Borrowing a line from Tolstoy, Gar Alperovitz’s latest book, What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution, seeks to resolve a troublesome political puzzle: How do we eradicate systemic problems like inequality, climate destruction, and poverty when these problems seem to get worse and worse, year after year, despite the good efforts of social reformers, progressives, and radicals of all stripes? Good question.
Alperovitz’s earlier book with Lew Daly, Unjust Deserts: How the Rich are Taking Our Common Inheritance and Why We Should Take it Back, combined an empirical analysis of the public origins of private wealth with a clear-headed philosophical rationale for recapturing and reinvesting public investment in education and technology through progressive taxation and other forms of social redistribution. But in this new book, Alperovitz is clearly frustrated with the inability of traditional politic methods — organizing movements, winning elections, pressuring leaders, and passing legislation — to adequately redress systemic problems. He views the big liberal moments of the past, like the New Deal and post-war expansion of the middle class, as historical aberrations, products of system-wide collapse and war-fueled economic growth that cannot be replicated today.
Given our current historical context, he argues for a number of innovative approaches for slowly replacing rapacious corporate capitalism with a more humane, egalitarian, and ecologically sustainable economic system. Rather than mounting a revolutionary attack on the existing order like earlier forms of socialism, Alperovitz advocates steadily scaling up a series of smaller, more democratic forms of organization from worker-owned businesses and cooperatives (“evolutionary reconstruction”) to municipal ownership and other public enterprises (“checkerboard state development”).