Deepening Democracy: The Varieties of Participatory Institutions

When most people imagine deepening democracy — increasing citizen participation in power — their mind often jumps to the furthest extreme of direct democracy: endless meetings of every citizen ignorantly voting on every issue.  If this is what deep democracy means — all of us taking time to discern the right policy regarding inland fisheries regulations and medical device taxes — then deep democracy is ridiculous.

But this is the wrong way to think about deepening democracy. Rather than seeing a deep democracy as a system where every citizen has a vote on every issue, we should imagine it as a system where every citizen has a variety of open avenues to having their voice heard and ideas realized. To deepen democracy is to open up power — the power to start projects, change projects, and stop projects — to more people in more ways.  

The mechanism for deepening democracy is the participatory institution: a system that gains political power for the purpose of distributing it to a wider variety of people. A deep democracy would consist of a dense array of interconnected participatory institutions. Continue reading “Deepening Democracy: The Varieties of Participatory Institutions”

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?”

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”