What We Need is Some Culture: Part 2

January 10, 2017

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

The Components of a Cultural/Structural Strategy

[Editor’s note: This post is Part II of an essay by Michael Johnson. In it he proposes a democratic movement strategy that emphasizes a strong cultural component. In Part I he argued that culture is a powerful factor in political and economic dynamics, but currently almost all strategic thinking focuses just on structures and systems. Here in Part II he outlines an alternative cultural/structural strategy for cooperative/solidarity economic and other democratic movements for deep change. Next week we will post Part III — Developing a Democratic Praxis. There he focuses on the key educational factors necessary for building cultures of “small ‘d’ democracy” in communities and regions across the country. His essay has been submitted to The Next System’s essay contest. An overview of the whole essay is on his blog.]

A. A sketch of the cultural/structural strategy

In Part I, last week, I made the case for the over-riding importance for a major shift in the strategic focus for all democratic change movements, and especially for co-operative/solidarity economics. Here in Part II I sketch out how I think we can begin moving decisively toward community and regional networks with a cultural/structural strategy.

Image RemovedThis cultural/structural strategy is radically bottom-up in that it identifies the “bottom” as the minds, hearts, and competencies of people. Individual members of a culture are that culture’s primary site. They are the ones who fill and enact the roles that operate all of the systems of their culture. For example, members who identify with employer/employee roles cannot move into becoming worker-owners without transforming their sense of their economic being. Find out how we can deepen and inspire the democratic orientation they now have, and we will have a powerful social and political lever for moving our world.

Transforming ourselves and the kinds of roles we identify with is the beginning of transforming our small cultures. To transform our cultures and our selves involves finding the gaps, cracks, and other openings in the established world around us. These can be highly creative spaces, like the ones where jazz, rap and Macintosh-like enterprises came into being. Or where Billy Beane of Moneyball fame enabled one of the poorest teams in baseball to become of one of the winningest by transforming how to evaluate baseball players and overturning long-held assumptions about what makes a winning strategy. [15] These special spaces are where most new ideas and practices get started. It’s the home of all “blessed unrests.” [16] This is where we can best build spaces for personal and collective democratic change. Such beginnings are intensely local. It’s the case with the emerging co-operative/solidarity economic ventures. That’s why the regional space is the scale we should focus on now. It is where collective support is both most needed and where we can most directly connect to locals

Two notes. One, our particular efforts to advance co-operative/solidarity economics could find the most receptive audiences in local areas open to devoting significant energy to developing more vibrant democratic cultures, wherever they are and whatever their make-up of our varying identity groups. To promote the development of these strong democratic local cultures will require coalitions of various democratic movements for deep change.

Two, I think of this as a “seven generation,” two-prong strategy for advancing co-operative/solidarity economics that is also very relevant to democratic change movements across the political spectrum. If our movements cannot make major shifts to thinking slow-and-long then the whole strategy I am proposing here will not take root.

1. The structural component

The basic structure would be a polycentric regional co-operative/solidarity network dedicated to promoting democratically-oriented economic institutions. It would have several key structural elements:

A multitude of diverse democratic-oriented economic enterprises.

A regional web that would include these and more specifically co-operatives and solidarity economic enterprises. Worker co-ops cannot build their own regional economy, nor can networks of community gardens, etc.[17] Jointly they can sustain reciprocal chains of production-distribution-and-consumption of goods and services that connect producers to retailers and retailers to consumers in ongoing communication.

A regional web of local mediating institutions that can ground this regional co-operative/solidarity economy into the base communities within the region where people live or work or have their deep affinities. This network of networks is essential for 1) the formation of a substantial and loyal customer base, 2) the ongoing exchange of relevant information among all its parts, and 3) the development of a deep local democratic culture.

A regional web of civic/popular education programs committed to fostering the growth of a local democratic culture, and involving the interested groups, organizations, and networks from all local democratic change movements.A social web to link

  • the base-communities,
  • their mediating institutions,
  • the civic/popular education programs (see Part III below)
  • second-tier institutions such as same sector networks, but also
  • the social, ecological, civic engagement, etc. projects and institutions throughout the region to each other.

This polycentric network of networks is essential for the formation of a substantial and loyal customer base. It is also essential for the formation of political alliances based on mutual interests to address the welter of legal, funding, and policy needs to foster a people’s rainforest economy. “Movements moving together,” so to speak.

Keep in mind that an infrastructure of any kind emerges from the jumble-jumble of needs and wants of the people, collectives, and organizations living in a given region. They are initiated and developed to serve the culture generating them. In turn, they become factors shaping that local culture and, indirectly, the mother-culture as well. The structural model I just laid out is a template that, in part, describes what is actually happening. And, in part, it embodies a biased proposal that favors a radical democratic grassroots strategy.

The radical bottom-up dimension of this proposal differs greatly from the strategic approach of the Democracy Collaborative’s The Next System Project [18] and The Cooperative Growth Ecosystem plan from Project Equity and the Democracy at Work Institute have proposed. [19] The latter title is quite misleading in that this project focuses almost solely on the development of worker co-operatives to the exclusion of all other kinds of co-operatives. Further, both of these projects have received substantial financial support from Citibank’s Citi Community Development program. [20] This is, at a minimum, quite controversial and never opened up to any kind of movement-wide discussion.

On the other hand, as noted above, several regions across the country have already begun employing the kind of inclusive, grassroots, and thinking slow-and-long approach to developing a co-operative/solidarity economic structure. [21]  One of these radical bottom-up structural approaches stand out for me because I have been actively involved in researching and building this network, and co-authored a book about it. [22]. The Valley Cooperative Business Association (VCBA) is emerging in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts. Its primary driver is the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives, which is built on a worker-led co-operative development model. Erbin Crowell, currently executive director of the Neighboring Food Stores Association in the New England Region and former long term member of Equal Exchange, designed this model.[23]

2. The cultural component

The above is the dynamic skeleton. Such a polycentric network, by itself, however, has no organic life. Structures are merely parts of a body, or of an ecosystem like a rainforest. For example, here is a description of the human body as a community:

Underneath our skins we have a 50-trillion-cell, highly functional community with technology that far outstrips anything that we’ve invented with our human minds. When we’re healthy, this system is so impeccable and harmonious that within us we have full employment, universal health care, no cell left behind. The organs cooperate with one another so that the whole system can thrive…At this stage in human evolution, we don’t need to grow another arm or a bigger brain. We need to grow greater awareness and connection in community. (emphasis added) [24]

Awareness, connection, and community come through culture. Fritjof Capra’s description that I shared in Part I is quite useful here:

…culture arises from a complex, highly nonlinear dynamic.  It is created by a social network involving multiple feedback loops through which values, beliefs, and rules of conduct are continually communicated, modified, and sustained.” [25]

There are at least three key dimensions a regional democratic culture has to have to support the building of a local co-operative/solidarity economic network: belief, empowered mutuality, and the norms and best practices for thinking together. The three are dynamically inseparable. Absent one, absent all three. These need to be seen and related to as the organic driving forces of the structural elements. Our movement and other democratic change movements have to play active roles in developing coherent civic/popular education programs that are relevant to the realities of the local area. They may even need to be major drivers for developing these cultural dimensions.

A culture of belief [26]

A region has to get to a tipping point where there are enough people in the same locale becoming convinced that reversing polarization and deepening their local democracy is both needed and possible. This is the kind of environment where it is most possible for co-operative and solidarity economic systems to become a big force right where they live. The kind of environment when enough of them believe it is reasonable to risk starting collectively owned and community-based local enterprises as viable possibilities for the kind of community economic development their area needs. Enough residents and local leaders believing they can connect and work together regionally to build a new kind of economics that will foster cooperation, abundance, and solidarity. That is, a grassroots culture where ordinary people can believe they have choices for the kind of political economics they want to support, promote, and be a part of. [27]

Pragmatically this means getting to the point where enough people are getting turned on by this kind of activity they are moved to join the effort as loyal customers in order to make it happen as well as for getting the goods and services offered. And enough folks getting excited and coming to believe that it is well worth investing some of their surplus wealth to support its growth. Clearly, the structural vehicle for making all of this work is a polycentric network of various kinds of democratically oriented groups, projects, organizations, businesses, and co-operative/solidarity enterprises becoming integral parts of their communities, networking together, and developing the chains of production-distribution-and-consumption for a local democratic economy.

But from where will the cooperative motivation and skill come to build such infrastructures and keep them democratic? This question leads us to the other two dimensions and the necessity for dynamic civic/popular education programs.

A culture of empowered mutuality

The envisioned political and economic changes we are discussing here require that enough ordinary people in a given region want to shift from living out of fear, defeatism, poor thinking, and a scarcity mentality to a mentality of self-empowerment, abundance, and mutuality. They have to grasp that this is personally possible and also come to want to slowly free themselves from the dialectic of oppression they have internalized and to learn how to empower themselves more and more. To want to move from being trapped in a negative individualism that pits all of us against one another, to believing we can be solid with each other where it counts.

These kinds of transformative shifts are very challenging and very demanding. They require special ongoing processes of education and support that can help individuals to learn together to empower themselves and deepen their cooperation. This learning is very much in need within our various democratic movements. Very specifically, this must involve the core learning of how, when engaged in the inevitable distressing conflicts of life, to move from blaming and defending to asking to understand in order to get the information needed to negotiate the differences in play. Such learning requires strong cultural support. That is, it requires cultures of unusually strong belief in mutuality and the feasibility of ordinary people making that happen — slowly, step-by-step.  Such cultures must operate within our larger social culture, yet become less and less of it. In this way disparate communities and regions can come to recognize each other, share their learning, experiences, and goals, and begin exploring how to join together. Scaling-across not up. Any other way of moving to scale will not have the solid ground it needs to build in and on.

A culture of thinking together [28]

That is: a culture with an unconditional commitment to fostering the opportunities, attitudes, and skills necessary for 1) wanting to engage in the relentless consulting and negotiating necessary for ordinary people to manage their collective lives together; and 2) taking individual courageous risks to push the creative social and political development within their communities and regions (and within respective co-operative/solidarity collectives as well). I call this orientation to public life thinking together. Rodney King famously asked “can’t we just get along with each other.” As heart-felt as his plea was, we need to answer it honestly and bluntly: “No, there is no ‘just getting along with each other.’” It involves work, commitment, persistence, heart, intelligence, and skillful means. Raising a child is an incredibly complex process as is making a partnership work. As is multi-racial and ethnic groups coming to understand each other enough so that they can work together, and so on. Every one of us who are engaged in alliance building and cross-sector networking knows how difficult it is to bring people together democratically for a sustained effort. Long-time co-operator and historian, John Curl clues us in to this at the beginning of his history of the co-operative movement in the United States, For All the People:

 Co-operatives are visionary institutions that we can all create, wherever we are. All it takes is three or more people in a mutual relationship. Of course, that’s not as easy as it may sound, as you probably know if you’ve ever tried to share a kitchen, a bathroom, or bed with another person. Human relationships are rife with problems and so, of course, are co-operatives. But the answer is not to reject life, but to embrace it, to work with it, and create constructive relationships and communities in spite of all the obstacles. [29]

(This all seems so obvious to me that I am left utterly dumbfounded that in the whole field of “cooperative education” one can hardly find any offerings having to do with relational cooperation! What Rodney was talking about! Virtually all of it is only about learning how to operate and manage a cooperative business!)

Ideally, Thinking Together involves being able to empty one’s mind of distraction and to expand its focus so one is attending to the needs of the Whole and, as much as possible, its entire set of problems. In the case at hand, this would be the development of deep local democracy and co-operative/solidarity networking within its communities and region. But all projects require Thinking Together in order to work well. So understanding the dynamics involved and figuring out how to use them effectively is simply fundamental stuff. This has become major research for large scale corporations like Google. [30] It requires that you and I rest our self-interests into the context of the Whole to find out what it needs, and then make our individual decisions as best as we can. This is the process for generating empowered mutuality. Self-centered thinking approaches the context of the Whole in terms of how the it or whatever parts of the it can serve my self-interests, whether those are personal or the interests of the group or sector we most identify with.

Empowered mutuality does not quash individual power and initiative. That would be its death. Mutuality is the joining of diverse self-interested needs and desires so they can open up into shared actions. Individual creativity and insight is essential for the better outcomes to flourish. Too often, to the detriment of all, the tensions between differing interests get framed as win/lose dynamics. This is the motor of polarization. However, they can usually be situated within the over-riding tensions between what is and possibilities that some individuals sense could be of great service to the Whole. This is a collective-interest framing in which the exchange of everyone’s information becomes vitally needed. This doesn’t just happen. It requires the democratic dispositions, desires, skills and the communication and decision-making processes that make thinking together both possible and desired. In my opinion our movements with both their “democratic consensus” and “anti-authoritarian” processes are way behind in this kind of soft technology.

3. Power and ordinary people

Does this all of this sound like a pipe dream?

Not only is this a fair question, but a fundamental one. The case for a more powerful cultural component to movement strategies has to be made effectively.  If not, our movements for economic and political democracy will not have an adequate strategy for becoming deeply relevant. Yes, we can be marginally relevant as we are now, but not much more than that. I present an important piece for this case in Part III below. There I focus on the pedagogical concerns for a deeply democratic praxis.

Here I want to address the “pipe dream” question by discussing one of the fundamental insights of a cultural/structural strategy: the individual person is the primal location of human power. Power in itself — the ability to raise one’s energy to move in a desired direction — is neither good nor bad. It just is. What is always up discussion and challenge without end is how we use it and the possible consequences of each action. Therefore personal and collective empowerment for ordinary people has to be a core part of any strategy for deepening democracy. They are the citizens in and of our communities and regions. Either they make it work well across our country, or it doesn’t work well.

Much of the time I am at a loss at grasping why there is a virtual dearth of coherent visioning-and-strategizing processes within our movements that zero in on this core question: how do we generate the power to move from the margins to becoming a substantial, sustaining, and pervasive part of the political and economic landscape? That basic power is the life force in each one of us. This is a fact that precedes any strategy, system, structure, or model institution. Yes, these latter elements either promote or obstruct personal and collective empowerment, but they arise from the purpose for which an individual and a group decide to use their personal power.

Today we can see that this core cultural question is really a subset of a larger one:

how do we Americans generate the power to advance our core democratic praxis for becoming a substantial, sustaining, and pervasive part of our political and economic landscape?

I am not only alarmed at the deepening entrenchment of global capitalism in economic and political structures and our ecological crisis. I am far more alarmed by the deepening penetration into the very cultures of the world of the beliefs, values, and practices that drive it. That kind of penetration cuts right through to the marrow of the being of every one of us, and continues on toward the very heart of the planet. Let’s go back to Capra once more. Here he describes how culture is an absolute of human life, and that everywhere it is a deep, driving dynamic constantly working on its members:

Culture can be said to be about the business of ‘self-replication’. From the moment of conception, it impresses its patterns and rhythms on the developing, infinitely plastic neuronal substrate of the fetal organism. It shapes this substrate to become preferentially sensitive to its culture’s patterns. Thus the individual seeks to replicate those patterns as an adult. This process of neural shaping continues throughout life as the capacity of the brain to reorganize itself according to the uses to which it addresses itself never ceases. [31]

Elitist capitalism gets this. Therefore, elitist capitalism systematically seeks to shape everyone to its ways. It must have its culture. It’s a matter of system survival. Its dominance comes from a successful cultural strategy of 24/7 attention grabbing, habit formation, and thought shaping. [32] Advertising is a system of cultural education. In its sophisticated forms it is contoured to the realities of the people it is shaping as well as this can be understood. [33] It cannot do otherwise. Like any system it must have the culture to replicate itself.

Do we in our democratic change movements get this? No! Forty years ago, in his introduction to his book The Populist Moment, Lawrence Goodwyn described how “a culture of deference” began to emerge at the turn of the 20th century and what it had grown into by the 1970s. [34] Thomas Piketty put together the data to make an overwhelming case that an inherent­ dynamic of capitalism is the rate of return on capital will continuously be greater than the rate of economic growth. [35] That is, capitalism inherently moves toward greater and greater economic inequality. So the world we now inhabit is the logical outgrowth of capitalism’s relentless cultural strategy to promote deference, consumerism, and narrow individualism. Capitalism prevails because its cultural strategy disempowers ordinary people from fully developing their inborn autonomy and sustaining the dynamic mutuality inherent in human biology.

These are the lines of thought that lead me to the conviction that democratic movements that want a different kind of world don’t have a chance without a cultural-and-structural strategy. What I keep hearing are fragmentary proposals: 1) calls for democracy movements that claim to be radical but only address a single issue, and 2) genuine calls for deep political and economic structural change that ignore how to generate the people power to make that happen. But no cultural strategy of any measure. Not even close to what is needed. Goliath towers over the field with no David in sight. What are we — both the people in our communities and regions and within our movements for deep social change — going to do about this?

Every one of us who are engaged in alliance building and cross-sector networking knows how difficult it is to bring people together for a sustained effort. People from a predominantly hierarchical-dominant culture want, to a significant degree, an arrangement in which the many will defer to a few who do this. These top-down structures achieve their vertical solidarity through control of perks and the ability to threaten significant loss; or through the charisma of a special kind of leader. They last according to the degree that they provide social stability and individual security, both physical and identity-wise. The breakdown of that stability in this country resulted in the roller coaster rides of the 2016 presidential primaries and election. Trump brought out into the open a widespread lust for the jackboot approach to re-establish what was. Sanders inspired many with the hope for structural reform. Both were surges from the bottom-up seeking different kinds of vertical solidarity.

Horizontal, bottom-up, mutuality-driven structures have to be quite different. They are grounded fundamentally in creating as much mutual interest as possible between diverse parties, a horizontal solidarity. These parties have various self-interests which range from having little to do with each other in any direct way to being quite antagonistic. Horizontal cultures require people who can Think Together, and who have the means — public spaces as well as norms and rituals of communication, for example — to do that together. Thinking Together requires a virtually unconditional commitment to consulting and negotiating with each other in good faith, and doing what each can do to foster the essential trust and transparency such relating has to have. This demands a commitment to want to move out of any form of nonnegotiable negativity you or I or we get caught in. To want to move out of that toward seeking more accurate information from which we can work through our disagreement or to agree amicably to disagree. It also demands the learnable intellectual skills and emotional dispositions to do it. This is the work of loving.

When individuals in a group can do this, the power of the group can soar. When groups and organizations can come together in this kind of horizontal solidarity, not only will empowerment soar but the belief that something new can happen will also soar. And it can become contagious.

The DNA of our biology and the “culturalDNA” of our culture have equipped us with the mutuality necessary for the job, so can become the collective David we need. However, since we also embody so much of the individualism and self-centeredness of our received culture, this collective Davidian transformation takes a life-time of ongoing work. And let us keep in mind that a powerful horizontal solidarity will be very threatening to anyone wanting to maintain the status quo. Many will seek to kill it out of fear.

So we arrive at a most important response to our “pipe dream question:” how do ordinary people and activists get some “Davidian” democratic praxis.



[15] Lewis, supra Note 13. Billy Beane, the protagonist of “Moneyball,” was the general manager of the Oakland Athletics 10-15 years ago who developed a whole new approach to building a winning baseball team. He did it because he had to. The A’s were one of the poorest teams in the majors. His radical approach made them one of the winningest teams. He developed his approach on the advanced statistical work of Bill James and a number of outliers who came to the game with perspectives that enabled them to see the fundamental weaknesses of the fixed and unquestioned prevailing strategy. Supra note 12.

[16] Cliff Young and Chris Jackson, The rise of Neo-Nativism: Putting Trump into Proper Context, IPSOS IDEA SPOTLIGHT (Oct 9, 2015) http://spotlight.ipsos-na.com/index.php/news/the-rise-of-neo-nativism-putting-trump-into-proper-context/.

[17] This is a fundamental point that Melissa Hoover & Hilary Abell completely miss in their proposed The Cooperative Growth Ecosystem, which, it should be noted, is significantly wrongly titled, since they are essentially proposing a worker co-operative growth ecosystem that guts the central element of what an ecosystem is. See, infra note 18.

[18] Gar Alperovitz and Steve Dubb, The Possibility of a Pluralist Commonwealth and a Community Sustaining Economy (THE GOOD SOCIETY, Vol 22, Number 1, Jul 2013),  http://community-wealth.org/content/possibility-pluralist-commonwealth-and-community-sustaining-economy. (It is worth noting that The Good Society journal is for big system articles: “Articles in The Good Society respond to the premise that “current versions of socialism and democratic capitalism fail to offer workable visions of a good society and seem increasingly to contradict such basic values as liberty, democracy, equality, and environmental sustainability.”) (See also the animated video based on this article, The Pluralist Commonwealth,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEEzripANUQ)  See, supra Note 9.

[19] Hilary Abell  & Melissa Hoover(lead authors),The Cooperative Growth Ecosystem.  A joint project of Project Equity and the Democracy at Work Institute (February, 2016), http://www.project-equity.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/TheCooperativeGrowthEcosystem-InclusiveEconomies.pdf .

[20] Citi Community Development, http://www.citigroup.com/citi/citizen/community/. See, supra Note 9.

[21] See, supra Note 10. However, they all seem far more into their structural development with minor concern at best for the essential cultural counterpart.

[22] JANELLE CORNWELL, MICHAEL JOHNSON, AND ADAM TROTT, BUILDING CO-OPERATIVE POWER: STORIES AND STRATEGIES FROM WORKER CO-OPERATIVES IN THE CONNECTICUT RIVER VALLEY (Amherst, MA: Levellers Press, 2013). The Introduction is available at http://www.geo.coop/sites/default/files/bcp_introduction_preview_clip.pdf.

[23] Erbin Crowell. The Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives: Exploring the Potential of Co-op Led Development, GRASSROOTS ECONOMIC ORGANIZING NEWSLETTER (GEO Volume 2: 15, 2013), http://geo.coop/sites/default/files/the_valley_alliance_of_worker_co-operatives_-_exploring_the_potential_of_co-op_led_development.pdf. (This posting includes a new preface by Erbin Crowell and Adam Trott.) (In addition, see the book that reports on this approach at length, infra, Note 22.


[25] Fritjof Capra, ibid. supra Note 3.

[26] Annie McShiras, The Working World and Financing Workplace Democracy: a SolNYC/GEO Interview, GRASSROOTS ECONOMIC ORGANIZING NEWSLETTER (Vol 2,Number 15, 2013), http://www.geo.coop/story/working-world-and-financing-workplace-democracy

[27] Laura Flanders, Not Trickle Down, But Bottom Up: Anthony Flaccavento,  LAURA FLANDERS SHOW, LINK TV, https://www.linktv.org/shows/laura-flanders-show/episodes/not-trickle-down-but-bottom-up-anthony-flaccavento. This interview exemplifies the kind of local democratic economic development I have in mind.  Flaccavento hails from rural Virginia in Appalachian country, and has spent the last 25 years in community development advocating for directing government policy and resources towards building sustainable, thriving, rural communities.

[28] d’Entreves, Maurizio Passerin, Hannah Arendt, THE STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY, (Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Forthcoming Winter 2016 Edition), https://plato.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/encyclopedia/archinfo.cgi?entry=arendtforthcoming.

See section 4, “Arendt’s Theory of Action,” for an excellent summary of how she weaves the connections between freedom, plurality, disclosure, power, action and narrative, remembrance and “communities of memory,” the connection between action, power and the space of appearance, and, finally, the remedies of the power of promise and the power to forgive to form the key components of her theory of action. What I call a “culture of thinking together” embraces most of these components and we connect them together in very similar ways.


[30] Charles Duhigg, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, NEW YORK TIMES (February 2, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html.

[31] Capra, ibid., see supra Note 3.

[32] I use the word “dominance” to refer to a person or group or organization having relatively unusual talent, skill, effectiveness, etc. Picasso, for example, was a dominant 20th century artist. I use the word “domination” to refer to the desire or act of overpowering others in order to force them to do what you want.

[33] See chapter 2 of CHARLES DUHIGG, THE POWER OF HABIT: WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO IN LIFE AND BUSINESS (New York: Random House, 2014) for an account of how the advertising industry discovered the art of creating a craving. It is told through the stories of marketing of Pepsodent and Febreze.  


This book needs to be in the top five of any movement person’s must-read list. However, maybe only a small handful of people have heard of it. (Also, I am not sure what the other four would be.) The book is far more than a history of this movement, the only mass democratic movement in American history. It is a profound analysis of what goes into the making of that kind of movement. It is also a lucid presentation of the “interpretive confusion” that plagues normal citizens and activist movements about the nature of our cultural situation, democracy, and what past movements have to tell us. All of this is framed out in his Introduction to the book, http://www.ratical.org/corporations/PMSHAGAintro.html.

All of this is deeply relevant to this essay, but what relates most directly is his explanation of the dominant role of culture both in the building of a democratic movement and in the “interpretive confusion” that plagues us. (See pages ix-xv of his Introduction.) Capitalism has won the culture war to a very large extent. It gained a determining leverage in the late 19th century and has used that leverage to build a pervasive “culture of deference” to its ways and byways and all the while describing this as a “democracy.” The whole thrust of this culture building is in direct opposition to a genuinely democratic culture that promotes autonomy, encourages imaginative re-envisioning social structures, and thinking together to make our worlds work better for all concerned.

[35] THOMAS PIKETTY, CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014.) (Translated by Arthur Goldhammer.)

What we have received from Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century is a remarkable gift in the form of an utterly simple economic formula:  r > g. (Maybe we can think Einstein’s e = mc2.) Piketty uses r > g throughout his book, saying that it is “an internal feature of capitalism which increases inequality.” S. Abbas Raza explains the formula this way: “as long as the rate of return on capital (r) is greater than the rate of economic growth (g), wealth will tend to concentrate in a minority, and that the inequality r > g always holds over the long term.” See S. Abbas Raza, r > g: Increasing Inequality of Wealth and Income is a Runaway Process, EDGE.ORG, (Dec 11, 2016), https://www.edge.org/response-detail/26786.

Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson co-founded an intentional community in Staten Island, NY in '80, in part an experiential research center in democratic culture...still there 30 years later...immersed in the worker co-op and solidarity economy movements since 2007 with the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives (New England), GEO, and the Community Economies Collective.


Tags: co-operatives, new economy, participative democracy, regional economies, solidarity economy, worker-owned co-operatives