ~ Meatloaf

Blogs like mine tend to be rather academic. I write about cooperatives and social investment. I post concerns about the existential effects of capital and globalization. While there’s a need for such talk (I wouldn’t keep writing this blog if I didn’t think it was needed) sometimes it seems rather cold and maybe even a little elitist. To use a term I heard as a boy one might call it “highfaluting.” What the discussion needs at times is a little attitude. Or maybe I should say what’s needed is someone with a bad attitude.

I’ve found a group that’s more than happy to provide exactly that.

The Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project exists to coordinate various groups whose goals are to protest the upcoming G-20 Summit that will take place September 24-25 in Pittsburgh, PA. According to the PG20RP web site their goal is to, “deepen ongoing social resistance locally, to demonstrate and build new and existing alternatives to the worldview represented by the G20 and the direct policies it promotes, and to disrupt the summit and undermine its attempts to gain legitimacy.”

Many of the events of the PG20RP are expected to be peaceful. On September 22 there will be an “Anti-G20 Community Gathering” that will consist of food and entertainment designed to spread the message of the dangers of globalization. While on the 23rd there will be a peaceful protest including a “Red and Black contingent,” which according to the site would “not be masked.”

After that it promises to get a lot more interesting. On the 24th there will be the “March on the G20” in which the site advises of the possibility of “direct actions” and that there would be ways made available to those who didn’t want to participate but want to show “solidarity with those do.” On the 25th the protests will continue and conclude at the local jail in a show of support to those who are arrested during the protests.

It’s very important that I stress here that I strongly oppose the use of violence, which many times occur at these protests. But I do have to say that I like the energy and passion that groups such as those associated with the PG20RP bring to the process. When these groups channel their efforts into non-violent direct action (such as marches, strikes and sit-ins) they can play a positive role in the creation of a more just system.

Sometimes it’s good to have a bad attitude.

What can you do?
* Post this promotion (Click Here) to your web site. (Warning: this flyer includes the use of the “F-Word.”)
* Link to the PG20RP from your site or blog: Link to PG20RP
* Organize a non-violent group to participate with the PG20RP events in Pittsburgh.
* Provide medical support to the participants. To learn how you can provide aid Click Here

Monday, August 17, 2009

Polly Want a Dividend?

Many of you might have already heard this story. Keith Olbermann included it one night in his program and several news outlets have carried it. AFP reported that a Korean researcher has compared the performance of a parrot by the name of Ddalgi, which translates as “strawberry,” with the performance of ten investors in choosing stocks to invest in. The human investors had free reign to pick any stocks they wanted while Ddalgi would use her beak to randomly pick blue balls that each represented a major corporation. Each investor started out with 60 million imaginary Won (which is the equivalent of $48,380).

The results were that Ddalgi beat all but two of the investors hands down. One human had a return of 64.4% and another human investor had a return of 21.4%. Ddalgi, because of simple random chance, came in third with a return of 13.7% from her investments. The other investors performed so poorly that the humans overall averaged a loss of 4.6%.

One might be inclined to assume that the reason that most of the humans performed so poorly compared to the parrot was that the researchers had the bad luck of picking some really bad investors to participate. But this was not the first study to show an illogic to the financial system.

Numerous studies have shown that the weather affects the volatility of the stock market. One such study was done by the Kurtz Chair in Finance at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, David Hirshleifer, along with Tyler Shumway, assistant professor of finance at the University of Michigan. In this study they compared the daily returns of the leading stock exchange in 26 countries over a 15-year period starting from 1982 until 1997 with the average cloud cover for those cities using data from the US government.

What they found was that when the weather was sunnier in those cities the stock market returns were higher. When the weather was cloudy the returns were lower. When they combined all of the cities data together the result was even a greater collation between weather and returns than it was when each city was taken individually.

So what can we learn from the parrot Ddalgi and the various weather studies? The lesson is that the claim that private investment is logical and that it’s necessary for efficient production is a myth. Private investment is nothing but a mechanism by which capitalists retain control over the means of production and redistributes wealth from the workers to themselves.

It’s time to replace private investment with social investment.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Health Care Cooperatives

Since I last wrote about the health care crisis the topic has moved front and center in Washington. At this time there are several proposals on the table. The House Democrats had proposed a public plan involving insurance exchanges that would be run by the secretary of Health and Human Services that, by last Wednesday, was watered down to nothing but negotiating with insurance companies. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee of the Senate, along with President Obama, instead support legislation that would establish a public plan that would compete with private health insurers. The Republicans are proposing, well, nothing. All they’ve done is put out a vague outline with no details. Rather than providing something positive the Republicans spend most of their time on hate-radio trying to scare people with “socialized medicine.” A real solution such as the single-payer option, much less cooperatively-owned and non-profit hospitals/ clinics that I had previously endorsed, is nowhere among the choices.

But something exciting and new has recently been placed on the table.

A group of six Senators on the Finance Committee, which includes the highly controversial chairman of the finance committee Sen. Max Baucus (D – Montana), are proposing legislation that would establish non-profit consumer health care cooperatives as a solution to the health care crisis. These consumer cooperatives would receive “seed money” to start but would then be expected to be self-sustaining.

Let that sink in for just a moment. Government provided social investment (i.e. “seed money”) would be used to establish non-profit cooperatives. Sound familiar?

Originally proposed by Sen. Senator Kent Conrad (D – North Dakota) the proposal has started to gain steam in Congress. Reuters is predicting that it will ultimately be part of the health care package.

Of course it might not become law. Yet even if it doesn’t the fact that this discussion is taking place is wonderful for economic democracy. Reuters has already done a Q&A on Co-ops due to this. Newspaper articles have been written on this proposal. NPR has run several radio articles on the subject including one that was very positive.

One can’t help but daydream at times like these. What seeds are being sown by this proposal? What if health cooperatives based on social investment become a reality? People just might wake up one day, look around and ask, “Why aren’t all private-insurance companies organized as cooperatives using social investment?” Then there may a come a day when that people might ask, “Since socially funded insurance cooperatives work so well why isn’t the corporation that I work for also a cooperative using social investment?” When the day arrives that people ask that last question then the dream of economic democracy will become a reality.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Schweickart Interview

Rather than a full blown posting I'd like to post this link to a phone interview with David Schweickart by Tikkun magazine that took place on June 2nd, 2009. It’s a fascinating interview, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in Economic Democracy. You can hear it at the Tikkun web site.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Edward Carpenter

I thought I would post a brief biography of one of the most colorful and interesting advocates of cooperative economics in history: Edward Carpenter.

Carpenter was born on 8/29/1844 in Brighton, England. He was one of ten children raised in a middle-class family. Unlike the rest of his brothers, who all went into the military, Carpenter entered Cambridge in 1864 to start a career in academics. Carpenter excelled in studies and by 1867 had become a fellow of Trinity Hall.

A watershed moment for Carpenter was when he read the poems by Walt Whitman “Leaves of Grass.” Whitman’s socialist writings had a profound effect on Carpenter who, in 1873, decided he needed to leave his comfortable life and to join “the mass of the people and the manual workers.” He then stepped down from Cambridge and started working with the University Extension, which involved a travelling circuit concerning lectures on scientific matters. But Carpenter eventually tired of this and moved on.

After inheriting his parent’s wealth in 1883 he bought a home in Millthorpe near Sheffield. Carpenter lived at Millthorpe for forty years and developed his philosophy of a “simplification of life”. In that same year Carpenter published his landmark poem cycle “Towards Democracy” in which he moved beyond simple working class support, to openly working for socialist and co-operative causes.

Though Carpenter joined the Labour Party he later sided with William Morris and changed allegiances to the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1884. Carpenter leaned towards Anarchism more than Marxism in his socialism and supported the philosophical leanings of the SDF.

Though he was thought of as a crank by many at the time, Carpenter’s “simplification of life” philosophy would shock few people today. Carpenter advocated to reduce air pollution, opposed vivisection and was a vegetarian. In addition, he advocated the making and wearing of sandals, which was a fashion shock at that time. All of those today are considered mainstream. Even his advocacy of nudism isn’t shocking in a post-Woodstock era. Of everything it was the fact of Carpenter’s sexual orientation that shocked the Victorian world the most.

Though he first had a romantic relationship with a man at Cambridge it was after he moved into Millthorpe that he openly expressed his homosexuality. For a while he had a relationship with George Adams but later George Merrill moved in. From then on Merrill and Carpenter were lifelong partners until Merrill died in 1928 and Carpenter passed away in 1929.

Carpenter wrote numerous poems and books. Concerning homosexuality he wrote “Homogenic Love”, “Intermediate Sex”, and the “Intermediate Type among Primitive Folk.” But what he’s most famous for was the socialist hymn, “England Arise!” and of course for his support of the co-operative movement.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Now there’s a word you don’t hear every day. Steampunk is a growing cultural phenomenon with different meanings depending on who you listen to. In a New York Times article the owner of the Steampunk Workshop Jake von Slatt was quoted as saying that, “To me, it’s essentially the intersection of technology and romance.” Bruce Sterling, the author of the definitive Steampunk novel The Difference Engine, agrees that there is a romantic element to it. In the current issue of Steampunk Magazine he estimates that as much as 90% of the participants are primarily interested in dressing up in pseudo-Victorian clothing and reading sci-fi novels such as those by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells as well as contemporary authors. But he says that there’s more to Steampunk. According to Sterling the other 10% of the phenomenon is a "counterculture arts and crafts movement in a 21st century guise" in which this minority fraction have a "determination to take the means of production away from big, mind-deadening companies who want to package and sell shrink-wrapped cultural product."

To understand this minority within Steampunk requires that one understands the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century. The goal of the Arts and Crafts Movement was essentially to humanize the means of production. They had seen how the industrial process, especially the division of labor, in the hands of capitalism had turned men and women into machines and presented a threat to the continued existence of the craftsman.

It’s Sterling’s opinion that the proposals of John Ruskin, the founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement, specifically his opposition to Industry, were unrealistic. Attempts to use his work or the others in the Movement as a guide for real world production are doomed to failure, according to Sterling.

I would agree that there were some elements that weren’t realistic within the Movement. Certainly the strong opposition by some to the division of labor was misplaced. That being said the Arts and Crafts Movement did have elements that were very good and need to be remembered.

Rather than focus on Ruskin it’s better to look to the leading voice of the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris. According to E.P. Thompson in a speech to the William Morris Society in 1959 Morris,

"…had no time for noble savages, and even less for the Fabian nostrum of State bureaucracy. No amount of mechanical manipulation from above could engender the ethic of community; ‘individual men’ (he said) ‘cannot shuffle off the business of life onto the shoulders of an abstraction called the State.’ Contrary to the prevalent opinion, Morris welcomed all machinery which reduced the pain and drudgery of labour; but decentralisation both of production and of administration he believed essential. In True Society, the unit of administration must be small enough for every citizen to feel a personal responsibility."

With this information we can now see that many in the 10% “troublesome” (using Sterling’s words) fraction of the Steampunk phenomenon, being the spirit of the Arts and Crafts Movement, are therefore also in keeping with the spirit of Economic Democracy.

So feel free to dress up in romanticized Victorian garb and don’t stop reading those stories of great airships, analytical engines, and fantasy adventures. Go ahead and dream of a world built on brass, steel and steam. But at the same time don’t forget the artisans and craftsmen who provide the subversive element to Steampunk.

Monday, June 8, 2009

We Got It ... Now What?

Congratulations! You and I are now the proud new owners of one of the great classic American institutions: General Motors. Or as some wags have started calling it: Government Motors. Of course this doesn’t mean we can just stroll into one of the remaining GM dealers and just drive off with some of the inventory without paying for it. But it does raise the question of where to go from here. Or more precisely, “What should the Obama administration do with General Motors?” Unfortunately what the administration should do and what it will do are certainly not going to be one in the same.

Because of the nature of this blog let me focus primarily on what it should do. As part of the bankruptcy restructuring GM should be converted from an investor-owned firm (IOF) into a worker-owned economic enterprise. As a result the current employees of GM would become the new owners who would elect their own board of directors. By doing so the Obama administration would be increasing the success of GM. Cooperatives have been proven in study after study to be more efficient than joint-stock companies. That’s due to several factors but one reason is due to liability. In an IOF the worker has little stake in the production and certainly no say in it. If the company is more profitable or less it’s all the same to his or her weekly pay. But in a cooperative the worker’s take home is solely dependent on the success of the enterprise. When one combines the monetary incentive with the fact that they have a real voice in operation it makes a real difference. Add to that the pride that comes from ownership and one can see why cooperative enterprises are more efficient.

But we know that this won’t happen. The administration has already stated that it plans to dump the government’s ownership as soon as possible. Even the GM executives currently ignore the fact that the American people own their company. The CFO of General Motors recently said, “As a privately held company, it’s likely we’re not going to disclose information except to the shareholders.” We shouldn’t be surprised. This wasn’t a true nationalizing of GM but an attempt to help the economy within the system as it currently exists. While I do think that President Obama very well may end up being one of the greatest presidents in American history, unlike the claims of the far Right, he is certainly not a revolutionary.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Over the last few months I’ve posted several brief biographies of individuals of faith who have advocated economic democracy principles. Now economic democracy has received attention by the magazine Tikkun, which is edited by its founder Rabbi Michael Lerner. Rabbi Lerner is the progressive rabbi of the Bay Area synagogue Beyt Tikkun and author of “The Left Hand of God: Taking Our Country Back from the Religious Right” (Harper San Francisco, 2006). Most recently Tikkun has expanded its outreach to include the non-Jewish community through the formation of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

The current issue of Tikkun (May/June 2008) has several articles not only about why capitalism is corrupt and dangerous but two excellent articles on economic democracy as well. One fantastic article is by David Schweickart who is the author of “After Capitalism” and who is a high profile advocate for economic democracy. It’s safe to say that without a doubt Professor Schweickart has been a major influence on my advocacy for third way economics.

Schweickart’s fantastic article, “What to Do When the Bailout Fails,” is written as an open letter to President Obama. It explains in clear and straightforward language why the economy collapsed and, while there are some good ideas from the current administration (unlike some conservatives Schweickart expresses hope for their success), he explains why the odds are against the policies succeeding. Schweickart then explains what economic democracy is and why it would be superior in every way to capitalism.

In addition to the article by Professor Schweickart there is a very good article on economic democracy by Gary Dorrien titled, “A Case for Economic Democracy.” Professor Dorrien not only addresses the need for creating an economic democracy but addresses some of the challenges we would have encounter as we try to make it a reality. I found it to be a very thought provoking article.

Finally, I think it’s important to give serious consideration to the editorial by Rabbi Lerner. In it he wrote, “This is too important a task to be left to the economists, political scientists, Washington policy mavens, journalists, columnists and talk show hosts (though we do wish there were more like Jon Stewart and Amy Goodman). We need a grassroots movement of people meeting together in their communities in "After Capitalism" groups and discussing their own ideas about how to create a better global economy. Spiritual progressives should play a central role in stimulating these discussions-not only in every church, synagogue, mosque, and ashram, but also on college campuses, in union halls, in professional organizations, and at town meetings. Just as the American Revolution was stimulated by "committees of correspondence" in which people met and shared their ideas about what should replace British rule, today we need a democratic mobilization for this kind of discussion.”

My question is whether we are willing to answer Rabbi Lerner’s call for action?

Well… are we?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Glimmer of Hope

Dallas, Texas has always been a place of contradictions. It’s a city known for being the buckle of the Bible Belt with many churches that are hostile to gays yet it has twice elected a lesbian as county sheriff. It’s a city known for banking and big business yet some of the early settlers were socialists from a nearby failed commune known as Las Reunion. And then last Saturday this Republican dominated city, which recently saw a massive “tea bag” demonstration, voted to start a community-owned economic enterprise.

Like so many urban centers the city of Dallas has long struggled to revitalize its once vibrant downtown business district. Over time businesses had fled the downtown area to the suburbs, leaving it largely a ghost town. Some progress has been recently made as abandoned office buildings are starting to be converted into apartments. But City Hall is still struggling to bring life back to the heart of the city. One of those challenges that have made it especially difficult has been the lack of adequate hotel space in the downtown area. This lack of hotels has cost the city convention business as well as sporting events. Over the years the city has tried, to no avail, to get a new hotel through the old standby techniques of giving tax incentives for new construction. In the 90’s the city seemed close to having a new hotel built but the Crow family, who owns the Dallas hotel Hilton Anatole, provided land to build a park, which was so generous that the city couldn’t politically turn it down. The idea of a new hotel in the central business district seemed dead.

Then the city leaders had an idea.

After years of trying to get the market to provide a new hotel the city leaders decided to build a publically-owned hotel. Once the city council approved the enterprise the city started working to have it built. First, it bought the land (admittedly it overpaid for it). It then hired a construction firm to break ground and begin construction. To no one’s surprise not long after that forces opposed to the hotel, which consisted largely of the Crow family (remember them?), were able to push through a referendum to force a public vote on the hotel. After a dirty and expensive campaign, with the most money spent by the hotel opponents, amazingly the Dallas voters approved the publically-owned hotel.

This hotel project is far from perfect. The biggest flaw is how it will be managed. The city chose a private firm, Omni Hotels, to manage the new hotel. The city should have instead established a worker-managed corporation in which the workers of the hotel elected their own board of directors to manage the enterprise.

That criticism being said the idea that a conservative, pro-business, heavily Republican, city such as Dallas can choose to start a community-owned enterprise, which is one of the elements of an economic democracy, should give us all hope for the future.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

G.K. Chesterton

“I have said that the strong centers of modern English property must swiftly or slowly be broken up, if even the idea of property is to remain among Englishmen. There are two ways in which it could be done, a cold administration by quite detached officials, which is called Collectivism, or a personal distribution, so as to produce what is called Peasant Proprietorship. I think the latter solution the finer and more fully human, because it makes each man as somebody blamed somebody for saying of the Pope, a sort of small god.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

What follows is another installment in occasional biographies of influential people in cooperativism.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (b. 5/29/1874 – d. 6/14/1936) was born in Campden Hill in London, England to a Unitarian family. His father was a successful auctioneer and considered liberal in his political thought. Chesterton was a large man in more than just intellect and words. Chesterton was six foot four and weighed over three hundred pounds. In addition he carried around with him a small arsenal consisting of a sword, a knife and a gun. When once asked why he had a firearm he said he had bought it to protect his wife right after their marriage. He bragged that whenever he heard someone say that life wasn’t worth living he would pull it out and point it at the person. One must wonder at the other person’s reaction facing down the barrel of his gun.

While Chesterton was a towering intellect that loved to debate he was very dependent upon his wife and others. He was unable to dress or shave himself due to his large size. Plus, he was dependent upon his wife to make nearly every decision for him. She handled his finances, such as filing and paying his income tax, and even details as minor as whether he would take the stairs or an elevator to go to another floor.

One might wonder how much his father’s liberalism influenced him. According to Christopher Hollis his liberalism was based on a “belief in small units.” For example, GK Chesterton supported the South Africans against his own British during the Second Boer War because he felt like the British were using their Imperial might against the weaker South Africans.

This belief in small units also translated into a disdain for nationalistic patriotism. According to Hollis, “At the same time he had no sympathy with those who decried the virtue of patriotism. For the British Empire as such he cared little, but he championed as passionately the right of an Englishman to live England as of a South African to love South Africa.”

One might also see his advocacy of the small over the large reflected in his economics. Chesterton ran a newspaper called the New Witness in which they would, “oppose alike the capitalist solution which would concentrate all property in the hands of rich men and the Socialist solution which would concentrate all property in the hands of the State and to argue that instead property should be as widely distributed as possible.” As a result Chesterton is widely known as a Distributist.

In would be incorrect to say that Chesterton would approve of all elements of economic democracy. It’s known that he opposed the state insurance for workers in England, which were modeled after Germany’s, because he thought it would lead to a “return to slavery and a Servile State.” And he held several views that very few today would support, capitalist or otherwise. For example, he opposed giving women the right to vote. Even with these faults Chesterton was a strong supporter for cooperativism and for that he deserves to be recognized here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Ah, spring. Flowers are in bloom. Grass is turning green. Birds are singing. Spring also means the return of America’s favorite past-time: baseball. Baseball is of course more than just a sport. The boys of summer bring with them tradition and history that strikes a chord deep within into the American psyche. Baseball is also special in another way. Within baseball we can see evidence of the superiority of cooperativism over rugged individualism.

While baseball grants numerous opportunities for individual displays of talent for a team to be successful it demands teamwork and a willingness of each team member to make personal sacrifices. The best batter on the team at times may have to sacrifice bunt if it means advancing another player. On a fly ball one outfielder often has to swallow his or her pride and allow another to make the catch. All of these plus other sacrifices will often times be necessary for the good of the team.

The Texas Rangers are the perfect example of how the lack of teamwork will work against a baseball team. How could a team that had great pitchers like the all-time no-hitter Nolan Ryan never win a single playoff series? A major reason is that while the Rangers have had great batters, great pitchers, great catchers they have always lacked teamwork.

Like a well run baseball team a cooperative strikes a balance between the needs of individual and the needs of the group. Each individual has opportunities to show his or her talents in the daily operations. Yet, for the cooperative to be successful the individual members must work together. If they begin to compete against each other in their daily operations then the cooperative will fail.

So as you sit there at the ballgame eating your hot dog and drinking your beer remember that you’re not just watching a wonderful sport. You’re watching a great example of cooperativism in action.

PS: Looking for a great baseball team? Check out the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. According their web site, "The Timber Rattlers are a non-stock, community-owned team similar in structure to the Green Bay Packers organization."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bad Air

You’re mad. I know it because that’s all I hear or read about in the news. They say that every time a person hears "AIG" and "bonuses" used together he or she gets so angry they could spit. It turns out that the politicians on Capitol Hill are mad too. They make comments such as the executives should either "resign or go commit suicide" (Sen. Charles Grassley later said that he really didn’t mean they should kill themselves). The problem with all of this outrage is that it redirects us from the real source of the problem much in the same way that a magician redirects our eyes as he does his magic trick.

My readers over the years know that I often use analogies in my postings. A while ago I wrote about the attempt to control malaria during the construction of the Panama Canal. ("Draining the Swamp" 10/14/2007) This horrible disease can also serve as an analogy for AIG and the "retention bonuses."

According to Wikipedia malaria gets its name from Medieval Italian mala aria, which means "bad air." At one time malaria was thought to be caused by miasma, or "pollution", which was defined as a poisonous vapor of particles consisting of decomposed matter. It was thought that one could identify this miasma by the presences of foul odors. Of course the real cause of malaria is not some particulate cloud but is actually a virus carried by the mosquitoes that flourish in unclean conditions and that live in stagnate water and swamps.

Limiting ourselves to being angry about the bonuses is like limiting ourselves to bad odors while being blind to the underlying cause of disease. We can scream in anger, jump up and down, and tax the bonuses but it won’t get to the source of the problem because it isn’t the greed of just a few executives. The source is an economic system based on capital.

As an example of historical irony the answer can be found in the works of Adam Smith, who most consider to be the father of capitalism. Of corporations ("joint stock companies") in his classic An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations he wrote, "The directors of such companies, however, being the managers rather of other people's money than of their own, it cannot well be expected that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which the partners in a private copartnery frequently watch over their own. Like the stewards of a rich man, they are apt to consider attention to small matters as not for their master's honour, and very easily give themselves a dispensation from having it. Negligence and profusion, therefore, must always prevail, more or less, in the management of the affairs of such a company."

Smith showed us years ago that it was inevitable that the executives of corporations should develop this culture of greed because it goes to heart of capitalism. Centering on the bonuses and not removing the source, capital and the investor-owned firms, is like spraying perfume to try to prevent malaria. It might smell nice but it ignores the source.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reverend Frederick Denison Maurice

Back in May of 2008 I posted a brief biography about the founder of The Catholic Worker: Dorothy Day. This time I’ve decided to post a short biography of one of the lesser known advocates of cooperativism: Reverend Frederick Denison Maurice.

Reverend Maurice (b. 8/29/1805 – d. 4/1/1872) was the son of a Unitarian minister and one of the most brilliant of the 19th century Christian Socialists. He’s been described as “mild, unobtrusive, averse to undue opposition, convincing by his example and his earnest logic rather than by appeals to the feelings.”

Maurice honed his skills on a debate club as a young man in an Owenite society. As a young adult he was denied the right to graduate from Cambridge for refusing to sign the Anglican Church’s "Thirty-nine Articles." He later reversed himself and signed the Articles, which allowed him to attend Oxford. Between Cambridge and Oxford, Maurice worked as a writer and wrote a novel. In addition, after being ordained he served as a chaplain at Guy’s Hospital.

While a member of the faculty at Cambridge's King's College Maurice was known for being scholar, theologian, and historian. After his book, Kingdom of Christ, was published his reputation was enhanced. The Kingdom of Christ is often viewed as an omen of the future ecumenical movement for holding that while there are many divisions, such as denominations and sects, the church is essentially united. In 1848 Maurice joined with Kingsley and others to form the Christian Socialist Movement. Then in 1853 he published Theological Essays in which he expressed a belief that hell was not eternal. This was the last straw and as a result he was dismissed from his position at King’s College. He then became the first principle of the Working Men’s College.

According to Capaldi, the Christian Socialists "tried to combine cooperative economics with political conservatism." Of Christian Socialism, Maurice wrote that it was, "true socialism, true liberty, brotherhood, and equality- not the carnal dead level equality of the communist, but the spiritual equality of the Church idea, which gives every man an equal chance of developing and rewards every man according to his work." Once Maurice learned of the Parisian co-ops he was convinced that there was a need of cooperatives in England. He then wrote several pamphlets on cooperatives and declared that anyone that accepted the principles of cooperation could be called a socialist. In addition, Maurice and the Christian Socialists rented a building in London to start a cooperative with 12 tailors called the Working Tailor’s Association. Later the Society for Promoting Workingmen Associations was formed, which made loans to start-up other cooperatives.

Early on Maurice and the Christian Socialists were very successful. Soon in London there were approximately 17 cooperatives. After a point these cooperatives formed a central body, which was a forerunner of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. But they weren't limited to London. Cooperatives also began springing up in other large cities.

By 1853 though, things began to fall apart. The productive cooperatives started to close as problems appeared in their organizations. Some workers were robbed of their funds. Others closed due to internal disputes or apathy. Yet, he did help push through some legislation that helped cooperatives. While the Christian Socialists of the time failed to substantially change England, the work of Reverend Maurice did have a major impact on Christianity that is still felt today.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Other

"If men could only know each other, they would neither idolize nor hate." ~ Elbert Hubbard, US author (1856 - 1915)

Recently our new President made history (again) by speaking before a joint session in Congress in his first year. The majority of his speech consisted of Obama making his case for his economic package. Near the end the President introduced several guests. One of them was a banker name Leonard Abess. I’ll let the President explain:

"I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn't tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, "I knew some of these people since I was seven years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself.""

Leonard Abess provides an interesting lesson for us on the Left. The lesson isn’t a claim in the nobility of capitalists nor is it to praise bankers. The lesson Mr. Abess teaches is that we cannot, we must not, stereotype capitalists or anyone else as being "The Other." It’s the socio-economic system of capitalism that’s evil. Capitalists are people who are caught up in an oppressive system. We need to recognize that the capitalists are victims as well as workers.

Labeling any group of people as evil runs the risks of starting down a path that eventually ends at a guillotine.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lack of Trust

"The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust." ~ Henry L. Stimson

The capitalists are rattled. They’ve suddenly realized that there’s a serious absence of trust in our economy. In a December 24th, 2008 editorial the staff of the Dallas Morning News whined, “For want of trust, the global economy nearly melted down.” On his web site the capitalist apologetic Scott Burns cried, “Right now all we know is that nothing is trustworthy. Not our political leaders. Not our business leaders. Not the government or private institutions that are supposed to provide oversight and evaluation.”

Like Captain Renault exclaiming that he’s shocked, shocked to find gambling at Rick’s their surprise isn’t very convincing. That’s because the seeds of the current growth of distrust were planted by the capitalism itself.

Distrust originates in capitalism from its own hyper-competitive nature. It’s well documented by authors such as Barbara Ehrenreich and Robert Sennett that within capitalism, especially the current globalized version, relationships are viewed as simply means to an end. The other person is either a threat or an opportunity. So we don’t want to show our hands, to borrow a gambling phrase, to just anyone lest we allow the other person to learn something that they can use to either get ahead or against us.

It took hundreds of years but this distrust has spread from the economic infrastructure and now infects all aspects of the superstructure of society. Parents distrust their children so they place nanny technology on their computers. Couples distrust each other and jealousy abounds. Neighbors distrust each other so people set up housing associations full of rules and regulations to make sure that each person maintains his or her property just as the neighborhood expects.

How can we climb out of this pit? While the return of Keynesian-style regulation by the Obama administration will provide limited increase in trust in the short-term it won’t truly solve the problem. The only real solution is to replace our greed-based competitive system with a system based on cooperation and mutual support. The solution demands an economic democracy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Death by Greed

Most of us have heard or read how hundreds of people were sickened, and eight died, from a recent outbreak of salmonella. Recently the FDA reported that they had finally traced the source of the outbreak to a factory in Blakely, Georgia owned by Peanut Corporation of America. But while the peanut butter shipped by the factory was indeed contaminated with salmonella it wasn’t the ultimate source of what sickened and killed people. The ultimate source of their suffering and death was greed.

According to the Wall Street Journal the government has charged that the company’s own internal tests had found salmonella but that the company didn’t disclose their results and continued to ship the contaminated peanuts. Why didn’t the company report their internal findings? According to the article they didn’t because they weren’t required to.

Was this the result of corporate abuse of power? Not in this case. Headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia, PCA is actually a privately owned company with approximately one-hundred to two-hundred and fifty employees. Their annual sales have ranged from $10 million to $25 million.

When one considers the seriousness of the charges along with the nature of the company we see a simple truth. An economic enterprise doesn’t have to be an investor-owned firm to be corrupted by greed.

What lesson might we learn for a future economic democracy out of this mess? As I see it the most important lesson is that in an economic democracy there would still be a need for government regulation. While cooperatively run enterprises tend to operate with a higher level of ethics people won’t become angels with the end of capitalism just as they weren’t angels in the modes of production that preceded it. So we can expect that there will still be a need for oversight by federal, state, and local authorities to insure safety for both consumers as well as workers.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Poor People’s Campaign

A brief post on this historic day. Shortly before his assassination Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had started what he referred to as the “second phase” of the civil rights movement, which was to confront capitalism head on with a “Poor People’s Campaign.” Reverend Hosea Williams explained the reason for the PPC, “We will never get free by eliminating racism or bringing about integration. If black people were able to eliminate every aspect of racism and integrate every aspect of American life, we would not be free. Black folks will never be free until we have our fair share of the economy. We live not in a political society, nor in a social society, nor a religious society, we live in an economic society. So we had to launch a movement to gain our fair share of the economy.”

We need to honor Dr. King by demanding an economic democracy.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


The four horsemen of the apocalypse are riding across the heart of Africa. According to the International Rescue Committee malnutrition, war, and disease is killing 45,000 people every month in the Congo. Since the start of the war as many as 5.4 million people have died. All of this death and suffering is largely due to powerful forces (such as Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi) who have tried to dominate and exploit the Congolese natural resources, primarily Columbite-tantalite known as coltain.

While conservatives tend to turn a blind eye to the suffering liberals tend to place too much emphasis on blaming people rather than analyzing the socio-economic relations at play. The Cowardly Lion closes his eyes while Dorothy pays too much attention to the image of the wizard with the noise and the fire and ends up ignoring the man behind the curtain.

The cause of the problem isn’t simply that we buy electronics, such as cell phones, with coltan. While the situation in the Congo is rather complex a large part of the blame for the violence in the Congo belongs to globalized capitalism. As I’ve written before capitalism is a socio-economic system focused on the expansion and protection of capital (i.e. private investment). One of the primary ways of expanding capital in the manufacturing process is to acquire raw materials at the lowest price possible. These cheap resources help increase surplus value (i.e. profit), which the corporations send to their shareholders (i.e. capitalists) in the form of dividends. This perpetual demand by corporations for cheap raw materials, such as coltran, regardless of the human consequences is what drives the violence in the Congo.

Do you want to do something substantial to help the people of the Congo? Get involved in helping to replace capitalism with an economic democracy.