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The "Non-Ideological" New Economy

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Here in the U.S. there is a growing movement of political "progressives" who understand that the current global economic regime ( neo-liberalism? monopoly capitalism? late-capitalism?) is both unjust and unsustainable. They have devised various counter-models with names like Slow/ No Growth, Green Economics, The Great Transformation, etc.. and can be lumped under the rubric of The New Economy.

These groups have even allied themselves into a Network structure and coalition, an impressive feat in itself, and have a large media presence including David Korten's Yes Magazine and Grist and so on. Leading intellectuals include Gar Alperovitz, James Speth, Sarah van Gelder and others with Institutes or Think Tanks or Foundations from which they operate. Authors and columnists like Andrew Simms (natural capitalism), Atlee Mc Fellin( economic democracy), Van Jones (Sharing Economy) and Michael Grunwald ( political price on carbon) all flirt around the edges of anti-capitalism but always stop just short.

It is my contention that these groups (and The "Green" Economy more generally) are more of a threat to the growth of IOPS than they are to the status quo, and I would love to know how others feel.

On the website of the New Economy Network they claim to hold a position "beyond capitalism, socialism, or communism" and that their collective approach is "unbounded by established ideologies and conventional wisdom". It is instead "values based but non-ideological." They "recognize that markets, government and civil society all have essential and mutually supportive roles."

What is never explicitly discussed within any of these "new models" is ownership of productive property or the "means of production". They imply that those who discuss such things are "ideolgical" ( a pejoritive) and passe', old fashioned, while they maintain an elevated "non-ideological" ( ie rational, enlightened) modern position. I insist such claims to non-ideology are in fact the most insidious and dangerous forms of ideology and that their aims are precisly to marginalize folks such as ourselves who embrace a more radical, Utopian vision.

Theirs is a vision of market induced technological innovation coupled with a re-newed-democratic-Big Government New Deal coupled with localized community gardens and more "sharing". Isn't this just the failed project of Social Democracy given a new make-over and trotted out as "New"?

Discussion 28 Comments

  • 1st Mar 2013

    You are right Dave, I found myself in your situation, when I found myself needing to deal with some like-minded people in a none European culture. My approach was like what you mentioned. I attacked their uncritical attitude to capitalism, and accused them as being ideological for that reason. Also I argued that once human being is separated by labor and capital (or dominating and dominated classes in history), no liberal state can remedy all the social diseases and sickness that has evolved from such a separation, even a revolutionary one. In cultural realm, my approach was to criticize their uncritical attitude toward hierarchy, bossing, heroes, etc.. My assessment is that it worked. Many of them responded that I am utopian, not ideological. My respond was that there is always a dream before any invention. Difference between my dream and their dream is that their dream (a liberal state) is not a good dream, since they just want to keep wage-slavery more tolerable.

  • Sarah Owens 2nd Mar 2013

    Do I think New Economy groups "are more of a threat to the growth of IOPS than they are to the status quo"? The threat being the subtle or at least indirect dissing as "ideological" (i.e., unsophisticated, unrealistic, etc.) ownership-of-productive-property concerns? Dissing aimed at or at least having the effect of marginalizing groups such as IOPS, who do embrace such concerns? The threat to growth being that the dissing could discourage those who share IOPS values from joining IOPS, for fear of appearing too "ideological", or wasting time on "ideological" issues, etc.?

    If I understand the question, I think I agree. I have commented elsewhere on this site about my frustration with some New Economy rhetoric. Yet, I wouldn't myself say the rhetoric is "aimed" at marginalizing groups like IOPS. It's a subtle difference, but my sense is that New Economy is all about courting the community elite. Doing that requires that New Economists distinguish themselves from "ideological" Reds, which their doing is, I agree, both a bit of a lie, as well as a betrayal of our solidarity and common cause. But, it's not like we weren't in the margins already.

    I definitely agree that the New Economy stuff I've seen seems to be the "failed project of Social Democracy given a new make-over and trotted out as 'New'", which is why the community elite are allowing it to be born, but will not allow it to live past puberty. I also agree with your implied observation that many New Economists likely share IOPS values and therefore belong in IOPS, but aren't likely to join while they're believing Obama-like that we're all in this together. If we have to wait for the inevitable demise of the New Economy before its adherents make common cause with IOPS, at least it's not likely to take very long.

  • Dave Jones 2nd Mar 2013

    Kiomars: I think your focus on hierarchy is a great conversational strategy and why I was attracted to IOPS in the first place. In a very general sense, I find those advocating for a "humane" profit based economy still rely on a risk taking, individualistic, entrepreneurial spirit to lead the way forward.

    Sarah: You are right that such people probably don't actually focus on marginalizing "reds", just my cynicism coming through. In conversations ( which I try often to initiate) they just stress a certain hyper-pragmatism which too often trumps or forecloses analysis.

    • Sarah Owens 3rd Mar 2013

      Oh yes, if you mean in personal conversation with us (Reds), I quite agree, and have experienced that same smugness. It's like they know they're playing a side game, but don't want to be reminded.

  • Nick Delvino 3rd Mar 2013

    I feel it necessary to confess that I am most likely less well read and less experienced regarding "left" or radical politics than all three of you (Dave, Sarah and Kiomars). I certainly haven't engaged in many discussions with advocates of the "New Economy" and had to deal with the frustration of being dismissed as too utopian or "ideological". That said, I think this question of how we interact with advocates of green and communitarian minded groups and individuals (possibly overly vague descriptors!) is a very important one... I'd like to play devil's advocate a bit...

    Gar Alperovitz regularly praises the Mondragon Cooperative in Spain as well as the Evergreen Cooperative in Cleveland as exciting models of "democratizing capital" within the current system. Alperovitz's Democracy Collaborative aims to "change the prevailing paradigm of community economic development–and of the economy as a whole—in the United States toward a new emphasis and system based on:

    Broadening ownership and stewardship over capital
    Democracy at the workplace
    Stabilizing community and emphasizing locality
    Equitable and inclusive growth
    Environmental, social, and institutional sustainability

    Isn't this one model of "planting the seeds of the future in the present", a necessary strategy for IOPS? Should we object to an increase in worker-owned businesses and cooperatives (does it depend on whether or not the management is also democratized, ie non-hierarchical?)? These are not rhetorical questions, I personally find it difficult to criticize these efforts although I fully understand your critique that these efforts seriously lack (and even dismiss) the truly democratic "utopian" vision of IOPS.

    My concern is that labeling these groups, individuals and initiatives as counter-productive (no one used that term, but I got that impression, please correct me if you do not think you would call these counter-productive!) would not be in line with our strategic goal of promoting solidarity and democratizing capital however and wherever they arise.

    Dave, to respond to your contention that these groups "are more of a threat to the growth of IOPS than they are to the status quo": I have trouble accepting this. Maybe I just don't want to accept it because I naively want to support those with seemingly great intentions and careers of activism in favor of workers' rights, environmental protection and social liberties (gender and race equity). My initial reaction is to say that these groups are some of our most useful partners in social change - they are spreading the values of solidarity, ecological stewardship, and workplace democracy, to name a few, fairly well. They have a significant propaganda infrastructure which, it seems to me, we should welcome instead of shun.

    Have to grab dinner, I apologize if my comments are not as well thought out as you'd hope! I look forward to your responses :)

  • Sarah Owens 3rd Mar 2013

    Nick, you have good instincts. Your devil's advocate needed more time to study Dave's blog. (Just so you know, I'm not well-read or experienced in things Left. I just keep reading until the thing makes some kind of sense.) I don't see where you could get that the blog is objecting to an increase in worker-owned businesses and cooperatives, or criticizing the New Economy efforts themselves as something one ought not to do, much less shun, or even comparing their democratic vision with IOPS democratic vision. I read the focus of the blog as being the absence of discussion of ownership of productive property or the "means of production" in the New Economy, without which, the New Economy amounts to little more than "market induced technological innovation coupled with a renewed-democratic-Big Government New Deal coupled with localized community gardens and more "sharing." Yes, certainly, a New Economy would be better (for some)(which is good). No one's is saying it wouldn't. But the New Economy doesn't even attempt -- rather it dismisses -- the kind of institutional change necessary to fulfill the IOPS commitments -- in other words, necessary to bring about change for ALL. It's the insidious dismissal that the blog points up as threatening to IOPS' growth. Do you see that?

  • 3rd Mar 2013

    Nick, I agree with you, labeling is counter productive. I think, at least in my part, I didn't label them. If I did, I am willing to correct myself and apologize.

    Let me talk personal. I am sure, at least they have no problem with me being personal. I am not left or right, I am neither because I don't deeply believe in state politics. I am not ideological and I let them fix my misguided mind as I just do my best to judge simply scientifically or better to say using logic, reasoning, observation, experimentation and historical facts. I don't mind to accept "New Economy" view. I am willing to give up viewing our social world in terms of property ownership of means of production, wage-slavery and aliened labor. I am willing to quit IOPS too. My experience with their followers has been too abstract, not face to face and theoretical, since those who I dealt with came to me in such manner, as self-confident educated intellectuals - I was the rigid one they were the open-minded ones. Even now, if they ask me to PARTICIPATE, i will, if it involves community. However, if they ask me to vote or enter voting system, I will become extremely theoretical and abstract and won't do it easily, because they have to come up with answer to volumes of questions which has been raised by socialists in last two centuries in order to get my vote. They may not even ask for vote, fine! What I am saying is that I am willing to accept them. All I do not want is to become knots and screws and body parts for social theories! I like to feel at home in our society, I don't want to just build home for others to feel good in it. Is anything wrong with me? Please tell me. Is what I want something you don't, or what I don't, something you do?

  • 3rd Mar 2013

    This article is related to our discussion:


  • Dave Jones 3rd Mar 2013

    Thanks Kiomars, the degree of self-reflection and criticism in this article is making me re-think my position on Alperowitz. He does open up the question of the "nature of ownership" which takes courage in today's political environment (in the U.S.). I only wish he had used the word capitalism at some point. As for agreement on what we want, I hope we are working toward that.

    And thanks, Nick, for what is a concise framing of the issues. I don't pretend to have the answers concerning coalition building or "interaction". I know it would be great if there were more space for dialogue so that certain details could be worked through, details such as "sustainability" and "progressive social goals". Just curious: Is there a Transition Town initiative in your area?

    The real issue to my mind is the degree to which the current system can incorporate these goals and co-opt all these well-meaning people. Do these folks look to the capitalist state for remedies such as tax policy or market regulation? Is a democratic workplace something that advances the goal of a true democratic economy ( ie "democratizing capital")?

    Labeling these groups or labeling people sounds negative but we should have some way of analyzing their potential for radical change, looking at the institutional structures they propose and seeing if they are more than capitalism "with a human face" (and as such, counter-productive). I agree we need all the friends we can get but I can't help but notice that IOPS isn't getting a lot of mention in YES magazine or The Nation. Yet.

  • 4th Mar 2013

    Dave, for "coalition building and 'interaction'", I think, as long as IOPS doesn't provide an economical opportunity for individual members to make their ends meet, having a job in those listed businesses (in the article) is better than being employed by those who don't really claim having social responsibility of that sort. Besides, one can judge about her/his own IOPS believes by getting involve; this satisfies the practical criterion of scientific or none fictitious approach to living. Regarding politics, while an individual is in one of those businesses, he/she can uphold IOPS believes and point to limitation of the the social views of their leaders. So, if I look for a job, if they pay as good as none responsible firms, I would try them. However, I won't work hard if they don't satisfy my view in respect to the way income needs to be allocated . Then, in political interaction, by referring to facts and by referring to state behavior, I will try to convince my fellow workmates that political participation in existing system does not work and we need a holistic participatory environment. In theory, or philosophy, New Economy needs to show me that market system and wage-system "can incorporate these goals and co-opt all these well-meaning people" since among them I will argue why it cannot. They may threw me out, in that case, it would be OK because I worked for money not completely free, and I learned and taught. Any problem? If there be a Parecon environment, they may come and participate too, right? There is a kind of recursive logic in this.

  • 4th Mar 2013

    Here’s how I feel, what I think. I think a growing movement of political ‘progressives’ who understand that the current global economics regime is both unjust and unsustainable should be seen as a positive development considering the alternatives, such as a growing apathy and a diminishing awareness of the growing injustices of today’s globalized neo-liberal economy.

    I think it is an impressive feat that these groups have allied themselves into a network structure and coalition. The late Stephane Hessel, the French resistance hero, co-drafter of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and author of the pamphlet “indignez-vous’ (cry out!) who helped inspire a global youth uprising would approve, since he wrote therein: “It is obvious that to be effective today it is necessary to act in a network, to use all modern means of communication.”

    I think contending that ‘progressives’ and their more well known advocates who flirt around the edges of anti-capitalism but who always stop short are more of a threat to the growth of IOPS than they are to the status quo is just a way of avoiding responsibility.

    I think these progressive “new economy” movements are a positive development and should be seen as creating an opportunity for those who want to advocate that they go even further.

    I think the worker owned businesses that Gar Alperovitz promotes and supports are positive developments for their workers and for the communities in which they live. The spring 2013 issue of “yes!” magazine contains an article by Laura Flanders on the New Era Windows factory in Chicago, formerly known as Republic Windows, that recently became a worker-run cooperative. This came only after an intense struggle on the part of its worker-owners against two separate owners. They have now created a worker-run, equal-pay and equal-vote decision-making business in a high-unemployment, minority community. If New Era is successful, it will be a huge accomplishment for the workers involved, it will benefit their families and the community, and give hope and inspiration to others struggling against aggressive profit-seeking owners.

    I think the developments at New Era directly addressed the issue of ownership and the means of production in a constructive and positive way.

    I think the challenge for those advocating anti-capitalism and the growth of IOPS who feel progressive, new economy developments pose a threat is to demonstrate to workers who participate in such movements that they need to go even further, that there are alternatives that will create even better outcomes for them, their families and their communities.

    I think those like Van Jones and Gus Speth who flirt around the edges of anti-capitalism but always stop short unarguably want to remain political insiders and will never go further, but I don’t think they pose a threat to IOPS. They just represent an intermediate point on a spectrum that runs from one end with the likes of the Koch brothers to the other where advocates of IOPS reside. It’s the responsibility of IOPS members to learn how to present, inform and demonstrate how and why workers need to go beyond progressive, new economy developments, why they need to join IOPS, and how together we can create a more lasting, sustainable, just world that benefits everyone.

    I think labeling progressives and their ideology, or non-ideology, a threat that is both insidious and dangerous, is just scapegoating and won’t garner the support we seek or produce the outcomes we want.

  • 4th Mar 2013

    Let me explain how I consider this discussion fruitful to me. I was not aware of the American side of New Economy. Thanks to Dave. Nick and John have been helpful in pointing to their positive side. I consider Dave's mentioning "threat" not a labeling, but a warning. My "liberal" and Sarah's "Social Democracy" is not labeling either and is along Dave's concern.


    1 - With John's comment, I dp not understand why you are using the word “responsibility”. X cannot give Y true responsibility. Only Y can give Y true responsibility.

    2 - I agree with John and mentioned myself that we need to have a positive approach. But, Sarah's “social democracy”, or my “liberal”, does not come from nowhere. I know why Sarah uses "social Democracy", but I used "liberal". Remember, I wrote I had to face them in another culture. Social Democracy is a better example here. They appeared very revolutionary and anti-capitalist, but they were actually (in practice) pro capitalist. They were threat to not just genuine socialist but to the lives and millions of people mostly wage workers. They committed real crime by sending workers to kill each others in World War I, and a lot more. So, it is good to ask a lot of question upfront.

    Hence, we need to be careful and we also need to be positive (John and Nick) to take advantage of the situation.

  • stephen lawton 4th Mar 2013

    Prof Richard Wolff argues from his Marxist position that despite its real success the American " New Deal" was a failure. Prior to the start of the New Deal America was on the edge of a revolution but in accepting the reformism of the New Deal the revolution was lost. Now all the gains workers won back then have gone up in smoke and arguably we are in worse place now than in the 30s depression. If or when the revolution comes lets see it through this time. No to reformism yes to a new world. I do like Alperowitz I see him as IOPS sort of guy and we need to network with reformers, it ain't gonna be easy folks.:)

  • Jason 4th Mar 2013

    "Such claims to non-ideology are in fact the most insidious and dangerous forms of ideology." Amen. An ideology's denial of its own status as an ideology can be conceived of as a defence mechanism by which it exempts itself from scrutiny. If successful, whatever negative outcomes it produces will be explained as resulting from human nature or justified as pragmatic necessities.

    I agree that we folks are 'radical' but reject the idea that we're 'utopian.' Isn't part of what makes us radical the fact that we have broken with a utopian vision of a sustainable liberal democratic capitalism? Also, much of what we will probably end up doing in the shorter term will be understated and pragmatic in nature.

    I'm with Sarah on this. The New Economy people are competition to us in a way but their game will be exposed easily enough if we get our contributions to political economy right.

    If they prove to be 'more of a threat to the growth of IOPS than they are to the status quo' we'll just have to adapt our critique accordingly. And, to echo Nick and John, it would be unconscionable not to, wherever feasible, work with them because they're beating us in the numbers game.

  • Gregory VanGaya 5th Mar 2013

    I would just like to say I'm glad we exist. This thread proves to me that a mindless 'pragmatism' isn't the best that we can do as a species... Although I would say that our ideological (the logic of ideas) bent does seem to lead us away from pragmatic strategic growth.
    I think we need to create the space and capacity by which to shine our model out as widely as possible. We need the spaces in which people can be invited into live the participatory methodology. We need the capacity by which people can be strengthened in their beliefs that another world is worth investing in and sacrificing for. That's why I think we should build a Federation of Participtory Co-ops. If we stay stuck purely on a trend of self-education, recruitment and organizing of the organization, without moving to real capacity (other than the capacity to make decisions internally), then we are "asking [me] to participate in derivatives" as one old American expat radical put it to me in a meeting about the lay of the land for forming a chapter here in Mexico.
    If we first move to organize our own businesses, with a close eye to insulating our values from the capitalist sludge that surrounds us, then we at least as organizers have the time together to more properly form our coherent shared, and diverse strategies. We might even build surplus capacity by which to spring board into wider organizing.
    I really think that social activism is effectively dead or the walking dead. Chomsky noted how much better we were during the lead up to the Iraq war because we were already seeing mass protests before it even started... Longest wars in U.S. history is where we're at now.
    When Reagan went after the air traffic controllers union with a sledge hammer, he was nailing the coffin shut on the people's capacity to organize, that's what breaking the unions (surplus time and resources for the common man) is really about imo.
    I believe organizing under the cover of mercantalism would give us the luxury of space, as well as capacity and power to actually effect change, and not just piss our cumbayas into the wind or our harmony into the sound of the oncoming corporate lobby bulldozers.
    Think about it, even if our Federation of Participatory Co-ops didn't turn a profit by which to lobby, or do mass communications, or set up family centers with, we'd at least have the spaces, the time together, the contacts via supply chains contracts with our suppliers and clients, etc., etc.

    • David Jones 6th Mar 2013

      Gregory, I really like your idea of IOPS facilitating the development of a Federation of Participatory Co-ops. Anything that can weaken existing ties to / dependance upon capitalist systems of production and distribution can only increase our effectiveness as an org. The internet gives opportunities to coordinate such networks between geologically separated regions (face-to-face community meetings would be vital too, of course).

      Also, IOPS has a commitment to *improving the lives of its members* - and as capitalism increasingly disintegrates (which I think it will over the coming years/decades...) I'd expect such a network of co-ops to become increasingly critical to safeguarding people's quality of life. Capitalism will continue to look after its elites in their gated communities, but I'd expect everyone else (including today's middle classes) to become poorer and poorer, more and more marginalized and miserable as time goes on. It would be better for us "rats" to desert the sinking ship sooner rather than later, leaving the "captains" to go down with it.

    • David Jones 6th Mar 2013

      I meant *geographically* separated

    • Gregory VanGaya 6th Mar 2013

      David, you go straight to the end game, which I've thought through too (it's fun). I don't see FPC (Federated Participatory Co-ops) as easy, especially not in the end game, we need systems which become political for rotation of council members on security councils, we need to divert perception of our percieved location, it's constant tedium just to avert all out war. I see post-capitalism or basically just feudalism if no coherent alternative can be inspired and propagated across enough geographies and power networks. But that's me geeking out. If you want to read me on this, I can send you reams. Just send me a gmail account.
      I see FPC as the difficult but necessary starting point. We have a system of elegant moral logic. It has orders of logic which intelligent people who care to think it through become inspired by, but people wnating to get on with their lives don't bother with... Because they will never have the chance to apply the understanding they invested to acquire!
      Until we can incentivize with a model that they might be able to reasonably dream about living in, people won't even care to self-educate for how to be in it!
      Until we have resources and capacity to produce mass media people won't hear about the existence of the model, let alone the intricacies of the methodology.
      These first two steps are where we're at. An FPC could get us both. Nothing else gets us that for all my searching on how to move forward as an organizer.

      FPC then gets us all the chance to take care of wider and wider populations and to make broader, linking-up moves like you note David. If you have food production, you have transport to move food and the inputs for the soil. If you have transport you have engineering and manufacturing. If you have engineering you have infrastructure and applied inovation. If you have innovation you have efficiency, etc., etc., etc. Only when one has the capacity and connections do opportunities arise to be grasped. I personally think the oligopoly is stupid and in-fighting quite regularly. I think with any capacity, a cooperative network (and now we work together day in and day out so we are much more of one mind and able to have responsive discoursive descition making, i.e., good tactical-strategy development) with the efficiencies of parecon and resources could win, maybe even without an all out fight - Sun Tzu (a participatorily designed set of theories from 11th century B.C. China) shows us this is clearly possible.
      I see thousands of commercial opportunities, many of which have quite good profitability potential. But so far I'd have to do them all myself. There are also David Marty in Madrid and Jordan Barnes with me in Vancouver who think this way to a large degree. You too David?
      Jordan and I see crowd sourced funding as a way forward, which would allow us to gather the funding for a plethora of endeavours (which then link up to form the insulated parecon federation or network - for economy is mostly just a network of goods and service provision/discourse). Brad Lee Nichols is supposedly working on a crowd sourced funding web site for co-ops already, but he's not a parecon purist like I am, he doesn't see some of the basic pitfalls of social democracy ending up back in markets and workers' capitalism which eventually becomes just normal capitalism again.
      But really, we have a good 9 ideas ready to go right now for viable businesses, quite a few are web based.

    • David Jones 7th Mar 2013

      Cool, thanks Gregory. Actually, I have not thought very much about the commercial opportunity side of things. At heart I'm lazy, disorganized and essentially an impractical dreamer (I have a PhD in theoretical physics - go figure). Whatever the archetype for "entrepreneur" is, I'm the opposite of it! But I think I need to try and sort that out - "start getting real" as Peter wrote further down.

      If there is a group of us at IOPS interested in exploring and developing these FPC type of ideas, that would be very cool. I'll get myself a gmail account and message you - I'd be interested in reading through some of your "reams"! One of my major motivations for joining IOPS was to get plugged into networks of people interested in this sort of thing, so that I wouldn't have to figure it all out myself from scratch, which I don't think I could do.

      Perhaps we could begin a project group here (I am happy to set one up) to bring together the people you mention for discussions, and pooling of already existing information/ideas?

  • 6th Mar 2013

    Below are a couple of 15-minute videos about the US worth watching. The first leads into the second. Together they support the need for and the potential benefit of federated participatory cooperatives mentioned above. The first graphically depicts wealth distributions in the US: what people think it is, what their ideal would be, and what it actually is.

    The second is a Gar Alperovitz interview by Laura Flanders exploring how employee-owned cooperatives in partnership with non-profits can get around the conservative-liberal stalemate – the inability of government and the current political system to do anything about the obscene distribution of wealth depicted in the first video.

    Cooperatives don’t change the capitalist system but they do represent an opportunity to democratize the work place, anchor wealth within a community and build local institutions that benefit workers and families, and they would provide a common space where workers could share ideas and start building a more sustainable participatory society and participatory economy. While they might not function fully outside the capitalist system they’d be a step in the right direction.



  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 6th Mar 2013

    Good points, agree with you totally John, David, Gregory. Even a simple local consumer food coop if possible linking up with organic food growers in the vicinity ('community supported agriculture') would be a simple start to getting real ('starting outside one's backdoor' in small incremental steps, an old permaculture principle) ,getting beyond words and theories.

  • stephen lawton 7th Mar 2013

    John--- love it and I think that's the way to grow IOPS. Go and work in the community with the people.

  • Rufus Polson 7th Mar 2013

    This New Economy stuff does sound awfully "Third Way" ish. And of course the ostensible pragmatism is not pragmatic at all unless your time horizon is very short, and often not then. The results of trying to deal collaboratively with bosses or capital, while leaving them in control, are things like giving something up to get something which will later be taken away, or building up value only to have it bought out or expropriated.

    Ignoring ownership, structure, control, power--that's not pragmatic. It's stupid and naive. It's like taking out a low-interest loan from the bank which gives them the option of taking away your house even if you made all your payments and assuming it's a good deal because the interest is low and the banker said they would for sure be good guys and not exercise the option. Who would be naive enough? Of course they're not good guys, and the point is they have the power. But as soon as people think more broadly, the blinkers of faux-non-ideology make them accept stuff they'd never fall for at the personal level.

    • David Jones 8th Mar 2013

      I agree with you Rufus. You could argue that your "low-interest loan" is essentially what happened with the original New Deal. Elites made concessions to the workers' movements of the time, but the same basic ownership structures were left in place and so gradually elites were able to roll back most of the reforms. I don't see why New Deal 2.0 would go over any differently. Capitalism is like a pendulum or spring, with an equilibrium point called "all for ourselves and nothing for other people". Reforms can displace this capitalist pendulum for a while, but as soon as popular movements "let go" it finds its way back to equilibrium. Exploitation is capitalism's centre of gravity. Fundamental changes to ownership and institutions need to be made this time - I think we need to change the equilibrium point to something like "libertarian socialism". The "New Economy" folks need to come out and say why they think this reasoning is flawed. They can't just ignore the whole issue of power.

  • Lambert Meertens 10th Mar 2013

    Instead of seeing these people and groups as a threat, we should view them and welcome them as allies – while maintaining an open and friendly dialogue. As I see it, the greatest threat to the growth of IOPS is IOPS itself, and the worst thing we can do is allow ourselves to be perceived as yet another sect in possession of the unique insight of the unique road to salvation, rather than as having the potential to unite the many positive initiatives around the world, molding them into a powerful and effective force.

    "We" may have answers to some questions, but there are many fundamental issues on which we do not have developed positions for which others may feel we "need to come out" (such as the continued existence or abolition of the nation state, or the role and functioning in a participatory society of institutions like the police and the judiciary). IOPS can play an important role in imagining a new world into existence by encouraging and organizing study and social discussion of such issues.

    One meaning of "ideology" is "a coherent set of ideas", and it is clearly a bit silly to flaunt your lack of coherent ideas. But a far more common meaning is "a staid body of doctrine", comprising the "articles of faith" of some political creed. Obviously, that is what our New Economists mean when they write that they want to "freely explore possibilities unbounded by established ideologies and conventional wisdom". I hope that in exploring possibilities IOPS too will not allow itself to be encumbered by established ideologies and conventional wisdom.

    Obviously, the IOPS vision is informed by core values, as presented upfront in our Mission statement. To me, the values have primacy. Programmatic aspirations as expressed in the Vision statement are merely a presentation of a way in which we think these values may find realization in society. We should be pragmatic and flexible about it – some proposed approaches will turn out not to work as smoothly as we once thought, and if something else does the job, that should be fine.

  • Dave Jones 10th Mar 2013

    Thanks everyone for a great thread. I am not super pragmatic or practical and may be guarding my "radical" critique a bit too closely. I should try to be less wary. But I've also seen a lot go down (I'm almost 60, so it's easier to say I'm in it for the long haul!) and have been supremely disappointed by the labor movement and other progressive causes. IMO, many have tried the Grand Bargain, thinking to build popular support by compromise ( labor peace)and expelling the radical element and so end up out-flanked and decimated. The same with mainstream environmentalism.

    As for the concept of utopia, it is true that capitalist liberal democracy fits the bill but I do not think of "utopian" as a pejorative, in fact, I think such an imagination is critical to our survival. While the proponents of the New Economies do wish to explore the bounds of "common sense", I think it is precisely their ideology which prevents them from being able to "freely explore" beyond the market system and a vision of regulated capitalism with a human face. ( I look forward to a discussion about "meaning" and how one becomes "unencumbered" sometime, Lambert)

    I also totally understand the urgency felt to move ahead with something "solid" and support the notion of a Federation of Cooperatives. But I want to say that this type of intellectual work we are doing here is also just that, work, and should not be diminished. It is necessary and so far quite productive. I now have a much better feel for the folks I am getting involved with on this project and feel this melting pot of different leftist tendencies can actually work with a little attention and care.

  • Jay Bostrom 21st Mar 2013

    At a recent event I attended, the film Shift Change was screened. The film was described as follows: "Shift Change: True Stories of Dignified Jobs in Democratic Workplaces....Tells the little know stories of employee-owned businesses that compete successfully in today's economy while providing secure, dignified jobs in democratic workplaces."

    While I agree that democratic workplaces are worthy endeavors and ways to plant potential seeds, I do not feel Mondragon has redeeming value. Mondragon is presented, all too often, as place where its workers are given power, educational opportunities, and yada-yada-yada. However, one thing unknown to many is Mondragon's compromises with the capitalist system that have led it to set up sweatshops in Africa (Egypt, Morocco), Asia (Thailand, China), Latin America (Mexico). Those workers in those countries are not given membership to the cooperative and Mondragon even gave its defense of why such workers are not able to become coop members. Recently, Polish workers at Fagor Mastercook, a Mondragon factory in Poland, all went on strike. They are not afforded the benefits of the cooperative either.

    My point is that there is still a lot about cooperative businesses and that model that need to be considered before we rush to consider them possible fertile ground nurturing workers for a world beyond capitalism. The workers in the film being interviewed in Spain were, not surprisingly, happy with the stability and input as full members of Mondragon. However, they had an uncanny ability to ignore the conditions of fellow Mondragon workers making possible their cooperative.

  • Dave Jones 24th Mar 2013

    Thanks Jay, this is the critical awareness which we must foster, subjecting even our own idealized models to critique. Everything is changing, fast, and we need to incorporate both the good and the bad as we form our new models.