The Democracy collaborative advocating for more coops to build a post-capitalist economy

A national leader in the US the field of community development, the Democracy Collaborative is researching new ways of building a post-capitalist economy. Co-operatives play a central role...

A national leader in the US in the field of community development, the Democracy Collaborative is researching new ways of building a post-capitalist economy. Co-operatives play a central role in the group’s projects, one of its flagships being the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland.

Ever since it was created by a group of professors at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1999, the core aim of the Democracy Collaborative has been to explore the issues of democracy in all areas, recognising that “the quality of democracy has been eroded and is linked to broader issues of society”.

Steve Dubb, research director at the Democracy Collaborative said that a lot of the group’s work has been focused on exploring ways to implement democratic practice into the economy due to the fact that “a democracy in which you only vote every four years for either Party A or Party B is a democracy that barely merits the name."

“We have done a lot of work in different areas. We have published a number of books and reports on different topics including community wealth building, opportunities for community ownership in the green economy, and studies on the role of anchor institutions [nonprofit or publicly owned institutions such as universities and hospitals] in economic development,” Mr Dubb said.

The Democracy Collaborative is currently trying to adapt the Cleveland community-ownership model to other cities in the US. They have conducted feasibility studies in Atlanta, Georgia, Amarillo, Texas and Washington DC, and they are currently working on a similar study in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“We are very much involved in the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, Ohio, which we helped develop in co-operation with a host of partners, such as the Cleveland Foundation and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center”, added Steve Dubb.

He further explained how community-based enterprises and co-operatives are part of building “an economy that is actually responsible to ordinary people”.

Mr Dubb also said that co-ops play an important role in the economy, giving ordinary people the chance to accumulate capital and use it for common good. “They can claim a much central role,” he said.

The Democracy Collaborative is trying, where possible, to put into practice the principle of subsidiarity, bringing decision-making authority down to the lowest level possible. This would serve a double purpose-it would increase efficiency and it would strengthen democracy.

Mr Dubb also pointed out that “sometimes the lowest level possible may still require national or global scale” and that “decentralisation is a priority, but the scale of decision-making must be context-specific.” He gave the example of health care, climate change or banking, where a national and even global agenda is required.

“In terms of trying to carry out what we see as our work of thinking about the development of an economic system that can replace capitalism, you need to ask specific questions. For example, is it really possible for the United States to reduce carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050, while politically powerful, privately owned, multinational coal and oil companies constantly lobby the government to facilitate more coal mining and oil drilling? If not, then central public control might be needed in those sectors,” he said.

As part of its efforts to promote the community-ownership model, the Democracy Collaborative launched Community-Wealth.org, a research, strategy and policy website.

Mr Dubb said: “There are plenty of areas of the economy that are profiled on our Community Wealth website, where local community ownership is not only possible, but preferable.”

“We need to think outside the box of how the economy is today. There are some structural changes in our economy that will be required to create a democratic economy. And in that democratic economy, we do see a very large role for co-ops, credit unions, and many other forms of community enterprise."

Steve Dubb has been working for the Democracy Collaborative since 2004. Previously, he was Executive Director of the North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO). He has published various articles and books on building community-wealth and has most recently co-authored the book “If you don’t like capitalism and you don’t like socialism, what do you want?” in which, along with political economist and revisionist historian Gar Alperovitz, he assessed the possibility of a Pluralist Commonwealth and Community-sustaining economy. The book is exploring what happenes to a system that neither reforms, nor collapses during crisis.

Professor Gar Alperovitz is a Founding principal of the Democracy Collaborative. His 2011 book “America beyond capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty and our Democracy” explores the possibility of building a post-capitalist economy.

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