Juliet Schor at “Beyond Sanders and Clinton”

This past February, the Democratic Alternative co-sponsored “Beyond Sanders and Clinton: Visionary Futures for Democratic Economics” at Harvard Law School.  Here is the video of Juliet Schor’s speech at the event:

Juliet Schor is a Professor of Sociology at Boston College. She is the co-founder of the Board of the Center for a New American Dream and the author of many influential books, including: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure; The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need; and Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth.

Greg Watson at “Beyond Sanders and Clinton”

This past February, the Democratic Alternative co-sponsored “Beyond Sanders and Clinton: Visionary Futures for Democratic Economics” at Harvard Law School.  Here is the video of Greg Watson’s speech at the event:

Greg Watson is the former Commissioner of Agriculture of Massachusetts and now the Director of Policy and Systems Design at the Schumacher Center for New Economics. He has been a public voice for sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, new monetary systems, equitable land tenure arrangements, neighborhood planning through democratic processes, government policies that support human-scale development, cooperative structure, and import replacement through citizen financing of new enterprises.

Gar Alperovitz at “Beyond Sanders and Clinton”

This past February, the Democratic Alternative co-sponsored “Beyond Sanders and Clinton: Visionary Futures for Democratic Economics” at Harvard Law School.  Here is the video of Gar Alperovitz’s speech at the event:

Gar Alperovitz was legislative director for Rep. Gaylord Nelson and is now a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland. He is the co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, which aims to develop practical, policy-focused and systematic paths towards ecologically sustainable, community-oriented change and the democratization of wealth. He has spent recent decades aiming to answer the question: “If you don’t like corporate capitalism and you don’t like state socialism, what do you like?”

Encouraging entrepreneurship: First steps in the Open Economy Project

This post expands the discussion of practical first steps to the Open Economy Project. In the same way that many of the first steps for getting money out of politics and resolving congressional gridlock have been taken up by others, albeit in a minimalist context, as previously discussed, many practical economic ideas also circulate, and are even part of the political rhetoric of both parties–one need look no further than the bipartisan discourses of support for small business and the importance of entrepreneurship.

At the Democratic Alternative, we advocate the creation of more economic opportunities for more people through a democratization of the market. Towards such ends, one of our key proposals is broadening access to capital so that all citizens–not just those with connections to private equity and venture capital–have equal opportunity to invest in their ideas and move quickly and easily from conception to realization. One way of achieving this outcome is the creation of a public fund that is managed professionally, and returns and risk management kept on par with that of private venture capital funds. Such a plan would spur startups and entrepreneurial activity, giving more people more access to more markets. Continue reading “Encouraging entrepreneurship: First steps in the Open Economy Project”

Beyond state vs. market in the discourse of American politics

A single discourse on state and market permeates American politics. It is a discourse that pits the two against each other in a zero-sum game and naturalizes an arbitrary view that they must stand at odds, whereby more of one means less of the other. Entire policy platforms and ideologies are constructed in favor of more market or more state, so that the idea not only becomes part of the furniture of American politics, but also our fate. We are left with no alternative. We are forced to choose between more market and less state, or more state and less market. Continue reading “Beyond state vs. market in the discourse of American politics”

Open Economy Watch: Cooperative Alternatives to Corporate Digital Gig Networks

Last week, Macabe Keliher raised the question of how the Democratic Party should respond to the rise of the digital gig economy embodied in Uber, TaskRabbit, and others. Keliher explains that–contrary to the Silicon Valley smarm that these new apps liberate workers from bosses–the reality for, say, an Uber driver or a task rabbit is daily low-pay work in low-skill jobs for a distant, centralized tech firm with no opportunity for advancement, further training, or creative input. However, as Keliher argues, the Democratic Party’s growing consensus that we should forcefully regulate these firms into the corporate welfare model of the mid-20th century, where large firms both structure the life and see to the welfare of their workers, is not optimal either, for it misses the opportunity these technological advances have provided to transition our economy from one predominantly based on wage labor to a higher form of free labor. The challenge, then, is to imagine how public policy can take the best of these new developments–transformative network technology that consumers love and producers are attracted to due to the ease of entry and potential for flexibility–while avoiding the worst–a new precariat class of workers, moving in and out of jobs that provide little security, growth, or personal fulfillment.

One under-explored answer to this challenge is the promotion of cooperative technology that replicates the consumer benefits of sharing networks like Uber, but rather than placing control of the networks in the hands of corporate managers, places control in the hands of each network’s workers. The decentralized structure of the digital gig economy is especially amenable to such a project. As The Nation’s Mike Konczal points out about Uber, for example, “almost all of the actual capital is already owned by the workers, in the form of cars that they pay for and maintain themselves.” Therefore, once the initial digital network has been built and popularized, the bulk of what corporate managers at companies like Uber contribute is advertising, lobbying for regulatory changes, and maintenance of their apps, which, as Konczal points out, are tasks that get “cheaper and easier by the day.” This is not a radical analysis. Digital gig startups pitch investors on the exact premise that they will be able to develop and popularize a decentralized network and then, with most moving parts and capital assets externalized to network participants, profit off of the increasingly simpler maintenance of the monopoly network.
Continue reading “Open Economy Watch: Cooperative Alternatives to Corporate Digital Gig Networks”

Open Economy Watch: Uber and the freelance economy

The meaning and nature of employment is changing in the US, and as it does, new contests are arising over what it will become. The recent ruling in California in favor of Uber drivers, for example, enables some 160,000 drivers to open a class-action lawsuit against the company. Drivers claim they are treated as employees, not contractors, and thus should receive benefits, such as health, vehicle insurance, and mileage. Uber’s success, of course, has been built on the fact that it claims no financial or legal responsibility to its drivers, and that it merely operates the technology and market that connects riders with drivers. Uber calls their drivers independent contractors who set their own terms of work.

Although Uber will be the defendant in the imminent lawsuit, the debate implicates the state of the emergent freelance economy (also called the “gig economy,” “on-demand economy,” and “digital sharecropping”), whereby workers are treated like on-call contractors. Employment once symbolized security, benefits, and high wages for a majority of the working population; but it has now begun to morph into low-paid contractual work with neither stability nor benefits for workers. The model of corporate welfare—where the firm looked after the livelihood and welfare of its workers—has given way to self-employment and self-management through networks enabled by new technology. Ford Motors in the mid-twentieth century is an example of the former arrangement, and Uber of the latter. Continue reading “Open Economy Watch: Uber and the freelance economy”

Open Economy Watch: a Democratic Alternative response to the Republican Party’s economic vision

Amidst other revelations in the second Republican presidential debate last night, candidates indicated that they would repeal Obamacare, defund planned parenthood, launch another war in the Middle East, annul the fourteenth amendment, give primacy to religious belief over law in courts, and, of course, make America great again because it is “the greatest country in the history of the world.” Most curiously, however, was the vow to restore manufacturing jobs in the US. The solution to revving up the economy and putting Americans back to work, they said, is to revive industry and create more manufacturing jobs (incredibly, by cutting taxes). This is curious precisely because such an economic program is premised upon an alternate history of the modern economy and has little basis in the reality of the structure of contemporary society.  Continue reading “Open Economy Watch: a Democratic Alternative response to the Republican Party’s economic vision”

IPOs and the twenty-first century economy

Two key trends have emerged in the use of capital that reflect structural changes in the twenty-first century firm and economy. The first is a decline in Initial Public Offerings, or IPOs. In recent years, an increasing number of American companies have chosen not to go public; they opt to either keep ownership in the hands of a few core investors or turn exclusively to venture capital. The FT reports that 59 tech companies went public last year, compared to 258 in 1999. In fact, there was a sharp decline in IPOs in the technology sector beginning in 2001, after which the number has remained fairly flat. This trend is seen across the board in all sectors, with the total number of companies listing shares on US equity markets dropping from around 9,000 in 1997 to 4,100 in 2012, according to the research of Michigan Business School professor Gerald Davis. Continue reading “IPOs and the twenty-first century economy”