Gar Alperovitz is Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and cofounder of the Democracy Collaborative.
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Beyond the Dreamer
IN THE LAST YEAR of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. struggled with what are best understood as existential challenges as he began to move toward an ever-more-profound and radical understanding of what would be required to deal with the nation’s domestic and international problems.
The direction he was exploring, I believe, is far more relevant to the realities we now face than many have realized—or have wanted to realize.
I first met King in 1964 at the Democratic Party’s national convention held that year in Atlantic City—the occasion of an historic challenge by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to the racially segregated and reactionary Mississippi Democratic Party. I was then a very young aide working for Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Sen. Nelson authorized me to help out in any way I could despite President Lyndon Johnson’s effort to clamp down on the fight for representation in the interest of a “dignified” convention that would nominate him in his own right after his rise to the presidency following President Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson didn’t want a bunch of civil rights activists muddying the waters and, not incidentally, causing him problems in the conservative, race-based Democratic South.
After much back and forth, the Johnson administration offered a “compromise” proposal that the old guard be seated (provided they pledged to support him) and that two at-large representatives of the MFDP also be seated.
More Bullish Than You Think
HISTORICALLY, MOST ECONOMIC systems revolve around who owns the wealth. As an economist and historian, this is the question I bring to any discussion about our current economic crisis and any future “new economy” we might imagine.
While income distribution is important, wealth distribution is much more unevenly allocated in American society, and it gets very little attention. Let’s quickly look at the numbers.
The richest 400 people in the U.S. own more wealth than the bottom 60 percent of the population. That’s more wealth (stocks, bonds, and businesses, but also houses and cars) than the bottom 150 million Americans. And the top 1 percent owns almost 50 percent of the society’s productive investment assets (corporate stocks, bonds, and privately held businesses, excluding cars and houses).
When you ask who owns the productive assets of the society, then you’re asking who owns American capitalism. The answer is: The top 1 percent owns just under half of it.
With this kind of wealth distribution, what we have is literally a medieval structure. I don’t mean that figuratively. It is a feudalistic structure of extreme power and wealth. And it is anathema to democracy to have that kind of concentration. This distribution of wealth—and the the fact that the top 1 percent has, over the last 30 years, increased its share of income from about 9 percent to about 20 percent—tells you something about the political/economic power harnessed to achieve that end.
The “new economy movement” that is building momentum around the country asserts that you can’t have a democratic society unless you democratize the ownership of wealth as well.
Clintonomics: Not Yet Out of the Desert
President Clinton's new economic plan has been strongly criticized by the Right and embraced (a bit) by moderates and progressives. What are we to make of the overall effort?
Confronting Recession Confusion
Overarching economic issues and the recession
Focusing Our Varied Visions
Further reflections on an alternative economic system
Building a Living Democracy
A whole new way of thinking about politics and economics