We may be in interesting times, ominous as the Chinese Curse implies. The Economic recovery if it be such seems to be skewed towards benefiting a small portion of the population. Evidence grows that wages have flatlined for the majority and earnings for the poorer half of the population is falling in developed countries such as the USA and Uk. Any recovery seems confined to the better off and driven by an artificially primed house price bubble with quantitive easing, low interests and mortgage guarantees, this may become unsustainable. The hope is that this will release business animal spirits. Time will tell whether this is a weak unbalanced recovery, some indications point to this possibility. A wealth gap seems to be widening, as Thomas Piketty and several others have indicated.and if so this shows up, no denial will do. It seems that wealth is still growing and spreading in the developing world, usually driven by economies based on a mixture of market and state directed governance. While in highly developed economies dominated by finance, increases of wealth, where it occurs is being grabbed by the richest portion of the population. Harry Shutt and Gar Alperovitz in slightly different ways indicate that we have entered a period of stagnation and perhaps decline, which Alperovitz calls ‘punctuated stagnation’. If this becomes clear and many face declining living standards then the search for other options will gain traction.
Some recent items and papers from think tanks such as CLASS and NEF have picked up the theme defined by Andy Cumbers, a redefining of public ownership in an economic democracy form. This theme has also surfaced in items on the Compass site. These are largely directed towards the public sector. This needs pioneering among autonomous self forming cooperatives and mutual enterprises if not to degenerate into a top down centralizing Webbian bureaucratic paternalism so often promoted by agencies funded by institutional power . This leads to the adoption of governance tainted by corporate business management practice and ideology. The paymaster will tend to shape the agenda. Autonomy and self-sufficiency when ever possible is vitalizing and allows development of new forms of governance and enterprise defined from grass-roots that is conducive to membership /citizen engagement and economic democracy. This all being well will lead to viable solutions that are inclusive and equitable.
A movement for economic democracy will be predominantly an economic one, this needs to define clear social purpose while developing instrumental functions that deliver good products or services. Research is needed to develop good practice. A dedicated organisation is ideally needed to develop and define such an agenda. Should the economic recovery be partial and fail for many, these proposals might begin to make more sense. In the end all the papers and reports count for little if the doing does not follow. The implementation of enterprises based on economic democracy through direct agency, doing it ourselves in a cooperative way within communities, as a start, will allow the practice to be tested and honed, and if successful will prompt the politics to follow. Proposals for new solutions based on multi-stakeholder participation and democracy may be preliminary signs of a spring towards an emancipatory economy.
FC United of Manchester, a medium-sized mutual under membership control, with healthy engagement , seems to be a current example of developing forms of governance suggested above. This example is being used by a fan based football club but the form and practice may lend itself to adoption and application in other areas of the economy both as autonomous enterprises in the market and also in the municipal and public sectors.
See Links in Blogroll left on Screen : Democratic Public Ownership for the 21st Century ; and : NEF- New agenda for public services beyond the Market