Amerika the Unsustainable

It’s not every day a man with a PHD from Cambridge University speaks at UVM, but last Thursday Gar Alperovitz, doctor of political economy and professor at the University of Maryland filled the Aiken 105 lecture hall to standing room only. The topic of the hour was the sustainability of the United States’ political economy, an issue which Professor Alperovitz began the lecture with a bang, “The U.S. Constitution is a failure.” Alperovitz citied it’s inability to keep a small group of elites from grabbing and maintaining power as proof. “At the heart of the problem is the corporations,” Alperovitz professed, continuing to explain how multinational companies dislocate communities and pollute excessively. The problem, as Alperovitz explained, is not political or cultural at heart. The issue is systemic. Prefacing by claiming that this was a controversial topic, Alperovitz denounced the viability of plans to regulate and balance corporations in a democratic society. The end of the labor union is a major cause of this: “It is over.” Alperovitz succinctly said in regards to the heyday of worker rights. At its peak in 1953, 34% of workers were a part of the union movement – the number is down to 7.4% today and a far cry from nations like Sweden (85% today). Professor Alperovitz called for a change in the system that allows corporate domination, but not through socialism, the commonly cited capitalist alternative. “If you don’t like capitalism and don’t like socialism, what the hell do you want? And how do you get there?” Alperovitz asked, rhetorically. Localization, regionalism and a generally smaller scale US was the Professor’s solution. As James Madison said during the nation’s infancy, “If (the United States) gets too big, we risk tyranny.” Alperovitz used this quote as a means to spark discussion on a smaller scale America. States such as Ohio, Alaska and even Texas are taking strides in the right direction, Alperovitz said, using examples of city-owned companies and municipalities sharing profits with major corporations based within the city limits (Texas and Alaskan oil companies have begun this course). While these are great strides towards localization of political and economic power, our nation still has a long way to go before our system becomes sustainable. “One percent of the population owns 57.5% of corporate stock. This is a feudal society!” Alperovitz exclaimed. This is the America he claims needs to end. “We are the people who will design the next system…if we are up to it.”