Yes, I know it sounds loony, hyper-liberal, Marxist, and unrealistic to think that true-blue Americans could actually revolt against the system we all grew up with. Capitalism is cherished in America, the source of economic creativity, an abundant life-style, the freedom for anybody to make it, and countless other blessings. Then why are Americans of all types – young, old, public interest groups, unions – flocking to Occupy Wall Street protests that could grow far bigger?
And, sure, it’s only the left-half of the country, but conservatives insisted that Wall Street should be allowed to fail, or at least broken up, during the 2008 economic crisis. Why shouldn’t the right join in? A recent flood of news articles and blogs has made it clear that the present system in doing a great job for the top 1% of Americans – but a terrible job for the other 99%. As Bill Maher asks on his TV show, “Somebody has to explain to me why the other 99% support this system?”
The alternatives are not just Socialism, which has largely failed, or the State Capitalism of China, with its loss of freedom fomenting their own incipient revolt. Nations around the world practice a wide variety of market systems, and some – like the Nordic countries – perform far better than ours in many ways. Americans have a great opportunity to invent a distinctively different economic system that unifies our two central ideals — Free Enterprise and Democracy.
Google, Johnson & Johnson, Nucor Steel, GM Saturn, Whole Foods and a host of other creative firms have been developing a “democratic” form of enterprise for years, although the profound implications go unnoticed. The rise of corporate ethics, social responsibility, the triple bottom line, strategic alliances, women entering management, and other trends are coalescing into a new form of business based on collaboration, Lots of variation, of course, but this central idea could unify workers, customers, the public and other stakeholders into a productive whole. You could call it a “democratic corporation,” “collaborative enterprise,” “economic democracy,” and many other terms. *
If Americans could realize the potential of this economic breakthrough, we could lead the world again. The concept of uniting the business firm – bedrock of all economies – into a collaborative system would change everything. Social interests become integrated into the economy in a productive way. Firms would compete by collaborating to serve social needs as well as making money. Those that excel would make MORE money, while serving society. We would need less government as the corporation becomes self-regulating. And Wall Street could shed its fling running an economic casino to resume its rightful service role providing secure capital.
Obviously, nobody knows how such an economic system would really work on a national scale, and it may be that Americans don’t have the stomach for such a challenge. But our present way of life is likely to change under the pressure of economic recession, world-wide competition, climate change, an energy crisis, and other yet unknown threats as globalization runs its course. This is the time to think about transforming our economic system, and the key is to resolve the nagging conflict between the self-interest of capital versus our Democratic heritage.
* Halal., “Business Collaboration Could Transform the Economy,” Christian Science Monitor (Oct 6, 2009)