Gar Alperovitz is still pushing to make America more democratic

Historians in the News
tags: Gar Alperovitz, Democracy Collaborative

Gar Alperovitz came to Oberlin as one of the speakers in The State of American Democracy: A National Conversation, a three-day, non-partisan discussion about the state of democracy in the U.S. The conference examines how the U.S. ended up in its current polarized state, and how we can bolster the resilience, fairness, and stability of our democratic institutions. Alperovitz is a historian, political economist, activist, writer, and former government official. He was the Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland for 15 years. He is the president of the National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives, and is a founding member of the Democracy Collaborative, a research group investigating ways toward community-oriented change and the democratization of wealth. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

How did you end up in your field? 

I’m the co-founder of something called the Democracy Collaborative, which is an organization building different ways to transform and democratize the ownership of wealth, the most obvious one being co-ops, but also [things like] city municipal ownership — different kinds of democratic ownership. One of the big projects is called the Next System Project, which is a project of the Democracy Collaborative. That’s attempting to open up a sophisticated, reasonable debate about what is the inevitable next system beyond corporate capitalism, beyond state socialism. What makes sense? What do we want? How do we think about that rationally? What are the stepping stones — projects that we can see that look like they might be a piece of it? It’s mainly about ideas at this stage.

How does that pertain to this conference? 

It’s very hard to have democracy if the institutional substructure of the system is so heavily weighted against democracy. In particular, corporate power and the ownership of wealth is extremely concentrated and plays a major role in politics, and it kind of bends away from “one person, one vote” in practice. This has been studied by political scientists forever, but it used to be that labor unions partly balanced the power of corporations and wealth ownership. But they’re pretty much over in the United States and in many parts of the world.

Is there a way to think about, over time, building up the next system that would be democratic, ecologically-sustainable, dealing with racism in a decent, intelligent way, supportive of liberty, dealing with planet changes? The term I like best is “architecture.” What’s the architecture or relationship between worker and company? How would you design it if you were really thinking about democracy and ecological sustainability? ...

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