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.