By Stephanie Hiller
In may be hard, in this day and age, to conceive of a new system of social organization arising from the grassroots. But that’s what economic historian Gar Alperovitz told us recently at a meeting held by Sonoma-based Praxis Peace Institute. And he’s not a utopian, he emphasized more than once. “I’m a pragmatist.”
The author of many books and co-founder of two powerful organizations – the Democracy Collaborative, founded in 2000, and the more recent Next System Project — Alperovitz has been demonstrating that cooperative economics and participatory democracy works.
He said he was delighted to be in California where “people here are interested in making change” to have a “participatory discussion about what we could possibly do, starting in this community.”
“We are in an ongoing long-term crisis at the federal level, a stalemate, but at the level of communities, struggling with despair and discontent, people are yet working on social change from the bottom up.”
Alperovitz described the Cleveland Model, where the Evergreen Cooperatives are building community wealth in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cleveland. Three “anchor institutions,” the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western, and the Cleveland Hospital, which all receive large amounts of federal money are spending their purchasing dollars within the community, and building a thriving new economy in collaboration with the City government, the Democracy Collaborative, the Cleveland Foundation, and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center.
The Cleveland Model demonstrates “how you change the system by building capacity around the country.”
Three areas of the US are beginning to see a politics based on region. The East Coast is one, Texas is another as more Hispanics vote, and California will be next. “What will happen, as the populations grows, decentralizing real authority over the next 20 years, will show as a realistic possibility how we build step-by-step a future trajectory of self determination in an economy like this one, changing democracy by changing the way economies work through cooperatives.”
Revolution is unlikely, thinks Alperovitz. “We are more likely to see what I call an evolutional reconstruction — rebuilding institutions from the bottom up.”
Equally cheerful was attorney Ellen Brown, who has made public banking a household word in less than ten years. The author of Web of Debt and The Public Bank Solution, Brown has been researching “how we can finance the economy Gar is talking about.
“The power to create money has been usurped by banks, and we need to get it back.” In her research, she found that the only remaining public bank, The Bank of North Dakota, was “the one bank that stayed in the black during the debt crisis of 2008-2009.”
Public banks are cooperatives, similar to credit unions, and shareholders are citizens. The State’s money is held by the bank; it’s a closed-loop system.
“We need to put more money in the economy to buy the products that workers would make. Currently only 20 percent of the money circulates! There are all kinds of rainy day funds all over the state that are doing nothing.”
Remarking on how fast public banking has spread, Alperovitz noted that they could enable us to “rebuild the state ecologically and economically, solving problems that the Fed has been unable to address.
“Community reconstruction with a power base will enable us to build a new culture. We build that power base, or the Donald Trumps keep winning.”
And again he said, “This is not utopian. If it makes sense, and you feel you can do it, you can!”
If we can figure out how to use money correctly, she concluded, ‘We will discover the key to civilized life.