Aziz Rana’s Internationalist Platform

Aziz Rana’s (2019) policy-development prescription (somewhat reformulated by me) for Justice Dems and labor organizers, as a polity-challenger coalition:

1) Labor organizing, building networks capacitating internationalist immigrant organizing leadership.

Problem: “The overwhelming tendency–and not just on the Right–is to present immigration as an issue that begins at the national border, with virtually no attention paid to the particular histories, international economic pressures, and specific US foreign policy practices that generate migration patterns” (Rana 2019).

2) Democratic budgeting exercises reworking the security state budget, to demonstrate popular capacity to democratize foreign policy, and to reintegrate foreign and domestic policy beyond the shallow, corporate-military “America First” working-class appeasement campaign.
3) Policy ideas for transitioning the US from overgrown military keynesianism on behalf of global capitalists to a wealth-circulating, democratic-tech developing, social reproductive economy appropriate to an “overdeveloped” (rentier capitalist) economy.
4) Develop trade policy with constraints on transnational property rights, linked to the domestic economy via enforced labor and environmental standards throughout supply chains, as well as policing redirected toward repatriating (sharing across production-impacted countries) excess profits and other private accumulation stockpiles.
I would add:

5) Organizing needs to address the great portions of the American working class materially and symbolically co-opted by the capitalist security state, particularly guard labor and owners of marginal businesses. These are the American working class, herded by right wing orgs and socially- subsidized into supporting global, militarized rents extractivism at the astronomical cost of global, social and environmental destabilization. Besides designing and investing in a democratic social reproductive economy to reincentivize this working class population, how can as many as possible of these co-opted working-class Americans be reorganized into supporting a transition to democracy, demilitarization, and a social reproductive economy? David Graeber’s lesson in “Army of Altruists” (2007) can be a starting point in organizing strategy: People want to work together for a great purpose.

6) Required: an assessment of policing and military capacity to tolerate v. oppose advancement to a democratic economy and polity in the US. Assessment needs to include an inventory of tools of suppression at police and military disposal.

7) Required: an assessment of the implications of US demilitarization and democratization on international investors, private and state, and their capacity to tolerate v. oppose, including an inventory of tools of suppression at their disposal.

8) Required: an assessment of antidemocratic imperial state partners’ capacity to tolerate v. oppose US demilitarization and democratization, including an inventory of tools of suppression at their disposal.

9) Note that the fight for social democracy in Sweden required that political organizers concentrate on building unions and a union confederation across the country for three decades before launching into the polity with a political party.

This planning sketch recognizes that much of finance-organized capital, as well as the conservative-Catholic US judiciary, and most of the polity are organized against democratic development. As well, it also recognizes historical structural shifts, including those identified by Rana, that can enable organizing toward stymied social, economic, and political democratic emancipation.

Trump Republican Support Base: Construction Firm Owners

Construction firm owners throughout the US are unified in their appreciation for Trump-led policies like diminished corporate income taxation (down to 21%), the removal of labor protections like the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Act, and federal infrastructure investment. Despite regionalized labor strategies, they are committed to maintaining their solidarity as owners along with their support for Trump Republicanism.

The US construction labor market has been developed so that it cannot be sustained without sub-socially-average wages. Thus, construction labor wages and markets are tiered in two different regionalized ways in the US.

In deunionized US regions, construction firm owners depend on imported labor from global regions with lower social reproduction costs. 25% of the US’s construction labor are immigrants or migrants. With not only reduced rights, but also the complete absence of state rights protection, these workers are highly vulnerable to wage theft and inhumane working conditions, which class predation is institutionalized and normalized in anti-union regions. Latino workers are at higher risk of on-the-job fatalities than other workers, according to a recent report from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), and 67% of Latino workers killed on the job are immigrants. In 2016, 991 construction workers were killed, which was the highest number of any sector.

Firmly in real estate capitalist Trump’s political coalition, construction firm owners in unionized construction regions are not directly, negatively impacted by anti-immigration policy. For flexible, cheap labor, construction firm owners in unionized economies, like New York, use high school graduates, women, and veterans in apprenticeship programs. Their second option for obtaining cheap, flexible construction labor is importing construction labor from deunionized US regions, as North Dakota did to build oil fracking infrastructure.

The democratic advantages of the union-region approach to below-market cost, flexible construction labor are that there is possibility for below-cost apprentice labor to eventually move into working at social reproduction cost. Depending on to what extent women are transitioning from apprenticeship to full-paid work, apprentice-based cheap labor may or may not eventually de-gender the construction labor market. The economic costs of the union-region apprenticeship system are socialized and spread over time: It requires public subsidy to firm owners for the employment of that cheap, flexible labor market, and it saddles those workers with apprentice backgrounds with lower lifetime earnings, which will suppress their consumption capacity and intergenerational social reproduction relative to workers paid at the socially-average wage.

However they are differentially-impacted by anti-immigration policy, they are unified by anti-immigrant, anti-worker, and pro-capitalist policies, and construction firm owners are able to prioritize owner solidarity.  Together they are calling for the expansion, to construction firms, of ag owners’ slaver exemptions from labor laws. US policy, rooted in the slaver-region institutions and relations that had to be maintained in the New Deal, exempts ag and domestic workers from state-protected citizenship rights, including civil rights, political rights, social citizenship rights, and human rights.

While expanding labor power resources, the New Deal also expanded slavers’ labor institutions across the agriculture-dominated regions, so that Southern Democrats were able to secure some of the slavery-expansion ambitions that the 1861-1865 Civil War foiled.

If such an exemption is granted, the current occupation of the US presidency, by real estate capital, may facilitate construction owners to further expand slavers’ labor institutions, shifting more weight in the US to the appropriation base of the capitalist economy.

It is for such reasons–opposition to slavery–that at the very least, the liberal-left should learn from all its regrets at repeatedly joining neoliberal intervention coalitions sold on behalf of the marginalized, including education privatization, managerializations and surveillance, and carceral expansion.

It is time to become politically literate to the fact that conservatism has an altruistic brand, and it has always been aestheticization and patronage of the marginalized, the exception. And yet, neoliberalization, the conservatization of liberalism, has not been, as it was philosophically marketed, a corrective to the excesses of egalitarianism. It offered us moral “sweeteners” for the marginalized, and diverted us from just egaliberte development.

Now here we are, with egaliberte at the vanishing point in the rearview mirror, with conservatism fully at the helm, and attempting to offer an expensive, wasteful, lame sweetener–a border wall–not for the margins, but symbolically for average people and materially, substantively for their construction bosses. This is what elitists call populism. It is time to consider the ways in which a contrasting egaliberte approach can alone humanize and liberate both average people and the exceptionally-dehumanized, at the cost of isolating those among the exceptionally-superhumanized who will not use their entitlements for democratic advancement–a cost which would be a benefit.

When I was in political policy, we had to, standard, concoct “sweeteners” to package with (and market) policies that civil society groups would dislike. For Republican coalition members like construction firm owners, that packaging is reversed, as massive social wealth is funneled to them, with bitter (or small annoyance) pills tucked in to maintain the broader coalition.

Construction owners in the Trump coalition contemplate the Trump regime’s package of gifts and bitter pills. The chief bitter pill for construction owners is reduced access to migrant labor, but this only immediately impacts construction firm owners in deunionized regions.

The US government gave construction firm owners the following gifts, acknowledged in the industry’s online reporting:
1) Reduction of the official corporate income tax rate down to 21%.
2) Making labor more vulnerable: Dismantling labour protection legislation, including the Labor’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Act.
3) Proposal for $200 BN in federal infrastructure spending, with bipartisan support, as post-2007 economic stimulus ends.
4) $1.2 BN in federal funding to states for vo-tech training for the construction industry and to proliferate small business.


For construction trade news & analysis, see:

In 2004 the International Court of Justice, citing human rights and humanitarian law, ruled Israel’s settlement barriers through the West Bank to be illegal. In Israel’s online comms, it cites the following as justification for its walls clearing out Palestinians and North African immigrants and establishing Israeli settlements, and its further plans for surrounding the entire territory in a “security fence.” Note that the US plays a primary role in the justification, and Britain, Saudi Arabia, and India are also primary models of–and possibly exponents of–the policy and militarized gating market.

“The United States is building a fence to keep out illegal Mexican immigrants.

Spain built a fence, with European Union funding, to separate its enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco to prevent poor people from sub-Saharan Africa from entering Europe.

India constructed a 460-mile barrier in Kashmir to halt infiltrations supported by Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia built a 60-mile barrier along an undefined border zone with Yemen to halt arms smuggling of weaponry and announced plans in 2006 to build a 500-mile fence along its border with Iraq.

Turkey built a barrier in the southern province of Alexandretta, which was formerly in Syria and is an area that Syria claims as its own.

In Cyprus, the UN sponsored a security fence reinforcing the island’s de facto partition.

British-built barriers separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast.” –AICE Jewish Virtual Library

Open Borders has been the longtime position of the Chamber of Commerce. But since the rise of the DHS’s E-Verify employer-worker surveillance program at the turn of the 20th century, and subsequently I-9 software programs, and particularly since Trump instituted the Family Separation policy, the Chamber and the Business Roundtable have led a coalition of legal institutes, particularly immigrant-defending legal institutes, and organizations opposing ethnic and racial discrimination, around the fight for the Chamber’s Open Borders interest.

They are opposed by those software firms selling HR departments I-9 software, as well as by private prison corporation Southwest Key (Texas nonprofit that repurposes Walmarts into prisons as well as owning charter schools. Its CEO makes $1.5/year.); MVM (Virginia prisoner transport business); Comprehensive Health Services (Florida), Dynamic Services Solutions (Maryland), Exodyne-Dynamic Educational Systems (Phoenix, AZ) suppliers of child imprisonment guard staff. One-fifth of Americans today work in guard labour, according to Bowles and Jayadev.

Border Wall Profiteers:

Congress set aside $20 million grants for businesses to build border wall prototypes.

The companies chosen for the concrete prototypes were Caddell Construction of Montgomery, Ala.; Fisher Sand & Gravel/DBA Fisher Industries of Tempe, Ariz.. (HQ ND); Texas Sterling Construction in Houston; and W.G. Yates & Sons Construction in Philadelphia, Miss.

“According to the GAO report, CBP spent only about $5 million directly tied to the construction and testing of the prototypes themselves, including $3 million for the eight contracts awarded to the six companies, including two from Arizona.

Customs and Border Protection said the remaining $15 million was used for “planning activities such as environmental and real estate planning,” for the current fiscal year in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest area along the border, and the top priority to build additional fencing.” –AZ Central.


Distinguishing social democracy

Distinguishing social democracy:

Under left-liberal (as opposed to soc dem) regimes, organized labor does not participate in mid- to longer-range socio-economic planning. However, left think tanks can contribute mid- to long-range planning analyses.

Conversely, there are a variety of ways in which business leaders contribute to public policy formation, because business (public and private, but not cooperative) is regarded by the lib-left govt as the engine of growth.

This exclusion of cooperatives from the field of perceived contributors to growth indicates that lib-left govts may also be distinguished from social democratic govts by an assumption that growth is a product of “efficient” social-hierarchy-inflating organizational forms.

In lib-left regimes, labor views its role, and the liberal government views labor’s role as (often obstructive) ballast to economic growth initiatives that are seen as the natural concern of business. That’s labor’s negative role. It’s not a leadership role.

Labor’s positive role in capitalist democracy thus largely devolves to delivering votes to the left-liberal govt, because although the lib-left does not regard labor as a central social or economic policy resource, as opposed to conservative govts the lib-left govt will not actively try to break organized labor and it may implement those modest proposals of labor that do not impede the business-driven growth planning.

Hence, with a range of ruling (capitalist) political perspectives that always preemptively block information from labor (except what little leaks obliquely through the market), we repeatedly sink into crisis cycles–crisis of profit begets > capital deregulation and overmobilization, working class overregulation, demobilization, and dispossession beget > speculative bubbles/primitive accumulation beget > underconsumption crisis begets > further primitive accumulation, repeat. We fixate on the speculative bubbles moment in the midst of all this autistic failure, hoard wealth, and laud ourselves endlessly for being such top-notch managers and philanthropistes.

This is why for Rawlsianism to work, socialist politics and the communist horizon must be more highly valued, and even defended– by liberals.
As far as I know, this seeming impossibility has only been (temporarily) accomplished in Scandinavia and Minnesota. (While Latin America leftists tried to forge a left-lib coalition from scratch, the US destroyed this effort and enforced conservative rule in Latin America, see Greg Grandin.)

In “Right-wing Rawlsianism: A Critique” (forthcoming in Journal of Political Philosophy) Samuel Arnold argues that if liberals agree that agency is the essence of justice, then liberals have to pick which side they are on–because economic democracy fosters more agency than Trickledown provides.

Arnold’s is a clever detonation of a bridge from liberalism to conservatism, using some of the bridge-builders’ own ideal theory tools. (Particularly with respect to Rawls’ difference principle: A liberal justice-maximizing directive to choose the political-economic system that maximizes the least-advantaged group’s expectations for an index of primary goods that include income and wealth, but also status (qua capacity for agency in the workplace and self-respect in society).)

Upon deriving the optimal realization of liberal justice (agency) in workplace democracy, Arnold concludes (p. 32),

Milquetoast liberal egalitarianism is unstable: liberal egalitarianism must move far to the left in order to avoid being jerked far to the right.”

We need to keep heaping on the demonstrations that economic democracy fosters more agency than GDP/GNP tumescence.

For one example, insofar as political-economic systems can be said to have intentions, how plausible is it that capitalism does not intend to support social pathologies (Arnold, p.29)? Studies of primitive accumulation, the WEB DuBois tradition, socialist feminists, Harvey et al have a lot to say about how capitalism “intends to” (is built and maintained to) and does depend upon and support social pathologies. This approach apprehends the connection between economic (eg. workplace) tyranny and racism, sexism, colonialism, etc., for a powerpunch assertion that inequality is both fundamental to capitalism (even if it is shifted around across some social groups, over time and space) and fatally (from the perspective of justice) undermines agency (power to).

…& on the matter of historical-materialism’s putative incapacity to deal with difference (from a postmodern POV), from Arnold (p. 29):

Patriarchy, discrimination against the weak or the different, pressure to conform, and countless other social practices that prevent people from realizing their full agential potential: how long can these pathologies withstand the countervailing winds of a social democracy, with its democratic workplaces, its flattened division of labor, its robustly egalitarian public institutions?”

Building Alternatives

“To my mind, the so-called ‘socialist society’ is not anything immutable. Like all other social formations, it should be conceived in a state of constant flux and change. Its crucial difference from the present order consists naturally in production organized on the basis of common ownership by the nation… 

To begin this reorganization tomorrow, but performing it gradually, seems to me quite feasible. That our workers are capable of it is borne out by their many producer and consumer cooperatives which, whenever they’re not deliberately ruined by the police, are equally well and far more honestly run than the bourgeois stock companies”  

Engels, Letter to Otto Von Boenigk (1890).

Capital strike is a problem for working class strategy and strength, as Adam Smith, Kalecki & Sweezy keenly observed. It makes sense not just to disrupt or tear down (though certainly that, see Marx, Piven, Domhoff & Zizek), but also to build fortifications around that fundamental vulnerability, as well as to build an answer to conservatives’ play on the fear of loss. See Rudolf Meidner.

…  Jodi Dean cites Chomsky discussing the importance of working class organize-to-rule strategies, including sit down strikes, co-operative takeovers of languishing industries and economic sectors (think green technology), and a build-up of broad working class-conscicous support for such initiatives:

“In one of the suburbs of Boston, about a year ago, a multinational decided to close down a profitable, functioning facility carrying out some high-tech manufacturing. The workforce and the union offered to buy it, take it over, and run it themselves. The multinational decided to close it down instead, probably for reasons of class-consciousness. I don’t think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like the Occupy movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.” 

Why the Small Private Retail Business Model is Irrational, Costly and Inefficient

In this post, I explain why the small private retail business model is socially irrational, and discuss two alternatives–big box monopolies and social enterprises.

Doug Henwood’s “Small is Not Beautiful.”

However, keep in mind throughout this discussion:
A study of American communities with and without big box stores finds that communities with big box stores are unhealthier. This coincides with studies that find that communities are healthier and more affordable where commercial goods are within walking distance. Furthermore, Food & Water Watch points out that the way that big boxes operate ipso facto drives unsustainable economic and human-nature relationships. (See also Varoufakis’ “Handmaidens” discussion in The Global Minotaur.)

Make no mistake: The point I am making here is NOT an argument in favor of Walmartization, both engine and beneficiary of today’s austerity crisis. Rather I am making a Power Resources argument– Small businesses should not be fetishized or coddled in public policy to the extent that we ignore their impact on labor conditions, because labor conditions have multifold economic, political, environmental and social reverberations

As a counterpoint, John Restakis pointed out in his study of Emilia Romagna, the low-inequality, full employment cooperative economy “allows small and medium firms to compete globally through the use of co-operation as an industrial strategy.” But if small businesses are allowed to proliferate junk jobs, then Walmarts stand at the wings, ready to swoop in and take advantage of primed degraded labor, while offering the lower prices that degraded labor depends on.

A Robust Regional Economic Strategy, 
for Deployment Outside Global Financial Centers and Oil Kingdoms

The better model is a combination of Swedish economic development policy under Social Democratic Party rule and Emilia Romagna and Basque policy that allows cooperatives to flourish together. The upshot is that healthy, efficient, humane economic policy fosters neighborhood-based cooperatives, linked by a regional producers’ and consumers’ cooperative network capable of exerting aggregate buying power and issuing loans.

Social democratic Swedish policy focused on fostering economic efficiency and innovation while maximizing labor, reproductive, and environmental conditions. Whereas with cooperative networks, the Emilia Romagna and Basque regions have focused on solving Peter Evans’ “Embedded Autonomy” problem– securing a bond between state-fostered, economically-powerful organizations and local and regional economic, social, health and environmental welfare.

But as (Restakis’ study implies while) I emphasize in my study of Swedish social democracy, the robustness of the alternative economy depends upon the maintenance of a socialist backbone. Rip out or chip out the socialist nervous and skeletal substructure, and you’ll look up to find that capital has harvested the alternative economic institutions like a juicy, de-spined bag of well-fed organs, and all that’s left is a pool of blood. That’s exploitation, and that’s the name of the capitalist game. So if you want a thriving economy anywhere outside the global urban centers of finance and their good ol’ boy partners in the oil kingdoms, don’t throw your communists into the dungeon. They are the only ones who can remember–past the blandishments, the teaser offers, the marginalist revolutions, and all the shiny, shiny marketing–what is going on in capitalism.

Two of the worst errors are to believe 1) the marketing that a political-economic strategy that works in global urban financial centers and oil kingdoms works elsewhere, or that all regions can competitively pursue the same economic strategy, and 2) that a value-accumulating strategy that creates economic dynamism at one point in history will continue to do so as the relations it exploits deplete and age (as its contradictions play out). We tend to follow common, well-advertised, well-funded patterns. We are thus limited creatures, intellectually; it is important to our flourishing to compensate by not crushing what critical intellectuals we have.

So why aren’t small businesses the automatic answer to our environmental, health and economic problems?

Characteristic social, health and environmental costs of excessive economic dependence on small private retail businesses:

Why the small-business model is socially irrational

  1. It is a ready contributor to unhealthy social inequality. The model, if all works out ideally, is to have the business owner make a middle to upper-middle class income, while the majority of people, employees, struggle by on poverty wages that keep these workers in crippling crises and so tax the community and the state.
  2. The small retail business model creates political pressure to use social policy (including unemployment) as well as culture to keep people undereducated, dispossessed, disenfranchised, desperate, and vulnerable, in order to maintain a full stock of vulnerable, disposable labour at the disposal of small businessmen. 
  3. Inequality creates an alienated, adversarial culture, breaking down community solidarity, reducing social and cultural capital, leading to declining capacity to innovate and deal with problems.
  4. Social inequality causes chronic stress in humans, promoting chronic-stress related diseases, and taxing the health care system.
  5. With increased pressure to demonstrate one’s place among the elect, social inequality causes asset price inflation, and encourages speculation.
  6. The model undermines necessary social goods and services funding and provision. With inequality, the affluent have both competitive and class warfare incentive and the power to hoard and to withdraw from contributing to the important, public goods and services that less-affluent people cannot afford individually, such as education, health care, holidays, clean air and water, pensions and transportation, inter alia. This hoarding further makes resources illiquid, and reduces productive investment and either economic development or environmental melioration, in favor of private money-generating unproductive financial speculation that demands state capture and eventually results in maldistributed wealth destruction.
  7. The model mars and clutters the landscape, eats up arable land, poisons potable water and plugs up wetlands with acres of sprawling, ugly, cheap, utilitarian yet garish stripmalls, parking tarmac and miles of tar roads. Small businesses are politically coordinated by the Chamber of Commerce to feed the bankers’ and developers’ Growth Machine, constantly chasing and consuming cheaper land, forcing consumers and workers to drive and live ever further apart so that their incomes are increasingly consumed in transportation and other new infrastructure costs. The Growth Machine mass-murders species by consuming their habitat as well as obliterating ecological services.
  8. The Growth Machine chokes political offices with graft, patronage and corrupt, Little King good ol’ boys to enforce and reap the sprawl order. Dependent upon bosses, citizens forget how to work together democratically.
  9. The roads and infrastructure required to serve sprawl are expensive to build and maintain.
  10. This sprawl forces environmentally-poisonous, politically-corrupting community dependence on oil industry, the automotive industry, road construction, and the military industry required to secure oil.
  11. Sprawl confines people to body-destroying cars and creates car culture path dependency, for example proliferating  fast food drive-in consumption, facilitating reduced leisure time standards and assaulting human health, which taxes the health care system.
  12. The small private business model discourages entrepreneurial innovation. Because it is difficult to eke out a living as a small businessman, owners cleave to the tried and true: promulgating chain franchises that do not innovate in response to local needs so much as seduce and force local consumers to adapt to the procrustean bed of standardization.
  13. The model saddles consumers with expensive, poor quality goods, or at best very expensive, medium-quality goods. Small private retail businesses have comparably poor supply chains, especially in regions which do not have a large enough domestic market to bring sufficient market power to trade negotiations.
  14. For this reason, the small private business model funnels local income to corporate cities abroad. This is also true in the case of real estate bubble collusion by local banker-real estate agent collaborations. The beneficiaries of real estate bubbles are primarily global cities’ FIRE firms.
  15. Where owning confers a monopoly on entitlements, working becomes stigmatized. This fosters an alienated “lotto mentality” culture, in which people at odds with each other wait to win freedom and hope that a supernatural force shows them to be exceptional. 
  16. As working becomes stigmatized and owning apotheosized, the small private business model creates path dependency–preventing the improvement of working conditions, instigating the degradation of work, building an ideology of  entitlement to exploiting other people and nature, and weighting society with the burden of an overbuilt law-and-order machine enforcing excessive economic and political inequality order.
  17. In this way, the small business model creates the vulnerable, exploitable conditions for large monopoly firms to move in and take over the retail landscape, as per the Walmart model.

 There are small businesses which provide exceptions to the social costs of the private small-business model, businesses which are credits to the community. Craft skills can be rationally incorporated in competitive small private businesses to social benefit. Also, even socially-irrational small private  businesses may make some contributions to the community, though these contributions may not outweigh the social costs of the business. I do not argue that there should be no small businesses.

But neither do I argue, as some do, that small private businesses’ defects imply that they should be entitled to increased social support. Instead I argue that it is socially irrational, for the many reasons cited above, to pursue economic growth through an indiscriminate emphasis on promoting small private business with policy incentives. We must have a nuanced understanding of which kinds of small businesses are aggregately beneficial in particular environments (which change over time). And we need to keep in view–What are the more socially-rational economic and human development alternatives? Can we craft and deploy incentives to build an economic base that can unambiguously build up the social good, ensuring developmental working conditions, rather than entitling exploitation?

Small businesses have to be evaluated by a metric designed to weed out the above adumbrated problems.  Permits, loans, certification and credentialing, awards, support and taxation for and on small businesses need to determine whether the small business is rational to the extent that they proliferate craft skills and design ideas networks, minimize junk jobs and environmental harm, and maximize neighborhood livability and walkability. Could these goals be better served with another form of goods or services delivery (social economy co-operative, big box, state, and/or charity)? Small businesses should be housed on neighborhood corners, from residences, or in neighborhood streetside shops below a couple of layers of residential space, phasing out stripmall sprawl.

Socially-rational and Useful Businesses for Small Entrepreneurs to Develop:

  • Local craftwork, art and design (eg. woodwork, ceramics, fibre arts, printing, electrician, plumbing, gardening and animal care, etc.) services, shops and guilds.
  • Neighborhood pubs and cafes. These should be supported by municipal laws encouraging quality of life–local food and music production and distribution, and permitting rooftop, garden, and streetside eating and drinking, as well as dogs and people of all ages.
  • Recycled household goods shops, boot camps, laundromats, nail and hair salons, car washes, book stores, pet and child care, and residential and commercial local gardening and food production services
  • Neighborhood groceries, hardware stores, bicycle and ski shops, and copy centres. To keep costs down, job quality higher, and keep these kinds of businesses viable, these are best as co-operatives in a co-operative network, but in any case such small businesses provide a real service to neighborhoods. They should be supported by charities and government, and municipal law.

Alternatives to the many problems of the small retail business economy model

Part I: The big-box monopolies

We’ll start with big box private monopolies. Consider IKEA and Target. Together, IKEA and Target could, between the two megastores, as they currently run, provide a nearly-comprehensive host of much better quality goods to an urban consumer market at a fraction of the cost currently charged by the plethora of small retail businesses selling mountains of low-quality, overpriced goods. IKEA and Target just have more powerful demand and more control over their supply chains. Further, IKEA, a transnational corporation with its roots in Sweden, has been obliquely impacted by Swedish organized labour, and so it offers better working conditions and compensation than small private retail businesses. Last, the big boxes are more compact. Without a landscape of stripmalls, big boxes could have less impact on land and resources use.

However, first, as I have argued above, private monopolies are not really alternatives to small businesses, but rather they accompany wanton and irrational private small business over-development. Therefore, as we can observe, IKEAs, and especially Targets and Walmarts do not tend to reduce sprawl. They tend to continue to reinforce car-dependency and sprawl. 

Second, and more fundamentally, without competition among private firms, over time, the quality of the goods private monopolies offer will decrease and the price will increase in order to bolster profits, the sine qua non of capitalist private property (or at least in order to bolster surplus accumulation, the sine qua non of power). The quality of jobs the private monopolies offer, which especially in the case of Target is poor, will suffer further. The private monopolies will decline to pay taxes, and they’ll have the credible threat (eg. “too big to fail”) and economic and political power to enforce their socially-irrational, socially-inefficient demands. 

The community can have no control over private monopolies, which may fail to provide needed goods and services if the private monopolies decide that they can get higher profit margins by changing their business model (eg. Enron et al switching to financial speculation, thereby screwing consumers, workers, the state, and taxpayers. Or consider that their business model may not survive transportation cost increases). And the reliable local economic development spin-off potential from international big box monopolies is slim to none. At best, whatever remote chance of economic spinoff exists, it must involve very low wage labour and other very low price inputs, which requires unsustainable public subsidy.

Without submitting to the unfurling hazards of private monopoly, how can we get control over supply chains, and production, goods and services quality? Would it be possible to get those supply chains to be responsive? How can we provide goods and services, while avoiding the social costs generated by the small private business model?

Part II: Networked social enterprises

In order to address the above questions, I will specifically focus on the social enterprise form of the producer cooperative, following the EMES definition of social enterprise.

Until I finish this post, I recommend these sources for insight into social enterprises and community economic development:

Loxley, John, ed. 2007. Transforming or Reforming Capitalism: Toward a Theory of Community Economic Development. Winnipeg: Fernwood.

Loxley, John, Kathleen Sexsmith and Jim Silver, eds. 2007. Doing Community Economic Development. Winnipeg: Fernwood Press.

Restakis, John. 2010. Humanizing the Economy: Co-operatives in the Age of Capital. New Society Publishers.


The New Economics Foundation

Transition Network

Throwing off the Yoke: CED, currency, credit access

‎”A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.” 

Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)

Establishing a local currency, together with taking over credit union boards (to gain access to credit), can provide the complement to Community Economic Development (social enterprises including cooperatives, and social enterprise networks) to fortify the working class against capital strike, blackmail and dysfunction.

Common Good Finance in Ashfield, Massachusetts.

“We need to re-democratize the monetary system, to have a set of alternatives for issuing credit outside the banking oligarchy. Alternative currencies can play a vital role in that”  
Josh Ryan-Collins, the New Economics Foundation.

This Guardian article, “Currency stays close to home,” reviews the successful rise of the local chiemgauer currency in Rosenheim-Traunstein, Germany. The chiemgauer was designed and operates to stimulate spending in the local economy, as well as to provide a work-around (or strategic counter to) financial capital illiquidity.

Yes! Magazine covers local currency innovations in “Dollars with Good Sense: DIY Cash.”

Other promising social movement initiatives that OWS has opened up space for:

Revoke corporate personhood.

Worker occupation of enterprises.

“Long Shadows” by Josh Ritter (video by James Holland)

Note on UK cooperatives:

 There are some quite big co-ops in the UK. They’re not perfect, and still run on similar lines to normal corporations. On the other hand they are far better than corporations, treat their workers better (who after all are technically the owners of some of them – others are owned in theory by shoppers) and tend to take social responsibility quite seriously. Executive pay, while still too high, is far lower than comparable private companies.

 Along similar lines, Building Societies in the UK were owned by customers (so essentially non-profit) and for the most part were run fairly well. They offered a better service, better rates and were fairly conservatively run. They were famirly limited in the activities they were allowed to engage in. They were strictly a consumer financing deal (mostly houses). Most of them were force-privatised by the conservatives, but the remaining ones have mostly weathered the crisis fairly well. In comparison to their private breathren, none of whom now survive. The bank which endured the bank run in the UK, Northern Rock, was an ex building society.

 W. L. Gore and Associates is perhaps an example of an interim culture existing in the US. Far far from perfect, but hints of what might be nonetheless.

Economic Value: A Sociological View

I think one of our problems right now is that we don’t know how to think about value. There is an excess of  hurried, automatic, breathless dismissal of Marx’s classic political-economy theory of value, including by Marxists and other leftists; but I think we ought to stop for a moment, and reconsider the common-sense dismissal we’ve arrived at, at this point in history. It’s blinding us to things we need to think about.

I think we’re missing Marx’s point about value, which perhaps requires a sociological perspective (and, Varoufakis, is not incompatible with theories of value that recognize entrepreneurial activity as the locus of value in an economy). Paul Burkett (Marx and Nature 1999) is one of the clearest contemporary writers on the Marxist understanding of value.

Simply, economic value is a social product, created through creative, reflexive, semi-deterministic/semi-voluntaristic relational, social (human) work upon nature.  Value isn’t something that is made within the capitalist market, when profits are realized in the sphere of circulation. That production-circulation separation is maintained through money, so that value can be controlled by capitalists–but price and value cannot be identical. Value is a product of creative, active human relations. Price is a product of capitalist control of value.

That economic value is produced by creative, active human relations is why capitalists are always trying to privatize, to mine the public and the commons–there’s value in them thar human creations.

People, even leftists, who are overly trained in marginalism and other modern conservative economics get caught up in the price calculation mode, and so sometimes fail to see that people coming together to build alternative economic institutions is creating value, and creating independence from capitalist coercion. Didn’t capitalists once create institutions that afforded them independence from the feudal value system, when the contradictions of that feudal system created crisis?

Running Unalienated

Here in “The Lost Secret of Running” is 1) a brilliant little story of how capitalism (in the form of Nike) distorts our species being (We are a long-distance running species.) and hurts us; and 2) how to run as if you had a human body. Hint: It’s not how you’ve learned to run, which is to maximize Nike’s profits. Includes a video and stills of human running technique.

It turns out, that if we run like humans, we can run far, and faster, and without pain.

Human running (with some degree of desperation)

Showing more stills of proper running technique, this blog calls 100-up running technique “Chi running”. The technique’s about the same.

In a related story of what happens to food and health when financial capital steps in, here is an article about the blog confessions of a retired General Mills exec.
Need to know how to eat as if you were a human? Check out Michael Pollan.

“Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Nutrition & physical degeneration

Here is interesting early 20th century research into nutrition and physical degeneration, particularly dental decay. The researcher was inspired by the superior nutrition and good dental health of people not excessively exposed to the modern industrialized food system (In the parlance of the times, “primitives”). His research showed that replacing a modern diet with good nutrition (high vitamin / lower calorie foods) creates healthy saliva that reinforces tooth enamel and gum strength in the mouth, and can even repair tooth decay.
He found it very important for human physical and mental health maintenance to eat such high-nutrition foods as are only available locally (not bred for distance shipping), from plants and animals that are well-nourished themselves.
This research write up is published at Journeytoforver.