“Systems come and go,” began political economist, historian, and author Dr. Gar Alperovitz as he opened his talk during an event hosted by the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. Dozens of students, faculty members, and residents of Kalamazoo attended the public discussion on Thursday, September 22, entitled “What Then Must We Do.”
The event explored economic democratization in the daily lives of US-Americans. “This is a genuine intellectual problem if you don’t like corporate capitalism [nor] communism.”
Alperovitz is currently the co-chair of The Next System Project, a “multi-year initiative aimed at thinking boldly about what is required to deal with the systemic challenges the United States faces now and in coming decades” (Next System Project). Alperovitz previously worked as a professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, and as a fellow at both Cambridge and Harvard Universities. Alperovitz also served as legislative director for both houses of Congress.
The Next System Project seeks to profile and foster, “projects and experiments to change and democratize the distribution of wealth.”
“What we see today is a medieval distribution of wealth and power,” Alperovitz described, before adding, “in fact other historians have corrected me in saying that today’s distribution is even more extreme.”
Alperovitz and The Next System Project claim that the “next American revolution” will start locally, bubbling up from community projects. The idea of bubble-up revolution is grounded in history, so they claim.
“The starting place is your backyard,” Alperovitz declared. He explained that local experiments may later evolve to become nationally deployed long-term economic strategies, citing state-program “experiments” as the precursors to the nationally deployed New Deal programs of 1933—1938.
“[This is a] very conventional thing I’m suggesting,” justified Alperovitz. “It isn’t about abstract theory, it’s about where we and our kids will go.” He additionally drew parallels to the feminist movements, the development of domestic and international economic models, and the American conservative movement of the 1950s.The audience proceeded to discuss credit unions, municipal utilities, commercial cooperatives, and employee stock ownership during Q&A and group discussions.
“Try to see the period we live in as the prehistory of a new era,” Alperovitz suggested, citing the idea development as the trigger for shifts in systemic structures.
Alperovitz ended by telling the audience, “we are either lucky or unfortunate to be living in this time.”