Summary highlights from People Get Ready, by Robert W McChesney and John Nichols

January 25, 2017

People Get Ready, by Robert W McChesney and John Nichols.  References are to the kindle version.

The point is to shape progress, not as customers or consumers, not as clicks to be counted or employees struggling to synch ourselves into automated workplaces, but as citizens engaged in a democratic process of organizing a new economy that reflects our values and our needs.166

More and more middle-class workers were going to lose their jobs and there was little on the horizon to suggest there would be new jobs for them. This would be, according to Schmidt, the “defining” issue of the next two to three decades.1254 New York Times columnist Bob Herbert put it, where “millions of hardworking men and women who had believed they were solidly anchored economically found themselves cast into a financial abyss, struggling with joblessness, home foreclosures, and personal bankruptcy.” It wasn’t just the result of the 2008 Great Recession. “From 1990 to 2008 the life-expectancy for the poorest, least well-educated white Americans fell by a stunning four years,” notes Herbert. “For white women without a high school diploma, it fell by five years.”5281 Americans, Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi tells us, have “become numb to the idea that rights aren’t absolute but are enjoyed on a kind of sliding scale [and] we’ve also learned to accept the implicit idea that some people have simply more rights than others. Some people go to jail, and others just don’t.”7290

Political science research by Stanford’s David Broockman and the University of Michigan’s Christopher Skovron concludes that on core policy issues legislators routinely think their own constituents are considerably more conservative than the polling data shows they actually are. This is true across the board but especially pronounced among conservative legislators“The typical conservative legislator overestimates his or her district’s conservatism by a whopping 20 percentage points. Indeed, he or she believes the district is even more conservative than the most right-leaning district in the entire country.” Why? “Politicians feel much more accountable to the wealthy, party leaders, or interest groups than to rank and file voters’ preferences,” and “politically active citizens tend to be wealthier and more conservative than others.”10 304

Most reform proposals are dismissed as impractical and relegated to the netherworld of the loony-Left before they can even see the light of day. The reason for this is clear: the United States is not a democracy, if by democracy we mean a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. That is the Big Lie of the official discourse. If anything, it is a “citizenless” democracy, an oxymoron if there ever was one. The only voice that matters in American politics, the voice that shouts down every other, is that of the wealthy few.311  Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin I. Page have conducted exhaustive research on American politics. Their conclusion: “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” If that is not clear enough, they add: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or business interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”12 316 “Indeed, under most circumstance,” Gilens writes in another recent study he conducted, “the preferences of the vast majority of Americans appear to have essentially no impact on which policies the government does or doesn’t adopt.”13 The problem here is not just that government policies are indifferent or hostile to those without great wealth. The two great and immediate existential threats to human existence—militarism and environmental catastrophe—proceed largely unchecked by public policy, regardless of popular concerns, and despite the fact that they affect rich and poor alike322

This is because very powerful interests see demilitarization and shifting away from fossil fuels as existential threats to their present lucrative positions, and no powerful interests have a direct stake in seeing the problems forcefully addressed. In the calculus of citizenless democracies.328

This is what one would rationally expect in what political scientist Sheldon Wolin characterized as a “politically demobilized society, that is, a society in which the citizens, far from being whipped into a continuous frenzy by the regime’s operatives, are encouraged at virtually every turn to be politically lethargic.” It is a society in which people get precious little from the government, where austerity and rollbacks are the order of the day. Citizens are constantly reminded of the “political futility” of popular involvement in politics.15 “There is a widespread sense,” the scholar Tony Judt wrote in 2010, “that since ‘they’ will do what they want in any case—while feathering their own nests—why should ‘we’ waste time trying to influence the outcome of their actions?”16 As the journalist Bob Herbert observed in his 2014 chronicle of contemporary America, “Something fundamental in the very character of the United States had shifted. There was a sense of powerlessness and resignation among ordinary people that I hadn’t been used to seeing. The country seemed demoralized.”17 In this context, it is rational that one abandon an interest in politics, or social life broadly construed, and concentrate on looking out for number one.335 John Dewey said, once an organism loses the sense that it can affect its environment, it starts to weaken and die.18348

The state of present-day capitalism and what appears to be its likely future is one of stagnation—meaning ever-increasing inequality, poverty, austerity, and social insecurity. There is a crisis of unemployment and underemployment. Full employment, meaning, as economist Robert Pollin puts it, “an abundance of decent jobs,” is “fundamental to building a decent society.”19 A healthy economy that generates benefits for the bulk of the population, and not just society’s owning class, depends upon it.20 And this is more than an economic issue. As technology writer Nicholas Carr puts it, people are “happiest when we’re absorbed in a difficult task, a task that has clear goals and that challenges us not only to exercise our talents, but stretch them.” And that is something most often found in work.21 “When joblessness is high in America,” Herbert writes, “the nation’s spirits inevitably are low.”22 Full employment for more than a brief period has never been enthusiastically received by Wall Street, as it raises wages and shifts economic and political power to employees. To some extent the decrepit state of the contemporary labor market reflects the total control over government economic policymaking by the wealthy. The emerging automation wave that Eric Schmidt called attention to at Davos is going to replace millions of jobs and alter the nature of many of those jobs that remain. Some technology experts like Ben Way expect a loss of 70 percent of existing jobs in the next three decades, with little hope that very many new jobs will emerge to replace what is lost.23 University of Pennsylvania sociologist Randall Collins expects an unemployment rate in the neighborhood of 50 percent.24 One need not accept these predictions—they strike us as speculative if not extreme—to see that at the very least what is about to transpire is going to put severe downward pressure on wages and working conditions, which already are deplorable.368

Technology could exert a slow but continual downward pressure on the value and availability of work—that is, on wages and on the share of prime-age workers with full-time jobs.”25 Judt saw this coming in 2010: “Mass unemployment—once regarded as a pathology of badly managed economies—is beginning to look like an endemic characteristic of advanced societies. At best, we can hope for ‘under-employment’—where men and women work part-time; accept jobs far below their skill level; or else undertake skilled work of the sort traditionally assigned to immigrants and the young.”26 387 Artificial intelligence expert Neil Jacobstein notes that “exponential technologies may eventually permit people to not need jobs to have a high standard of living.” He enthuses that “the emphasis will be less on making money and more on making contributions, or at least creating an interesting life.”30 Nor is this very far off in the future.403

The barrier to this brighter future, of course, is capitalism itself.408 Capitalism is going to be in the crosshairs of history. “Today, the ability of freemarket democracies to deliver widely shared increases in prosperity is in question as never before,” a 2015 report by a commission co-chaired by former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers announced. “This is an economic problem that threatens to become a problem for the political systems of these nations.”36 The natives are going to get restless. As the Economist notes, “squeezing out” the middle class “could generate a more antagonistic, unstable and potentially dangerous politics.”37 Cato Institute researcher Brink Lindsey writes that “there is the threat that widening disparities between the elite and everybody else will prompt a political backlash against the whole system.”38 The problem of a political system that is defined as a market, where issues can be made “important” or “unimportant” via the influence of campaign donations, lobbying, spin, and media manipulation, is that discussions of those disparities—and of their causes—are taken off the table.431

“Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers,” Aristotle noted at its birth.41462  One revolutionary change capitalism has brought to modern democratic governance was to split the elected control over the government from direct control over the economy, which is now in the hands of those with capital.469  As Friedman put it in his classic 1962 work, Capitalism and Freedom, the legitimate role of government is largely “to protect our freedom both from enemies outside our gates and from our fellow citizens: to preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, to foster competitive markets.”486 The main job of governance is to make sure the profit system works smoothly, contracts and private property are respected and enforced, the dispossessed are kept in line, and, if there is an economic crisis, the government intervenes as necessary to make it lucrative for businesses and wealthy individuals to invest again. Big government is A-OK when it advances the interests of capital—though this point best not be emphasized to a general audience; for everyone else, “small” government is the order of the day. Governance is best when it is left to those who fully appreciate that the needs of investors come first and foremost. And that is most likely to happen if most everyone else tunes out politics and focuses on other matters. The problem, of course, is that we are entering into a period where change will come so rapidly that, when citizens tune back in, tens of millions of them could be left with nothing.497

As political scientist Robert A. Dahl puts it, citizens in a democracy must “possess the political resources they would require in order to participate in political life pretty much as equals.”47 The playing field should be leveled so those without means can effectively govern as equals of those with substantial means. To conservatives, such an approach is foolhardy if not downright corrosive of freedom, for effective popular participation in politics, just as much as an “activist” government, is to be discouraged.


A debate persists over what we term democratic infrastructure. As Dahl writes, “Political equality requires democratic political institutions.”48 The term infrastructure comes from economics. An advanced economy does not exist because entrepreneurs or businesses have the right to invest and can do whatever they please. It exists because elaborate communication, transportation, sanitation, energy, and legal infrastructures provide a foundation that makes commerce possible. Establishing this infrastructure is largely the province of the government, even if the state’s job is to coordinate private interests to get it done effectively. The beauty of infrastructure projects is that they are accessible to everyone and have tremendous “spillovers,” or “positive externalities,” meaning they generate considerable value for others and for society as a whole.49 Without such an infrastructure, an advanced economy cannot exist. So it is with democracy.

The right to vote means little without        •  the infrastructure of effective elections, such that one-person, one-vote is the order of the day, and races allow genuine competition        •  the rule of law        •  stringent limits on money in politics        •  limits on the power of the judiciary to act in an arbitrary and unaccountable manner        •  the effective ability to launch effective new parties or associations        •  free trade unions with effective collective bargaining        •  open, transparent governance        •  a credible, independent, and uncensored free press/news media        •  universal free schools with civic education        •  a basic level of economic and social security, which is only limited by the overall productive capacity of the society        •  an environment that can sustain and nurture life. In short, a credible democratic infrastructure requires ground rules and institutions that empower the weakest in society so they can effectively be the political equals of the wealthiest members of society, and that prevent the wealthy few from having excessive influence. It also includes “breakers” to prevent the establishment of such proven enemies of democracy as        •  corruption        •  private monopolistic control over the economy        •  significant economic inequality        •  government secrecy and surveillance        •  government propaganda        •  militarism These six tend to go hand-in-hand.50 The civil liberties that most Americans cherish—the freedoms of speech, press, and religion; the right to assemble; the right to privacy—thrive when there is a strong democratic infrastructure. Without one, these freedoms tend to be on insecure ground, at least to the extent their exercise threatens those in power. We agree with the writer and lawyer Elliot Sperber, who argues that “this infrastructure of democracy” must be as “inalienable” as the political rights we cherish.51 Hungarian scholar Zoltan Tibor Pallinger, who has direct experience in building democracies in formerly communist nations, defines “democratic infrastructure” as the “institutions, instruments and procedures provided by the state that render the use of democratic rights possible.”52 516

Wendell Willkie, corporate president and free enterprise champion turned 1940 Republican presidential candidate, explained the need for unions and collective bargaining by noting that “for labor the essential content of freedom is different in today’s society from what it was in the agricultural society of an earlier age. Men no longer able to own, or aspire to own, small businesses and farms have sought new solutions for a need which all Americans must respect—the need to control for themselves the circumstances which dictate their working lives.”53 According to Willkie, labor unions deserved to be accorded permanence because they were a necessary foundation of modern democracy. He was right: the evidence is clear that unions, in addition to the value they generate for their own members, reduce overall economic inequality and also provide people without property a means for more effectively participating in the political process.54 So strong unions produce a double win in terms of democratic infrastructure. This is well understood and accepted in most advanced democracies, including the United States from the 1930s until recently.572

When the democratic infrastructure is weak or in decline, the political culture shrivels, self-interest reigns, and demoralization and pessimism ascend. Then the only rational reason to enter public life is to use it as a way station to an eventual job in the private sector where you can cash in your public-sector chips, or just for purposes of flat-out corruption.587

Polling shows that the vast majority of Americans believe big business has too much control over their lives and way too much influence over government.57 “The inability of traditional politics and policies to address fundamental challenges has fueled an extraordinary amount of experimentation in communities across the United States,” a 2015 report by the Next System Project noted. “Unbeknownst to many, literally thousands of on-the-ground efforts have been developing.”618

When fundamental social change comes, as Klein writes, “it’s generally not in legislative dribs and drabs spread out evenly over decades. Rather it comes in spasms of rapid-fire lawmaking, with one breakthrough after another.” These are periods in which the democratic infrastructure is built up and the weltanschauung has shifted dramatically. Klein captures this well: When major shifts in the economic balance of power take place, they are invariably the result of extraordinary levels of social mobilization. . . . During extraordinary historical moments—both world wars, the aftermath of the Great Depression, or the peak of the civil rights era—the usual categories dividing “activists” and “regular people” became meaningless because the project of changing society was so deeply woven into the project of life. Activists were, quite simply, everyone.59 This is the sort of moment we are entering. We have no idea when exactly or under what terms. But what we can do is prepare and get ready. In short, we agree with Chris Hedges that in historical terms, the United States is entering a period where the status quo cannot remain as it is, and radical, even revolutionary, change is almost certain to come.60 What we do know, and what will be the best indicator of a new moment, is the weltanschauung will shift. Crises that had appeared insurmountable will now appear like opportunities to make a much better world than had ever existed before.632  The great issue of the coming generation will be expanding democratic values and principles—building out the democratic infrastructure if you will—into economic institutions and practices.61647

President Franklin D. Roosevelt emphasized this point at every turn. “Democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.”64 “Democracy has disappeared in several great nations,” FDR said on another occasion, “not because the people of those nations disliked democracy, but because they had grown tired of unemployment and insecurity, of seeing their children hungry while they sat helpless in the face of government confusion and government weakness.”65 What mass unemployment means in the coming years, Judt writes, is a “return to dependency upon the state.”66 This is not only because millions are out of work, but because in such a depressed environment capitalism does not generate profits anywhere near satisfactory for investors and businesses. The state needs to intervene much more aggressively not only to create jobs but also to create the conditions, including the markets, for profitable investment. The government needs to make the system work with bold action because obviously the traditional mechanisms to stimulate the economy have failed, or else the economy would not be in a depression. The private economy is dead in the water. As Thompson put it in his sober assessment of automation, for Americans to effectively address the coming waves of unemployment and underemployment, “it is almost certain that the country would have to embrace a radical new role for government.”67 The only issue is what the nature of the radical new role will be.672

“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself,” Roosevelt said in 1938. “That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”81 To FDR and Wallace, the domestic fascist threat in the United States was a grave concern and it came primarily from “monopolists” and “cartelists,” who to protect their privileges “would sacrifice democracy itself.” “If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States,” Wallace wrote. He explained that “the American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information.”82 In the view of FDR and Wallace, a fascist power grab would not require a violent rupture so much as a quiet takeover orchestrated by elements of the capitalist class. The United States would experience its own home-grown All-American fascism. “They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the constitution,” Wallace wrote. “Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”83 748

Developments associated with fascism have become commonplace in the United States since 1945: massive government spending on armaments and militarism; seemingly endless wars barely understood by most Americans; growing inequality; massive monopolistic firms that dominate the economy far more than in FDR’s era; weak and feeble news media that largely propagate elite opinion; a governing system that is mostly if not entirely in the pocket of the wealthy; the disappearing rule of law; and what seems like near ubiquitous and unaccountable surveillance of private citizens.86 That’s a sobering list.87 767

Second, and more daunting, one of the core aspects of fascism everywhere was to destroy democratic infrastructure.772 Contemporary Republicans should pause and consider the agenda they have embraced in their fight to eliminate labor unions and collective bargaining; undermine public education; scrap progressive taxation; mangle Social Security and Medicare; make voting more difficult for poor people; increase government secrecy; allow unlimited corporate and billionaire spending on politics; privatize government activities so that public monies flow increasingly to private business; disregard all concerns for the environment; and reject Dwight Eisenhower’s wise counsel about the threat posed by a military-industrial complex.773

America is infected with what Taibbi diagnoses as “a profound hatred of the weak and the poor, and a corresponding groveling terror before the rich and successful.”90 793

We cannot settle for anything less than political and economic democracy because nothing less will create and sustain the America—and the world—that we have a right and a responsibility to demand.809

Unless there is a large increase in government spending to compensate for the decline—which is a controversial policy option in a capitalist economy—everything else being equal, slower growth rates and higher levels of unemployment result. Indeed, even more striking is the massive and increasing amount of cash that corporations are holding,846 This “unemployed” capital is a sign of a stagnating economy, with profitable investment opportunities growing so scarce that firms would rather sit on their cash than risk it in real investments. Why exactly US capitalism—and world capitalism, for that matter—has been and is stagnant with no end in sight is a crucial issue that can be traced in part to the way in which monopoly-finance capital produces stagnation. That’s another discussion, however.3 Our concern at this point is with the jobs picture, and Chart 4 demonstrates that unemployment has been increasing in general while capitalism has been tending toward stagnation. We provide here not only the total amount of “official” unemployment, but a broader assessment that includes people who have dropped out of the labor market and are no longer actively seeking employment—that is, people who constitute the “hidden unemployed.”849

Consider the situation facing young workers. Chart 6 demonstrates that the economy is generating fewer middle-class jobs, and an increasing proportion of the jobs provide incomes at poverty levels. This is what economists call “labor market polarization”—great jobs for those at the top, a mountain of crappy jobs at the bottom, and fewer and fewer jobs in between.4 Studies reveal that this is a phenomenon across all sixteen European Union nations as well.5 This growth in dismal jobs is not because workers are less productive. Chart 7 shows the growing split between the growth in Gross Domestic Product and household income since the 1970s. Put another way, from 1945 to the early 1970s, as workers’ productivity increased, so did their wages by a comparable percentage. Since the 1970s, worker output has grown, in some cases sharply, but wages have stagnated.876

Economic observers note that the official labor force participation rate has been declining continually, from an annual average of 67.1 percent in 2000 to 62.5 percent in 2015. This translates to the disappearance of close to 7.2 million workers from the official labor force in 2015 (see Chart 11 sources in the Statistical Appendix). However, in this case (as in so many others), the official labor statistics are inadequate. Indeed, if we estimate how many more jobs would be needed to maintain the level of civilian employment that existed in 2000, the picture changes dramatically.11 Chart 11 does just this, revealing that the economy would need to generate nearly 14 million more jobs in 2015 if all those workers who have left the labor market since 2000 had remained in it and had jobs.910

Back in 1979 over half of American workers—often union workers—had pensions connected to their jobs; today it is around one-third.25 In a nutshell, income that once went to workers is now going to owners and bosses.26 Whereas the CEO of a large company made around twenty times more than the average worker in 1965, by 2013 the ratio had grown to nearly three hundred to one.27 To put it another way, if the United States had the same income distribution in 2015 that it had in 1979, $1 trillion in income going to the top 1 percent would instead go to the bottom 80 percent.28 A study by economists Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney concludes that “most men were earning substantially less in 2009 than men of similar ages and education did in 1969, adjusted for inflation.”29 988 By 2013 an Associated Press study concluded that four out of five American adults “struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.”30 997

Although people of color remain disproportionately among the ranks of the poor, they are being joined by a wave of working-class and middle-class whites moving down the economic ladder.31 The flip side of this coin is that upward economic mobility—people’s ability to improve their lot compared to that of their parents—has all but disappeared.32 The United States that was once broadly viewed as “the land of opportunity” today ranks near the bottom of advanced economies for social mobility.33 1002 The vast majority of the jobs lost in the recession were considered “mid-wage,” while the majority of the new jobs created in the recovery were “low-wage.”35 The stock market skyrocketed and fortunes were made on Wall Street, but as New York Times financial reporter Felix Salmon put it, “These days a healthy stock market doesn’t mean a healthy economy, as a glance at the high unemployment rate or low labor-market participation rate will show.”36 In fact, when corporations announce plant closings and layoffs in the United States, media outlets report that the news does “wonders” for stock prices.37 1020 American capitalism seems to have turned a corner: increases in private investment and worker productivity no longer necessarily lead to commensurate increases in employment or real incomes.39 1038

Part of this is pure automation. Another important part is disintermediation—the elimination of intermediaries in banking, online retail, and a host of government services, to name just a few affected areas.41 1047 The one hundred largest US companies (in terms of total annual revenue) are able to generate more US revenues and earn more US profits with fewer American workers, and the process appears to be accelerating.* These one hundred firms accounted for 43 percent of US GDP in 2013, up from 26 percent in 1950, so this trend is hardly on the periphery of the economy.43 There is the palpable sense that technology is destroying more jobs than it is creating,1054

Even before the Great Recession of 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast that two-thirds of the jobs available between 2008 and 2018 would not require any post-secondary education.46 As the journalist Derek Thompson concludes, “The job market appears to be requiring more and more preparation for a lower and lower starting wage.”47 The Economist announces that young people are experiencing an “epidemic of joblessness.”48 Newsweek characterizes young Americans as constituting “Generation Screwed.”49 There are nowhere near enough jobs, and the jobs that do exist, to employ the vernacular, suck. By 2025 experts anticipate that one of every three global labor “transactions” will be conducted online as part of the “on-demand” or “crowd labor” economy, with a few gigantic digital hiring hall corporations using their networks and apps to get temp labor for employers.53 Informal work, or freelancing, already accounts for around one-third of the US workforce, fully 53 million workers, according to an Edelman Berland report prepared for the Freelancers Union.54 A Christian Science Monitor report stated that up to 50% of the new jobs in the recovery were freelance positions.55 Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., a labor market analytics firm, calculated that by 2014 some 18% of all US jobs were performed by part-time freelancers or part-time independent contractors. There was a 60% increase in the number of these part-time gig jobs from 2001.56 1081

As one New York Times examination concludes, many of these workers are “less microentrepreneurs than microearners. They often work seven-day weeks, trying to assemble a living wage from a series of one-off gigs.”57 According to the Government Accounting Office, these freelance workers are twice as likely as traditional full-time employees to have an annual income under $15,000.581091

Data reveals that the percentage of male workers who have worked with the same firm for at least ten years has dropped sharply over the past two decades, especially for younger workers.60 “What once was a relationship” between firms and their employees, one reporter explains, “is now a transaction.”61 Businesses “have found that having a large nontraditional workforce makes them more competitive.”62 While the Economist has no illusion that this new freelance-based “on-demand” economy is a good thing for workers, it nonetheless regards the process as unstoppable.631101

It is left to the acclaimed pro-market economist Tyler Cowen to capture the logic of where all of this is going: “We will move from a society based on the pretense that everyone is given an okay standard of living to a society in which people are expected to fend for themselves much more than they do now. I imagine a world where, say, 10 to 15 percent of the citizenry is extremely wealthy and has fantastically comfortable and stimulating lives, the equivalent of current-day millionaires, albeit with better health care.”65 The other 85 to 90 percent of us? Not so much.1108

“The logic of capitalism, when combined with the history of scientific and technological progress, would seem to be a recipe for the eventual removal of labor from the processes of production,” Nicholas Carr writes. “Machines, unlike workers, don’t demand a share of the returns on capitalists’ investments. They don’t get sick or expect paid vacations or demand yearly wages. For the capitalist, labor is a problem that progress solves.”67 1122

Their whole propaganda is to the effect that it must not be considered as the business of the government but must be left open to whatever entrepreneurs wish to invest money in it. We also know that they have very few inhibitions when it comes to taking all the profit out of an industry that is there to be taken, and then letting the public pick up the pieces. “The automatic machine,” he concluded, “is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor. Any labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic conditions of slave labor. It is perfectly clear that this will produce an unemployment situation, in comparison with which the present recession or even the depression of the thirties will seem a pleasant joke.”75 1166

On March 22, 1964, the “Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution” submitted a fourteen-page memorandum to President Lyndon Johnson, where the “cybernation revolution” was positioned alongside human rights and militarism as the main challenges to modern societies. The memo, which was signed by current and future Nobel Prize winners Linus Pauling and Gunnar Myrdal as well as the publisher of Scientific American, warned the president that as machines take over production from men, they absorb an increasing proportion of resources while the men who are displaced become dependent on minimal and unrelated government measures—unemployment insurance, social security, welfare payments. These measures are less and less able to disguise a historic paradox: that a growing proportion of the population is subsisting on minimal incomes, often below the poverty line, at a time when sufficient productive potential is available to supply the needs of everyone in the United States.96 The memo called for a guaranteed basic income—not based upon one’s labor—for all Americans to solve the problem. Although this memorandum has largely been forgotten, it had considerable influence at the time. Indeed, in his final sermon, delivered on March 31, 1968, before an audience in the thousands at Washington DC’s National Cathedral, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invoked the “triple revolution” and the importance of automation and cybernation at the beginning of his presentation. “Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood,” King observed in words few others could muster. “But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”971253

They called for socializing the economy so that the surplus generated by automation was controlled by society as a whole, not by the owners of a handful of large corporations.100 Organized labor, having suffered through relatively high levels of unemployment in the late 1950s and early 1960s, no longer saw, nor welcomed, the promise of automation. The Department of Labor estimated that two hundred thousand jobs were being lost to automation each year in the early 1960s; and in industry after industry output was up while employment levels were down.101 1281 In August 1964 President Johnson formally created the National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress to examine the issues and file a report, first and foremost “on whether technological change is a major source of unemployment.” The ultimate report, published in 1966, extended its mandate to consider “the fear” that eventually technology “would eliminate all but a few jobs, with the major portion of what we now call work being performed automatically by machine.” It was a prestigious fifteen-member commission, including UAW head Reuther, IBM chair Thomas Watson, five other corporate leaders, and the intellectuals Daniel Bell and Robert Solow. The 1966 report concluded optimistically that government policies could successfully address unemployment arising from automation. It asserted that automation was a progressive development, and that “the vast majority of people quite rightly have accepted technological change as beneficial.”106 1297

What is perhaps most striking for our purposes is what the commission did end up recommending in its report. It said that the technological threat to employment only underscored the crucial need for the government to “fulfill the promise of the Employment Act of 1946: ‘a job for all those able, willing, and seeking to work.’” The report called for the federal government to “be an employer of last resort, providing work for the ‘hard-core unemployed’ in useful community enterprises.” It specifically mentioned the sort of “unmet human and community needs” where this labor, and the new technologies, could be deployed as improving healthcare, transportation, and housing, and battling air pollution and water pollution—in short, a massive expansion of spending on vital infrastructure and cleaning up the environment. Moreover, to ensure that everyone benefited by “the abundance” generated by technological advances, the report called for a guaranteed annual income for all Americans, which would effectively end poverty. The report also specified that it was imperative that traditionally disadvantaged communities receive “compensatory” resources such that their public education gave them the capacity to participate alongside those from more privileged sectors. And it called for a commitment to “improvements in public education” overall, with free schooling for all Americans through grade fourteen.107 1305

These recommendations are breathtaking from the present vantage point because they are so radical, and they were agreed to by some of the leading CEOs in the nation. Indeed, the report even went so far as to urge firms to use automation to “humanize” the workplace and develop the new technologies in such a manner as to make the work experience more rewarding for the worker.108 By the late 1970s or 1980s, with the changing political currents, one can only imagine how a subsequent commission on automation might have considered these issues. Indeed, one can “only imagine,” because no such independent body ever came into existence. This was the one and only time in American history that automation and employment were formally studied and considered by an official government commission. The early to middle 1960s proved to be the high-water mark for popular recognition of automation as an important social and economic issue, and a problem demanding political attention. What is striking is that these writers posed almost the exact same concerns, questions, framing, and even solutions that are being raised today; they were simply fifty years ahead.1316

No longer “news” after the mid-1960s. Chart 18 documents the decline in stories mentioning automation in the New York Times from 1955 through February 2015. But the disappearance of automation as a political issue owes to more than the exaggerated claims of the early 1960s. To a large extent it reflected the fact that organized labor, aside from a handful of progressive unions like the United Electrical Workers (UEW), the International Association of Machinists, and more recently National Nurses United, threw in the towel. This shift in focus was encouraged in the late 1960s by the virtual disappearance of unemployment with the booming economy that accompanied the Vietnam War. It was also encouraged by the persistent management stratagem to label any critic of automation a “Luddite,” as if asking questions about whether all automation was always good was tantamount to saying that society should abandon cooked food, electricity, and indoor plumbing.1091330

Thanks to computerized programs and robotics, for example, US steel industry production rose from 75 million tons to 120 million tons between 1982 and 2002, while the number of steelworkers fell from 289,000 to 74,000.120 In the 1960s, for another example, a single textile worker operated five machines, each able to run a thread through the loom at one hundred times per minute. By 2014 machines ran at six times that speed and a single operator supervised one hundred looms.121 Office work increasingly became the target of automation and computerization.122 To some extent, this process was so comprehensive and overwhelming—and part of a broader digitalization of all aspects of social life—that it eluded sustained analysis, as water escapes the comprehension of the proverbial fish. It certainly paved the way for what was and is about to come. American jobs were being radically changed by technology, and more than a few were being lost to technology, but until the Great Recession it did not seem to be much of a loss. And even then, as Galbraith put it, “you can’t distinguish a job lost to technology from a job lost to a business slump. The two are, actually, the same thing.”1231375

Gordon Moore, a computer engineer and a founder of Intel, wrote an article in 1965 in which he projected, in effect, that due to continuous technological improvements, the computing power one could buy for a dollar would double every year for a good ten years. This became Moore’s Law. He later suggested that it would double every two years, and most observers have come to use the notion that it would double every eighteen months. People once anticipated that Moore’s Law would peter out or at least slow down over time, but it has proven resilient and astonishingly accurate. “Over and over again,” Brynjolfsson and McAfee write, “brilliant tinkering has found ways to skirt the limitations imposed by physics.”125 1395

It took scientists a decade of intensive work to sequence the three billion base pairs in the human genome by 2003. By 2013, a single computer facility could sequence that much DNA in a day.127 More recently, the Economist reports, “the new iPhones sold over the weekend of their release in September 2014 contained 25 times more computing power than the whole world had at its disposal in 1995.”128 1403

All the spectacular growth in the “first half” of the chessboard barely registers before 2008. We are now at the part of the curve that is shooting straight up like an oil-well gusher. Even if the rate of growth eventually does slow down, we are deep into uncharted terrain, as though we have traveled through a wormhole to some distant galaxy.130 As Brynjolfsson and McAfee note, “Things get weird in the second half of the chessboard.”131 In their view, the world is at an inflection point, where all sorts of operations that only recently were thought impossible for computers and uniquely the province of humans—driverless cars, anyone? robot “nurses”?—will be easily done by computers, and soon other tasks that presently are considered unthinkable for computers will become standard fare. The most striking feature may well be how very quickly this will take place in historical terms.1422

To put the moment we are entering in perspective, consider the analysis of Gill A. Pratt. Until 2015 Pratt served as Program Director at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where he oversaw work on robotics. This is important because DARPA has been at the center of technological innovation throughout the digital era. Pratt argues that humanity may be on the verge of experiencing something comparable in impact to the “Cambrian Explosion,” referring to the relatively brief period 540 million years ago when life underwent an astonishingly rapid diversification, including arguably the evolution of vision. It was crucial for the subsequent development of complex and intelligent life. Pratt outlined a series of related and complementary breakthroughs in robotics and computing that will make it possible for machines “to replicate the performance of many of the perceptual parts of the brain,” including, ironically enough, vision itself. At the very least, Pratt observes, “the effects on economic output and human workers are certain to be profound.” He refuses to predict when exactly this will occur, “as the timing of tipping points is hard to predict,” but it is on its way.132 1429

Computers can now access an unimaginably large body of stored information that is growing by leaps and bounds and process that information almost instantaneously with ever more sophisticated algorithms. This is what is referred to as “big data.”136 Computers, as Nicholas Carr explains, may never be able to replicate “tacit” or “procedural” knowledge, which refers to the stuff we do without thinking about it, like riding a bike or driving a car. Instead, computers are very good at “explicit” or “declarative” knowledge, which is the stuff we do that we can write down instructions for, like how to change a flat tire or solve a quadratic equation. “The superhuman speed with which computers can follow instructions, calculate probabilities, and receive and send data,” Carr notes, “means that they can use explicit knowledge to perform many of the complicated tasks we do with tacit knowledge.” Driverless cars are just the tip of that iceberg. The implications for automation are striking, if not revolutionary. “Even highly trained analysts and other so-called knowledge workers are seeing their work circumscribed by decision-support systems that turn the making of judgments into a data-processing routine.”137 Much of this “big data” is accumulated in the “cloud,” a group of enormous “server farms” controlled by a handful of massive corporations like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. The cloud becomes the rational and most cost-effective way for businesses to store and analyze their data. One of the great benefits and therefore consequences of cloud computing, according to Vincent Mosco, the leading scholar on the subject, is that it “essentially deepens and extends opportunities to eliminate jobs and restructure the workforce.” This is, in fact, a primary selling point that cloud computing firms use to drum up business.138 (That seems fitting, as these vast corporate server farms “virtually run themselves,” Carr writes.139) Ford observes that with “the migration of much of the intelligence that animates mobile robots” into the cloud, it makes it possible “to build less expensive robots, since less onboard computational power and memory are required, and allows for instant software upgrade across multiple machines.”140 In the meantime, for the same reason, as the Economist notes, cloud computing is also ideal for harnessing freelance workers to replace higher-paid labor.141

Another possibility opened up by being in the second half of the chessboard is the “Internet of Things,” a term for the billions of human-made devices that are connected to each other on a universal computing infrastructure. Each of these devices has its own Internet address, and will communicate with other devices more than with people. “That’s the whole point of the thing,” technology writer Michael Miller enthuses, “to connect just about everything in the aptly named Internet of Things.” It promises “more automatic, and more intelligent services provided by interconnected smart devices—with a minimal amount of human interaction.”142 “Make no mistake,” author Samuel Greengard writes, “we are entering a brave new world of immersive and embedded technology. . . . It’s entirely clear that a more technology-centric world is in the cards.”143 Depending upon the source, by 2020 or very soon thereafter, it is expected that there will be as many as fifty billion such devices, and only a small fraction of them will be personal computers, tablets, or smartphones controlled by individual humans. “Engineers expect so many of these connected devices,” Philip Howard writes in his book Pax Technica, “that they have reconfigured the addressing system to allow for 2 to the 128th power addresses—enough for each atom on the face of the earth to have 100 addresses.”144 Much of the economy will run through the Internet of Things. As Carr notes, “Manufacturers are spending billions of dollars to outfit factories with network-connected sensors, and technology giants like GE,…1449 They will be not only in factories, they will be everywhere.1498 Then, to put an exclamation point on their analysis, they say that 3D printing, robotics, driverless cars, and computers like Watson “are not the crowning achievements of the computer era. They’re the warm-up act.”1531506

The Economist has been at the forefront of studying and writing about the issue.154 “Until now,” it wrote in 2014, “the jobs most vulnerable to machines were those that involved routine, repetitive tasks. But thanks to the exponential rise in processing power and the ubiquity of digitized information (‘big data’), computers are increasingly able to perform complicated tasks more cheaply and effectively than people.”155 As computer science reporter Federico Pistono puts it, “Millions of algorithms created by computer scientists are frantically running on servers all over the world, with one sole purpose: do whatever humans can do, but better.”156 What does this mean? “The combination of big data and smart machines will take over some occupations wholesale; in others it will allow firms to do more with fewer workers.”157 In earlier stages of automation, Brynjolfsson explains, firms automated the physical work but required humans to be the control system. Now the control system can be automated, and when it is, “then it is less clear what the role for humans is.”158 1511

The Economist notes that new technologies also make it possible for firms to “reshape” those jobs that remain, so that they can “be done by less skilled contract workers.”159 “In case after case,” Carr writes, “we’ve seen as machines become more sophisticated, the work left to people becomes less so.”160 This was anticipated first by Harvard Business School professor James R. Bright in his 1958 book Automation and Management. “It seems that the more automatic the machine, the less the operator has to do,” Bright wrote. “The progressive effect of automation is first to relieve the operator of manual effort and then to relieve him of the need to apply continuous mental effort.”161 1522 In 1966 Bright filed a report for President Johnson’s National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress: “The lesson should be increasingly clear; it is not necessarily true that highly complex equipment requires skilled operators. The ‘skill’ can be built into the machine.” With his orientation toward management, Bright was the first dissenting voice regarding the notion that automation required workers to have better education and training: “I suggest that excessive educational and skill specification is a serious mistake and potential hazard to our educational and social system. We will hurt individuals, raise labor costs improperly, create disillusion and resentment, and destroy valid job standards by setting standards that are not truly needed for a given task.”162 He was decades ahead of his time.163 As Tyler Cowen puts it, most of these new jobs that interact with sophisticated machines “won’t be much harder than, in today’s world, operating a tollbooth on the New Jersey Garden State Parkway, a job performed by both man and machines.”164 1529

The magazine offers up Uber as an example of a business that may well be “a forerunner to an eventual system that has no drivers at all.”167 Martin Ford points to a New York–based start-up, Work Fusion, which sells software to firms to automate big projects formerly done by office workers. Where people are still needed, the software recruits freelance workers online to do the temp work, and then the software monitors what the workers do to learn from them so that their jobs, too, can be automated. “As the freelance workers do their jobs they are, in effect, training the system to replace them. That’s a pretty good preview of what the future looks like.”168 “The combination of advanced sensors, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, big data, text-mining, and pattern-recognition algorithms, is generating smart robots capable of quickly learning human actions, and even learning from one another,” writes former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “If you think being a ‘professional’ makes your job safe, think again.”169 So exactly which jobs are on the chopping block?1544 A report in the New York Times adds “counselors, salespeople, chefs, paralegals and researchers” to the list.171 Or consider utility meter readers. In 2001, 56,000 American workers held that job. By 2010 the number was down to 36,000. By 2023 the number is expected to be zero.172 Consider that the four most common occupations in the United States are retail salesperson, cashier, food and beverage server, and office clerk. Nearly 10% of the labor force, over 15 million workers—more workers than there are in Texas and Massachusetts combined—are so employed. Thompson notes that these jobs are highly susceptible to automation.173 Ford sees 50% fast-food jobs disappearing, and argues it is likely there will be “explosive growth of the fully automated self-service retail sector—or, in other words, intelligent vending machines and kiosks.”174 Or consider driverless cars. Robotics scientists like MIT’s Daniela Rus make a powerful and convincing case that the impending shift to a driverless world—the technology is in its final stages—will be much more efficient, vastly improve the transportation system, and do wonders for the environment and the quality of life.175 One problem: the most common occupation for American men is driving some sort of vehicle, be it automobile, bus, or truck. What happens to them?176 Then there are the two sectors of the economy harboring the most professionals—health care and education. They “are under increasing pressure to cut costs,” Reich notes. “And expert machines are poised to take over.”177 A 2014 article asked: “Robot Replacing Nurses: Is It Really That Far-Fetched?” The answer: Dr. Rosalind Picard, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), recently told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that robots should be made available to healthcare providers (nurses and physicians) in order to enhance healthcare delivery. However, when pressed by the interviewer to guarantee that robots will not fully replace nurses as a way for hospitals to save money, she answered: “You know, when people are in charge all kinds of things can happen . . . right?”178 For education “entrepreneur” John Katzman, the great question is, “How do we use technology so that we require fewer highly qualified teachers?”179 The better question may be: What jobs aren’t susceptible to elimination or radical de-skilling and downsizing by automation? Computer entrepreneur Peter H. Diamondis and technology reporter Steven Kotler concur. Within a decade, they write, robots “will make up the majority of the blue-collar workforce.” They will be doing everything from “shelf-stocking” inventory at Costco to “burger-slinging” at McDonald’s.180 That’s not all. Ford argues that the last remaining labor-intensive areas in agriculture—primarily picking—are soon to be susceptible to automation.181 1561

“Robots deployed in manufacturing today,” the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015, tend to be large, dangerous to anyone who strays too close to their whirling arms, and limited to one task, like welding, painting or hoisting heavy parts. The latest models entering factories and being developed in labs are a different breed. They can work alongside humans without endangering them and help assemble all sorts of objects, as large as aircraft engines and as small and delicate as smartphones. Soon, some should be easy enough to program and deploy that they no longer will need expert overseers. Robots are getting much lighter, they can be repurposed easily and can do delicate work humans find very difficult and once regarded as impossible for machines. “One company promises its robots eventually will be sewing garments in the U.S..”183 1592

“China, India, Mexico, and other emerging nations are learning quickly,” Rifkin writes, “that the cheapest workers in the world are not as cheap, efficient, and productive as the information technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence that replaces them.”186 A recent study by University of Chicago economists Loukas Karabarbounis and Brent Nieman found that labor’s share of GDP has been declining in those three nations as well as most of the other nations they examined. Their explanation? Advances in information technology caused the price of plant, machinery, and equipment to drop, so companies have shifted investment away from labor and toward capital. They determine that in the United States almost one-half of the decline in the share of labor in the national income can be attributed to businesses’ replacing workers with computers and software.187 By 2012 the global sales of industrial robots was a $28 billion annual market, and the fastest-growing market is China, where robot installations have been increasing at a 25 percent annual rate since 2005.188 China still has a long way to go, as it has just thirty robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees compared to South Korea (437), Japan (323), Germany (282), and the United States (152), according to the International Federation of Robotics, a trade group. The research firm IHS Technology projects that robot sales in China will increase from 55,000 units in 2014, to 211,000 units in 2019.189 Consider Foxconn, the largest maker of electronic components in the world and the largest exporter in Greater China. Foxconn is single-handedly responsible for manufacturing nearly half of the consumer technology in the world, and much, if not most, of what Americans own in terms of smartphones and tablet computers. It has annual revenues of $135 billion and is the third-largest employer in the world, with 1.2 million workers. Foxconn grabbed its market share by providing a low-paid and heavily exploited workforce for Western firms, working in conditions right out of a Charles Dickens novel.1609 Foxconn CEO Terry Gou said in 2015 that the firm has been adding thirty thousand industrial robots annually since then, and the process is being accelerated to the point where he expects robots and automation to complete 70% of its assembly-line work by 2018. Gou eventually foresees a “robot army”—Foxconn has invested heavily in robotics research—as a way to offset labor costs. “I think in the future young people won’t do this kind of work, and won’t enter the  factories,” Gou says.191 Foxconn is not an outlier or some kind of “futurist” firm.192 It is part of a trend. The headline of a 2015 New York Times report from China said it all: “Cheaper Robots, Fewer Workers.” It explained that a few low-tech industries, like garment manufacturing, are moving from China to places that still have very low wages, like Bangladesh. But many industries, particularly electronics, are still moving factories to China. That is because so many of the parts suppliers are now in China that it is often more costly to do assembly elsewhere. So although building robots to replace workers is seldom cheap, a growing number of companies are finding it less costly than either paying ever-higher wages in China or moving to another country.193 We doubt that automation will replace most labor in China, India, or the global south in the near term; there is still more than enough cheap labor.194 We also doubt that firms such as Foxconn anticipate a workerless world in the visible future—although Gou says the firm already has a fully automated plant in Chendu that works 24/7 with the lights off.1628

One industry analyst says that there will be a few million manufacturing jobs left in 2040. In 2003 there were 163 million manufacturing jobs worldwide.196 All of this is bad news for a capitalist economy, which needs workers with decent incomes so they can become consumers who purchase products.1646

From Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the east to Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, and Detroit in the middle, and on to Gary, Chicago, and Milwaukee in the west, gigantic factories producing steel, glass, rubber, machine tools, and the like were ever-present, in addition to the iconic auto plants. Millions of people earned good wages and the economies were strong, and at the center of it all was the automobile. That doesn’t even begin to factor in all the construction and real estate development—that is, suburbanization—and other ancillary industries that resulted as well. One can make the case that automobilization was a central factor in the health of US capitalism for much of the twentieth century. It more than offset the losses to employment that the automobile had created by ending the “ecology of horse and plow and the semimodern technology of the railroad and the streetcar.”198

Is anything like this occurring or on the horizon due to computerization and the Internet? To our knowledge, Galbraith has studied that question as much as anyone, and his answer is an emphatic “no.” “With computers and the Internet, this scope for secondary employment is far less.” Indeed, the evidence is that the opposite is the case. “The ratio of jobs killed to jobs created in this process is high,” Galbraith writes. “Moreover, many of those displaced are not only unemployed but also obsolete.” One of the virtues of computerization and the Internet proves to be a great problem for a capitalist economy: it not only saves on labor, but it also saves on capital, as it becomes so much more efficient.199 Ironically, perhaps the only tangible new sector of jobs for humans has been provided by Rifkin, who states that “there is one last surge of work: in the next 35 years we will have to put the infrastructure of the automated economy in place—robots are not going to do that.” Exactly how many jobs that will require is unclear, but Rifkin notes that “this transformation will keep two more generations busy but the downside is of course that the smarter technology gets, the less workers it needs to run it properly.” And, this “surge of work” is paving the way for the end of work by mid-century.200 People who study the list of the most common occupations find it to be largely the province of the types of jobs that predated the computer and are now in its crosshairs. “Nine out of 10 workers today are in occupations that existed 100 years ago,” Thompson writes, “and just 5 percent of the jobs generated between 1993 and 2013 came from ‘high tech’ sectors like computing, software, and telecommunications. Our newest industries tend to be the most labor-efficient: they just don’t require many people.”201 1657  Amazon, for another example, already uses some fifteen thousand robots in its warehouses.203 Moreover, those humans who remain1681 (have it rough)

There are not enough “specialized new digital jobs, like people who create apps,” a business reporter writes, “no matter how we’re educating people. Our new industries simply aren’t labor-intensive.”206 When Sidelsky pressed the optimists to describe some of the “many new types of jobs” that will be created, they came up with “lead drivers of multi-car road trains” in the coming era of driverless cars, “big data analysts, or robot mechanics. That does not sound like too many new jobs to me.”207 1688

By the end of 2014, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers stated that he no longer believed that the automation process would create new jobs to replace the ones it was eliminating. “This isn’t some hypothetical future possibility,” he said. “This is something that’s emerging before us right now.”210 Due to automation, “there is no reason to believe there will be jobs for all people at socially acceptable wages,” the commission on the state of the US economy headed by Summers and Balls concluded in 2015. “The rapid pace in computer innovation of routine tasks has rightfully worried policymakers, as this scale of automation has little precedent in industrialized economies.”211 In 2013 two Oxford University scholars published a detailed research paper that concluded that 47% of existing US jobs—including many “middle-class” service jobs—were at “high risk” of being eliminated due to automation.212 This has led some respected observers to predict unemployment rates in the coming decades in the 50% range.1702

Amara’s Law, named after systems engineer Roy Amara: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”213 What we are comfortable saying—and what we believe must be said loudly and emphatically—is that the present course is taking all the trends toward increased inequality and poverty already in existence and making them worse. Technological displacement of workers, Summers correctly concludes, “is likely to be a substantial factor pushing toward more inequality in the future.”214 No evidence provided by anyone suggests otherwise. And that alone, not a prospective frightening rate of unemployment decades down the road, should be more than enough to get everyone’s attention. This conclusion comes as no surprise to labor unions and progressive economists. Paul Krugman writes that “we could be looking at a society that grows ever richer, but in which all the gains in wealth accrue to whoever owns the robots.”215 1713

Brynjolfsson and McAfee stand as arguably the world’s greatest cheerleaders for automation and what they refer to as “the second machine age.” But they acknowledge that “the gains, however large, have been concentrated among a relatively small group of winners, leaving the majority of people worse off than before.”216 The Economist writes that “the prosperity unleashed by the digital revolution has gone overwhelmingly to the owners of capital and the highest-skilled workers.”217 It will continue into the future and “will contribute to pressure to reduce labour rights in all sorts of situations.”218 The Economist also notes there is a “squeezing out” of the middle class, whose emergence in the twentieth century “was a hugely important political and social development across the world.”219 There are crucial existential questions that the new era of artificial intelligence, robotics, and computerization brings to the forefront.

It’s apparent,” Greengard notes, “that society is hitting a tipping point where humans are engineering our own obsolescence.”220 What is the relationship of humans to their machines?221 At what point are they no longer “our” machines? What does human being mean? What makes us happy? Or, the question that technology historian George Dyson posed: “What if the cost of machines that think is people who don’t?”222 Organizations like the Future of Life Institute, funded in part by Tesla founder Elon Musk, the Lifeboat Foundation, and the recently created Center for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University all address the “existential risks” for humanity posed by genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, particularly as we approach the so-called singularity, the hypothetical moment when artificial intelligence surpasses the human intellect. As renowned Cambridge astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees puts it, the risk is exponentially greater because of “the ease with which a single person or company can cause catastrophic harm.”223 In July 2015 the Future of Life Institute released a letter signed by some three thousand artificial intelligence researchers and sixteen thousand other noted scholars calling for a global ban on offensive autonomous military weapons. “Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is—practically if not legally—feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”224 1724

Martin Ford is spot-on when he writes that “the problem is not with technology; it is with our economic system, and it lies specifically in that system’s inability to continue thriving in the new reality that is being created.”225 We would only add this: it is not even an economic problem as much as it is a political one, because the only plausible way to solve the great structural problems facing the economy will be through politics.1748 (If not, this) produces an economy that is marked by low growth and mounting inequality and poverty. In an extreme case, the fruits of automation may then be denied to all.1773

In 1930, as capitalism entered the worst depression of the twentieth century, and as the world was in the midst of “a bad attack of economic pessimism,” Keynes wrote a short piece to remind people that the problems of the economy were due not to its weakness, but rather to its extraordinary productivity. He noted that US factory output per worker was 40% greater in 1925 than in 1919. He projected that within readers’ lifetimes, the number of workers needed to “perform all the operations of agriculture, mining, and manufacture” would be reduced by 75%. Keynes hypothesized that in a century’s time, the “economic problem” would be solved, and very little human labor would be required to provide all people with living standards at least eight times greater than those of 1930.230 1820 Thompson writes in the Atlantic. “The sanctity and preeminence of work lie at the heart of the country’s politics, economics, and social interactions. What might happen if work goes away?” Keynes’s pessimism at least for the short term is well founded. “The paradox of work is that many people hate their jobs,” Thompson notes, “but they are considerably more miserable doing nothing.” This leads Thompson to a provocative conclusion: “Most people do need to achieve things through, yes, work to feel a lasting sense of purpose. To envision a future that offers more than minute-to-minute satisfaction, we have to imagine how millions of people might find meaningful work without formal wages.”232 1830

In popular economic theory, such revolutionary increases in productive capacity are supposed to translate into higher living standards, much shorter workweeks, richer public infrastructure, and a greater overall social security. Society should have the resources to tackle vexing environmental problems with the least amount of pain possible. In fact, however, nothing on the horizon suggests that this is in the offing. As automation and computerization take productive capacity to undreamed-of heights, jobs grow more scarce and are de-skilled, many people are poorer, and all the talk is of austerity and seemingly endless cutbacks in social services. There is growing wealth for the few combined with greater insecurity for the many. Washington, we’ve got a problem. The false assumptions, of course, are that the benefits of the technology accrue to more than the owners of the firms deploying the technologies. And also that capitalists have incentive to produce far more than they do to satisfy the needs of people worldwide. In fact, Veblen had it right: capitalists produce as much as they do only as long as it remains profitable to do so. Producing more than that lowers prices and lessens profits. In short, to follow Keynes’s logic to a place he did not go, capitalism would seem to have little or no reason to exist if the “economic problem” is solved, so it is imperative that the economic problem remain. For business and wealthy investors to continue to win, everyone else has to lose. In our view, the evidence points in one direction: the economy needs to be fundamentally reformed, if not replaced. Capitalism as we know it is the wrong economic system for the material world that is emerging. This is a radical conclusion, but it is not made merely by radicals. The number of true believers who think leaving firms and wealthy investors alone to do as they wish will ultimately solve the employment problem and give us a great economy that can be the foundation for a vibrant democracy is shrinking, primarily because it is a faith-based position. There are also some who have a similar faith that technology is innately progressive and all-powerful, so it can and will solve capitalism’s problems for us. They tell us that all we have to do is get out of the way, make some fresh popcorn, and grab a front-row seat as the future unfolds. But researching this book, what has been striking to us is that many, perhaps most, of the people who have studied these matters—from across the political spectrum—recognize that if the system is left alone, it will not right itself. Instead, structural changes are needed, and government will have to play the central role in determining and instituting these changes. Even those who believe that the existing capitalist system provides benefits that make it worth saving realize that significant reforms and government policy interventions are necessary to prevent intolerable outcomes. “It’s time to start discussing what kind of society we should construct around a labor-light economy,” Brynjolfsson and McAfee conclude. “How should the abundance of such an economy be shared? How can the tendency of modern capitalism to produce high levels of inequality be muted while preserving its ability to allocate resources efficiently and reward initiative and effort? What do fulfilling lives look like when they no longer center on industrial-era conceptions of work? How should education, the social safety net, taxation, and other important1849

The solutions to the employment and economic crises in the United States are political. The great debate is over what types of reforms there should be, and what type of system we should end up with. A core responsibility of the democratic state is to provide the ground rules and basis for an economy that will best serve the democratically determined needs of the people. An unavoidable part of this debate is to take up the issues last taken seriously in the 1960s: How should technology best be deployed to serve human needs? Never has the need for such a democratic debate and policymaking been greater than it is today.1878

Milton Friedman’s vision of a “free” society with no democratic infrastructure. It is a society where most citizens get nothing of value from the government, and are told they can never get anything of value from the government, so they logically lose their interest in it. As Wolin writes, when politicians proceed “methodically to reduce or eliminate social programs, the result is tantamount to a deliberate strategy of encouraging political apathy among the poor and needy.”1703551

and then increased, for no coherent reason. Continual warfare is now hard-wired into the political economy, a part of the informal constitution. Second, beginning in the 1980s, for the first time in US history, the federal government began to systematically “privatize” public services and “outsource” to private firms what had traditionally been government activities.175 States and local governments have followed suit, and both parties participate in the process.176 The purported reason for privatization and outsourcing was to bring market efficiency to the public sector; it followed from what Tony Judt described as “the intellectual shift that marked the last third of the 20th century . . . the worship of the private sector and the cult of privatization.”177 Research suggests that politics and greed had the most to do with what the government privatized, and that the efficiency claims were rarely realized and often flat wrong. Instead, this became a cash cow for large corporations and wealthy investors and has fanned the flames of corruption.178 For investors and corporations hard-pressed to locate profitable investments in the sainted “free market,” having a chance to grab a fistful of taxpayers’ dollars and take over military functions, prisons, public schools, and anything else that wasn’t nailed down is a gift from the heavens, especially when the terms are invariably generous, with all-but-guaranteed high rates of return. This also creates powerful lobbies with a decided interest in more militarism, more prisons, and more privatization of schools, so more public money can go into their coffers.179 The US government, under Republicans and Democrats, seems to be dedicated to fattening the bank accounts of crony capitalists above all else.3589

By removing the government from important functions, it lessens the ability of the citizenry to play a role in the economy and it locks in business domination. Privatization and outsourcing lessens the ability of government to solve social problems and therefore generates cynicism toward it. And, to top it off, evidence suggests privatization has contributed to the rapid escalation of economic inequality.180 Ironically, the administration of the government by the “free market” crowd proves their exact point: government is corrupt, incompetent, and not to be trusted.181 The end result is a great demoralization and depoliticization. The weltanschauung has changed, precisely as intended.182 The cancer of the “excess of democracy”3605

the present rulers have spent the past forty years trying to convince everyone that becoming part of an aroused and engaged and organized citizenry is unnecessary and a waste of time. Arguably their greatest victory of the past four decades has been converting the longstanding American optimism that democracy can lick any problem before it into a morose pessimism that there is no alternative, and resistance is futile. Of course it is frustrating for citizens to be fighting old fights for rights that should have been secured long ago. But the elites know something that should give us all encouragement: the current rulers cannot win a fair fight so they must rig the game. In times of crisis, like the 1970s, their contempt for democracy comes to the surface.3627

Unless there are major structural changes, even those liberties and privileges we enjoy today may be in jeopardy. This is a frightening proposition. But the world the current rulers have made is ill-equipped to address the crisis of unemployment and underemployment, and in no position to advance democratic practices and values. It has to go. The humane and effective solution to the economic crisis requires that (1) the political system be rejuvenated into a powerful democratic infrastructure that (2) draws people into public policy debates as effective participants. That is the route to the best possible outcomes. Then a frank and effective debate over how best to restructure the economy to serve human interests can occur. In that process the weltanschauung will change, and the crisis will appear as more of an opportunity than as a threat, and human imaginations will be unchained. We can use the technologies to build an egalitarian, humane, sustainable, and democratic society as has never before been seen. The good news is that nearly all the elements of a democratic infrastructure that we list in Chapter 1 and return to in Chapter 6 have deep roots in American political history. Indeed, what is required to have a credible democracy is well known across the planet. The other good news is that there is no mystery about what creates democracy and democratic infrastructure. They advance primarily with energy from dynamic popular social movements, as we discuss next, in Chapter 5. Social activism changes everything.3634

In the early days of the American experiment, each state was required to establish its own constitution. Since then, it has been a standard that states have constitutions. As we will explain later in this chapter, they are much more dynamic documents than the US Constitution. Many states have held, and continue to hold, constitutional conventions not just to write the documents but to update them. Others have established relatively easy processes for amending constitutions by petitioning to schedule referendum votes on particular issues. * The capitalism roundly celebrated today as commanded from on high through the vessel of the US Constitution proved to be an acquired taste deep into America’s history. In his 1861 State of the Union Address—in the era when capitalism’s contours were indeed becoming visible—President Abraham Lincoln closed his speech, which had focused on the raging Civil War, by stating, “In my present position I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism.” The despotism that so concerned Lincoln was “the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government.” Lincoln elaborated on the notion: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” This only scratches the surface of Lincoln’s remarkable statement about the relationship of capital and labor to democracy. Abraham Lincoln, State of the Union Address, December 3, 1861, * There were obviously other motives as well, of a3650

Here is a sample of the voice of moderation, from King’s 1967 speech announcing his opposition to the war in Vietnam: “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing ‘clergy and laymen concerned’ committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. . . . This is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.” Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam,” New York, New York, April 4, 1967, * It was left to the entirely unrepentant Milton3667

Friedman doctrine: “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.” Period. See Milton Friedman, “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits,” New York Times, September 13, 1970, p. 33.3685

campuses, we occasionally encountered spirited defenses of the status quo. No more. On our recent tours we found deep recognition of the crisis and a palpable desire to address it: to boldly and genuinely democratize the nation. But we also found a profound and numbing pessimism. Americans live in a time when it often seems that nothing of consequence is ever accomplished by the political system for the benefit of the people—or, at the least, that nothing that is accomplished is as good as was promised, or as permanent as expected. When a putative candidate of the people, Barack Obama, is elected with spellbinding rhetoric and overwhelming, unprecedented support from young voters, the actual results are pretty much business as usual on core economic issues, if not across the board. The message we got from every corner of the country, from every campus and church basement and union hall, was that the experience of politics in recent years has poured gasoline on the flames of cynicism. You can fight the power, we were informed. But you cannot win. Resistance, too many Americans of good sense and good will were telling us, is futile.3706

The resulting depoliticization may well be the greatest victory of the counterrevolution launched in the 1970s by the web of corporate-funded think tanks, policy networks, political action committees, and media that has come to dominate the discourse. It has so disillusioned those who know the current system is not working that many of the Americans who should be our most engaged and active citizens see no hope at all. This represents the greatest challenge Americans face today as a people. Yet, it is not a new challenge. Rulers have always found that having their subjects be quiescent of their own volition is the preferable means of maintaining the status quo. But history also tells us that a time comes when the people can stand it no more—when it is not just optimism but necessity that inspires a reaction against conditions that have grown unbearable—when, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “evils” are no longer “sufferable.” This will be the case again, and soon. Indeed, there are signs all around us that the roots of a new activism on behalf of economic democracy are growing underneath the corporate media radar. There was no movement for a fifteen-dollar-an-hour minimum wage when we were touring in 2010, and only the barest hints of one when we were touring in 2013. Now, that movement is everywhere. There are parallel movements for a Retail Workers Bill of Rights, for new unions, for a new economy. These movements are not yet so powerful as they will be, and they are not yet so linked together as they will be. But the remarkable response to the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, which made the linkages in a political context, suggests that the prospect for a transformational moment is real.3723

AS REAL A REVOLUTION AS THAT OF 1776 We have reviewed the crucial debates concerning democracy at the founding of the nation and in its earliest years. There were also important lessons then about how to make effective social change. “The man who loves his country on its own account, and not merely for its trappings of interest or power, can never be divorced from it, can never refuse to come forward when he finds that she is engaged in dangers which he has the means of warding off,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in a 1797 missive that noted threats to liberty coming not from distant kings or tea companies but from elected congressmen and presidents.3745

the author of the Declaration of Independence observed that “it behooves our citizens to be on their guard, to be firm in their principles, and full of confidence in themselves. We are able to preserve our self-government if we will but think so.”4 Americans still believe this. But they are not, necessarily, “full of confidence in themselves.” For that confidence to be renewed, a connection must be made.3751

It was then that workers and farmers would no longer settle for old inequalities dressed up in an emperor’s new clothes of industrial “progress.” They began to identify as Chartists, joining their disparate protests, their disparate energies, their disparate fears, and their disparate hopes to the campaign for a “People’s Charter” that demanded the democratization of politics and governing:        •  All men to have the vote (universal manhood suffrage)        •  Voting should take place by secret ballot        •  Parliamentary elections every year, not once every five years        •  Constituencies should be of equal size        •  Members of Parliament should be paid        •  The property qualification for becoming a Member of Parliament should be abolished16 Today, these changes may appear to be simple and incremental reforms. But at the time they were lodged by the London Working Men’s Association, the demands were portrayed as the height of radicalism—anticipating some principles of equal representation that the United States, the supposed exporter of democratic ideals, would not formally embrace for more than a century. Yet, when the People’s Charter was first circulated in 1838, the radicals gathered 1.25 million signatures supporting their cause, and then several years later they gained 3 million signatures.17 The powerful pushed back, often using violence to thwart peaceful protest and direct-action demonstrations, yet even official historians now accept that “the Chartists’ legacy was strong” and reforms once imagined as radical were with relative speed accepted as “inevitable.”18 From these reforms came a new politics, and from that new politics came transformations of working life and of society that answered the “clumsy” questions first posed by the Luddites about what would happen to the displaced, the unemployed, the unrepresented masses in a new industrial age.3843

How did this happen? John Bates, an English Chartist who would eventually immigrate to the United States and continue the democratic struggle by organizing miners into a pioneering American union, offered the best explanation. Recalling the transformative moment when many struggles became one, he explained that in Britain “here were [radical] associations all over the county, but there was a great lack of cohesion. One wanted the ballot, another manhood suffrage and so on. The radicals were without unity of aim and method, and there was but little hope of accomplishing anything. When, however, the People’s Charter was drawn up . . . clearly defining the urgent demands of the working class, we felt we had a real bond of union; and so transformed our Radical Association into local Chartist centres.”19 A period of economic and social upheaval spawned a plethora of radical responses that slowly coalesced into a cohesive demand for democracy. This is an arc of history that must be understood in our times. It provides an indication of the vital role to be played by contemporary campaigners on a host of issues, and of the way in which Americans might confront and tame the digital disruptions that have already occurred and those that are sure to come. Thompson invites us, correctly, essentially, to look for a new set of heroes who are not celebrated in the “official” histories of the past or on the business pages of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal today: I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “Utopian artisan,” and even the deluded follower of [religious prophetess] Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties. Our only criterion of judgment should not be whether or not a man’s actions are justified in the light of subsequent evolution. After all, we are not at the end of social evolution ourselves. In some of the lost causes of the people of the Industrial Revolution we may discover insights into social evils which we have yet to cure. Moreover, this period now compels attention for two particular reasons. First, it was a time in which the plebeian movement placed an exceptionally high valuation upon egalitarian and democratic values. Although we often boast our democratic way of life, the events of these critical years are far too often forgotten or slurred over. Second, the greater part of the world today is still undergoing problems of industrialization, and of the formation of democratic institutions, analogous in many ways to our own experience during the Industrial Revolution. Causes which were lost in England might, in Asia or Africa, yet be won.20 Thompson penned those words more than half a century ago,3865

First, we are certain that Thompson’s view of political formation is appropriate not merely to an industrial age but to a digital age. Second, we fear that the timelines Thompson worked on are speeding up, as barriers once thought insurmountable are collapsed in a chaotic age when historian of science James Gleick charts “the acceleration of just about everything.”213892

Theodore Roosevelt and his supporters proposed more than a century ago when they spoke of replacing “the tyrannies” of economic and political elites with governance that starts with the premise that “this country belongs to the people who inhabit it. Its resources, its business, its institutions and its laws should be utilized, maintained or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest.”223898

Roosevelt and his allies argued that “it is time to set the public welfare in the first place.”23 But3905

America has seen many moments of intensely focused and effective popular engagement in the past, as abolitionists forced the issue of slavery to the center of the nation’s agenda, as “vote yourself a farm” campaigners forced the redistribution of public lands to the poor and new immigrants, as populists and trust busters undid the Gilded Age, as New Dealers saw off the “Toryism” of the Wall Street gamblers and unfeeling corporatists whose covetous greed had crashed the global economy, as civil rights campaigners began to give meaning to a two-centuries-old promise that “all men [and women] are created equal.” None of these movements blossomed from thin air. They bloomed with deep and complex root structures, which had grown together over decades. Disparate movements for what had once seemed to be very different causes came, usually in a moment of crisis, to a realization that they were not so different in their fundamental purposes.3924

Like the Chartists of another land, responding to an earlier stage of an ongoing industrial revolution, Americans came in the early years of the twentieth century to understand the necessity of uniting in pursuit of democratic reforms that were needed to address the corruption, the inequality, and the economic and political violence of a new age of “robber barons.” It is no coincidence that the economically and socially unstable period from 1910 to 1920 saw the United States amend its constitution to create an elected rather than an appointed US Senate, to establish an income tax and the infrastructure by which corporations would be taxed and regulated, to extend the franchise to women so that 133 years into the American experiment it might finally be possible to speak of majority rule.25 The first wave of the modern democratic infrastructure was being constructed. Nothing was given to the American people in this period. These constitutional amendments were demanded by a great movement for reform that crossed lines of gender and race and class and partisanship and immediate self-interest. The political platforms of the 1912 election—in which the Democratic, Republican, Progressive, and Socialist parties competed with a seriousness and an intensity that has not since been matched—did not peddle pabulum. They outlined bold agendas for altering the character of the economy and the direction of society, and they recognized the need for democratic changes that would make it possible to achieve those alterations. The economic critique drew from economist Thorstein Veblen’s summary dismissal of then-existing capitalism as irrational and unfair.3933

the practical agenda of the Socialists, with its calls for a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, conservation of natural resources, and an end to child labor, was echoed in the platforms of the other parties. So, too, were calls for an elected Senate, and for women’s suffrage. And so, too, in only slightly less ardent language, was the understanding of what was awry. The Socialists argued that “the capitalist system has outgrown its historical function, and has become utterly incapable of meeting the problems now confronting society.”26 They denounced “this outgrown system as incompetent and corrupt and the source of unspeakable misery and suffering to the whole working class.” And they explained that in spite of the multiplication of labor-saving machines and improved methods in industry which cheapen the cost of production, the share of the producers grows ever less, and the prices of all the necessities of life steadily increase. The boasted prosperity of this nation is for the owning class alone. To the rest it means only greater hardship and misery. The high cost of living is felt in every home. Millions of wage-workers have seen the purchasing power of their wages decrease until life has become a desperate battle for mere existence. Multitudes of unemployed walk the streets of our cities or trudge from State to State awaiting the will of the masters to move the wheels of industry. The farmers in every state are plundered by the increasing prices exacted for tools and machinery and by extortionate rents, freight rates and storage charges. Capitalist concentration is mercilessly crushing the class of small business men and driving its members into the ranks of property-less wage-workers. The overwhelming majority of the people of America are being forced under a yoke of bondage by this soulless industrial despotism.273947

compare the language of the Socialists with the program outlined by former President Theodore Roosevelt and his Progressive Party, which began by announcing that “to destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”28 The Progressives contended that the “test of true prosperity shall be the benefits conferred thereby on all the citizens, not confined to individuals or classes, and that the test of corporate efficiency shall be the ability better to serve the public; that those who profit by control of business affairs shall justify that profit and that control by sharing with the public the fruits thereof.”29 Roosevelt and his compatriots were not socialists. They were simply speaking the language of the moment; it is a clear example of how the weltanschauung had changed. Indeed, as he prepared his 1912 candidacy, Roosevelt argued that the absence of effective state, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. Again, comrades over there, take the lesson from your own experience. Not only did you not grudge, but you gloried in the promotion of the great generals who gained their promotion by leading the army to victory. So it is with us. We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.30 Roosevelt was right. Meaningful progress toward the betterment of society could not be achieved without facing the fact that corporations, not citizens, were in charge. The wealthy men who controlled those corporations were absolutely unwilling to act in the public interest, and as such they were employing the great developments of an age of invention and innovation—and the accumulated wealth associated with the mass production of those inventions and the implementation of those innovations—to consolidate their power rather than to improve the condition of the great majority of Americans. Roosevelt recognized that the improvement in the circumstance of that great majority could not be achieved without a democratic revolution. He called it “reform” or “progressivism.” His opponents called it “dangerous” or “anarchism.” But what Roosevelt proposed in the second decade of the twentieth century was precisely what must be proposed today—an outline for democracy in a new age: If our political institutions were perfect, they would absolutely prevent the political domination of money in any part of our affairs. We need to make our political representatives more quickly and sensitively responsive to the people whose servants they are. More direct action by the people in their own affairs under proper safeguards is vitally necessary. The direct primary is a step in this direction, if it is associated with a corrupt practices act effective to prevent the advantage of the man willing recklessly and unscrupulously to spend money over his more honest competitor. It is particularly important that all moneys received or expended for campaign purposes should be publicly accounted for, not only after election, but before election as well. Political action must be made simpler, easier,…3963

The 1896 Democratic platform was thick with talk of gold and silver “standards,” but devoid of a vision for how to make a politics that would deliver a new economy.41 Bryan accepted the political structures that had been assembled to defeat him, and he was, predictably, defeated.4058

as a crusading journal) published a nine-part series on the “Treason of the Senate,” which declared that “treason is a strong word, but not too strong to characterize the situation in which the Senate is the eager, resourceful, and indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be.”44 Instead of waiting for a “kept press” to tell the truth about machinations of “the money power,” progressives such as Robert M. La Follette began to start their own magazines (La Follette’s Weekly, now the Progressive, started in 1909), socialists took local publications such as the Milwaukee Leader and the New York Call national, and anarchists such as Emma Goldman became editors. The labor press flourished. And the exposés and calls to action grew so loud that the “kept press” in many instances grew a little less kept and a little more conscious that something had to change. In the period leading up to the 1912 election, connections were constantly made between economic and social ills and the dysfunction of democratic institutions. The “disconnect” of that time between a demand for change and meaningful reform was revealed and reviled. Citizens could organize, advocate, assemble and petition for the redress of grievances; they could raise cries against injustice and against the practical failures of ruling economic elites; and they could decry the economic misdeeds that created a boom-and-bust pattern that seemed always to boom for the wealthy but that frequented busted everyone else. They could combine direct action that yielded isolated victories (particularly for skilled workers involved in industrial disputes) with electoral action that made temporary gains in cities such as Milwaukee and Cleveland, where brutally corrupt Democratic and Republican machines were upended by the transformative administrations of “Sewer Socialists” and other progressive reformers. But the prospect of a whole and meaningful response to the crisis of the age did not become real until the connection between political reform and economic and social progress became a central theme of national politics. The disconnect could no longer be ignored. It had to be addressed. The political reforms that were demanded and largely achieved in the period from 1910 to 1920—an elected Senate; votes for women; bans on corporate campaign contributions; direct primaries; the option for citizens to petition for initiatives, referendums and recalls; limited protections for labor organizing and collective bargaining; structural shifts that allowed for the development of state banks and municipal utilities; an expanded commitment to public education in general and higher education in particular—did not immediately repair all that ailed America. In some ways, this new democratic infrastructure made things more unstable, more uncertain. But the instability was democratic rather than feudal, and it pointed toward prospects for fundamental change that would be realized as the defeated Democratic vice-presidential nominee of 1920 became the elected Democratic president of 1932. Franklin Delano Roosevelt frequently celebrated the role that democratic reforms had played in clearing the way for policies that would humanize industry and finance, policies that voice “the deathless cry of good men and good women for the opportunity to live and work in freedom, the right to be secure in their homes and in the fruits of their labor, the power to protect themselves against the ruthless and the cunning. It recognizes that man is indeed his brother’s keeper, insists that the laborer is worthy of his hire, demands that justice shall rule the mighty as well as the weak.”45 FDR preached that the essential tool in the pursuit of a humane future was a sense of cohesion around a set of democratic principles and ideals that link all of those who are fighting “against those forces which disregard human cooperation and human rights in seeking that kind of individual profit which is gained at the expense of his…4082

The political crisis facing Americans has to do with a more traditional definition of disconnect—the sort that occurs when a fully developed and otherwise functional device does not work because it is not connected to a power supply. The power supply we refer to is the great mass of Americans, many of them already active, many more ready to be engaged. They need a democratic infrastructure that can translate their existing and evolving demands for an economy that translates technological advancement into societal progress.4128

But this is not the case. The economic and social changes ushered in by long periods of deindustrialization, radical workplace change, and stark wage stagnation are creating chaos that benefits 1 percent or so of our population but that leaves the rest of us confused, frightened, and justifiably angered. The keyword of our moment is disruptive.504144

abandon the suicidal notion that the corporations have an innate right to do whatever they please, social consequences be damned, as long as they are maximizing profits. This country is seeing the renewal of historic ideals of public and cooperative enterprise. New movements are taking on what Gar Alperovitz, the cofounder of the Democracy Collaborative, refers to as the “huge and agonizing long-term task” of developing and popularizing alternative models for ownership and job creation that involve “nothing less than transforming the underlying institutions that are producing the outcomes we see—in short, one way or another, transforming the system over time, beginning, as always [and as we shall see], in local communities where the pain is greatest.”59 This is big bold stuff, and it has moved way beyond theory. The United States has a vibrant Slow Food movement that has established itself in every state and every major city, along with many small towns. This movement is developing and supporting sustainable models for farming, food production, and eating out—or in. And there is an expanded vision of cooperative enterprise that has begun to renew old ideals of worker ownership and consumer involvement in a country where almost thirty thousand cooperatives have issued almost 350 million memberships.604199

This country has a movement to address climate change that recognizes the economic and political challenges outlined by Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben and other visionaries. And it has drawn millions of Americans, especially young Americans, into the streets to demand not merely a transition off fossil fuels but, in the words of Climate Justice Alliance co-director Cindy Wiesner, “an economy good for both people and the planet.”63 An4224

Reverend William Barber of North Carolina’s Moral Mondays movement that “we need a transformative moral fusion movement that’s indigenously led, state-based, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor movement that brings people together, that doesn’t wait for somebody to rescue you out of Washington DC, but [that] you mobilize from the bottom up.”654236

More than six hundred American communities have formally demanded congressional action to begin the process of undoing the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United, and McCutcheon decisions. They seek nothing less than a constitutional amendment that will renew the fundamental American premises that money is not speech, that corporations are not people, and that citizens and their elected representatives have a right to shape campaign finance laws to ensure that votes matter more than dollars. Sixteen states have formally requested action to amend the constitution. Millions of Americans have voted in referendums, signed petitions, and appeared before legislatures, city councils, and town boards to demand an electoral politics that is defined by ideas rather than the money power of self-interested billionaires and pay-to-play corporations.664241

But they have not succeeded in making big-enough change—or even in creating the space where the change might be possible.4261

there is still a tendency on the part of advocates to imagine that one issue must go first. We hear powerful and poignant arguments for this model of prioritization or that. We have made some of them ourselves. But, if history is any indicator, we know that the defining and uniting issue will be economic. And we know that the crisis of a jobless future will bring millions of Americans who are not currently engaged into a fight that extends from the First Amendment–sanctioned direct action of assembling and petitioning for the redress of grievances through the organizing of new-model labor unions and cooperatives, to the casting of ballots on behalf of candidates who really are better than their opponents. But we also know, as was the case two hundred years ago on the moors of Yorkshire, and one hundred years ago in the sweatshops of New York, that the political process is weighted against this activism—indeed, against all activism.4264

“political revolution” would be required to democratize politics and economics. To do this, Sanders spoke, constantly, of the need to rejuvenate the democratic infrastructure with constitutional amendments, sweeping reforms and unprecedented levels of popular engagement.4290

We ought not neglect the concern, the fear, the anger, the passion, the hope, the idealism that have drawn millions of Americans to movements that are so real and so needed—and yet so frustrated. There is a change coming. It is a frightening change.4301

will be rising inexorably, the damage will be racing out of control, and the range of options for action will be dramatically narrower and dramatically bleaker. Yet, because the threat is so daunting, because the requirements of a response are so great, it all becomes an abstraction. Even when people read the details of what is coming their way in ten or twenty or thirty years, even when those details are outlined by our best scientists, there is a powerful temptation to wait for a clarifying moment before leaping into action. The trouble is, environmentalists fear, that when the clarifying moment comes, it will be too late. We fear that the same could be true when it comes to reports about how the technological revolution under the auspices of contemporary capitalism is going to create new waves of unemployment and underemployment—with more poverty, wage stagnation, and inequality, and with devastating implications for society and democracy. The changes are unfolding now, in our own lives, in our own communities. The apps are being downloaded, the robots are rolling into the hospitals. We’re not talking decades. Two years from the moment you read these words, the planet will add more computer power than it did in all previous history. By the late 2030s there will likely be a thousandfold increase in computer power from where we are today.4322

If the great mass of Americans are going to have any role whatsoever in the shaping of this future, if there is to be any chance at all that the twenty-first century will belong to the whole of humanity as opposed to the monopolists of a new Gilded Age, then the defining economic issues of the age must become the defining political issues of the age. That4334

Americans must recognize that our contemporary political discourse stifles rather than encourages the debates about economic and social responses that might benefit the overwhelming majority of us—in large part because our political infrastructure has been organized to take essential issues off the table. Putting issues on the table is the most radical and freeing of all political acts, as it opens to everyone the range of possibility that is always available to the elites. This is the essence of democracy. Americans must build out the democratic infrastructure, not only to repair the damage that has been done to it in recent years, but to take it to places that the boldest visionaries of the past could barely imagine. We argue that the extension of democracy to economic planning is imperative. While we mention all the main elements of such an agenda herein, we reject the notion of rank-ordering them because this is an agenda that must integrate with itself. Our purpose is to illustrate the range of possibility and the free-wheeling—and, yes, disruptive—mindset that must be brought to democratic exploration and innovation. There is a point here that cannot be lost: it is impossible to imagine a decent or desirable society without a strong democratic infrastructure. Only when the democratic infrastructure is in place does it become possible to realize its promise fully. Only then do victories become more permanent, rather than fleeting. Only then do people stop fretting about their powerlessness and start using their power.4337

the people should have created a superior economic system that worked for the whole of society and its future, not just the needs of the rulers who were locked into their destructive and short-sighted paradigm. Existing US capitalism is similarly a dubious fit for the present technological revolution, and it is a bad fit for democracy. This evidence is drawn from scholars and experts who acknowledge that a tension exists between capitalism as currently practiced and what passes for democracy in America. They understand that this puts considerable strain upon the democratic values and institutions of the country. Yet, for the most part, the notion that capitalism itself must be subject to no-holds-barred political debate is unspeakable, even unthinkable. A similar intellectual paralysis among the wise men of an ancient civilization or Soviet scholars would be derided by these same observers as a sign of the society’s corruption and the bankruptcy of its intellectual class. Yet there is little self-awareness in the United States today among those who ponder the jobs crisis and the incompatibility automation has with our current political economy. Indeed, most writers assume capitalism as it has come to be known is the basis for democracy and freedom, and that whatever happens in the future, the necessity of preserving current capitalism (or some sped-up version of it) all but trumps other concerns. Nothing should be done to alter the power of the digital giants or the unquestioned dominance and legitimacy of the profit motive when it comes to defining the future. Even the truest believers in capitalism, if they are honest with themselves, have to recognize that this is a political gambit, a means for taking the biggest issues off the table. When we cannot have a wide-ranging debate about economics, then concentrated economic power translates into general cultural power. This is the nature of the present weltanschauung. We live in a time when it is illegitimate to say that the emperor is wearing no clothes. This barrier to a no-holds-barred discourse about how best to organize a civil, humane, and deeply democratic future, with liberty and justice for all, warps the debate about the future. It takes not just issues, but ideas, off the table. And it leaves us with too narrow a range of options—even for scholars who have taught us much and care deeply about this country, its peoples, and its future. If changing the economy is off the table, how can the great economic problems outlined in their research, and in all of our books, be addressed? If we may generalize, the one solution that has currency, and that is promoted by scholars who have done so much to identify the concerns outlined in this book (Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee, and Martin Ford, among them) is the notion of a basic income or guaranteed annual income for all people in the nation.3 The idea is that everyone gets a sufficient income, usually between ten and twenty thousand dollars annually, so that no one starves to death or goes homeless in an era where jobs become far more scarce. The sales pitch to the affluent sector of the population that will pay higher taxes to bankroll the program is twofold: (1) these tens of millions of unemployed people will certainly spend all of this money on goods and services, so it will end up back in your pockets and make the economy much stronger, and (2) unless the wealthy buy off the majority of the population, there will be extraordinary social turbulence that could make the 1930s look like a day at the beach. It says quite a bit about the constricted range of debate today that Brynjolfsson and McAfee assert that basic-income proposals are radical ideas, at the outer limits of what might be acceptable.4 Ford goes to considerable pains to explain that this project has the free-market seal of approval from Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.5 God forbid anyone think of a reform that would not be embraced by capitalism’s mightiest advocates. The idea of basic income was first posited by those on the left in the…4364

economist Tyler Cowen makes the astute point that even if this looks like a terrific deal for society’s millionaires, it is almost certain they will resist paying taxes to sustain those they regard as deadbeats and free-loaders.7 Then there develops a massive popular struggle to win and maintain the basic income. If people are going to organize a gigantic battle, they ought to fight for more than this. They ought to fight for a world where their concerns are central, and not struggle to be extras in a world of, by, and for the rich. In our view, a more humane approach would be to go in the opposite direction and simply remove certain functions from the market altogether as the society grows wealthier. Enhance democracy, don’t cash it out. Make broadband Internet access free and ubiquitous. Make healthcare free and ubiquitous. Make extensive public transportation within cities and between them free and ubiquitous. Make all education free and ubiquitous. The list goes on and on. At some point, down the road, inequality is eliminated and humans enter an entirely new phase of their history. The4402

Education is where the major battle for the future is going on today. A coalition of right-wing, union-hating, high-tech billionaires and hedge-fund managers looking to get rich as schools get privatized is working aggressively to “reform” and effectively end public education in the United States. Most of the arguments are economic: that American kids, who are primarily educated in public schools, are falling behind children worldwide and making the nation less competitive. This is a largely utilitarian view of education that sees it as developing labor skills and high incomes for students. The one reliable measure is testing, and “reformed” school districts have children prepare for and take tests much of their time in schools. Technology is offered as a way to reduce the reliance on human teachers—and in the form of so-called distance learning to eliminate schools themselves. One can only wonder where this leads when there are far fewer jobs and people are increasingly living off basic-income vouchers. There certainly doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for schools to exist, except as holding pens for children until they get old enough to collect their own basic-income vouchers and begin shopping around for health insurance companies that will take them. What is lost in this calculus are the two reasons the United States implemented public education in the first place: (1) to educate young people so they can be engaged and effective citizens and participate fully in the governance of society, and (2) to provide education for all as a great equalizer that gives poor and working-class children a chance to maximize their potential. School reformers often claim they want to create schools to help poor kids become rich adults, but commonly they send their own children to exclusive private schools, with hardly any testing and, ironically, very little technology. Indeed, research shows that a disproportionate percentage of tech billionaires and CEOs went to alternative Montessori schools as children. And in the Silicon Valley many of their children go to alternative Waldorf Schools that emphasize freedom, flexibility, and the arts. In short, these CEOs and their children are educated in an intimate, non-competitive environment with few tests or grades and an emphasis on personal growth, creativity, and critical thinking.8 Here’s our idea: why not make it the national policy that every child in America gets the same caliber of education as the children of the wealthy? That seems to be the civilized and humane target for a post-scarcity society. Why not make this the basic premise of every education debate?4412

ESTABLISHING THE CONTOURS OF DEMOCRACY American history as it should be taught is that of a centuries-long struggle, often against overwhelming odds, to make real the promise Lincoln enunciated on the blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg, when he spoke of government of, by, and for the people. This history begins with the painful recognition that American “democracy” started as a backroom deal between wealthy, white landholders, many of whom brutally exploited slaves, indentured servants, subsistence farmers, indigenous people, and women. The drama of the story is revealed in the retelling of how dispossessed and oppressed human beings gained for themselves a place at the table of democracy—of how African Americans, Native Americans, Chicanos, women, immigrants, religious dissenters, freethinkers, radical editors, trade unionists, poor people, young people, and gays and lesbians achieved full and meaningful citizenship. This is the greatest American story. These struggles built our democratic infrastructure and an understanding that only through solidarity, through a commitment to one another that bridged difference and indifference, could we all be free and prosperous. This is the story of how the promise of democracy became the reality of democracy. And it is vital to understanding the work of building a democratic infrastructure that is sufficient to the challenges that are coming our way. From the beginning of the American experiment, there has been an understanding of the basic requirements of democracy:        •  elections for positions of public trust by popular vote of constituents        •  the rule of law and the control of corruption        •  constraints on militarism and “continual warfare”        •  the guarantee of an independent, substantial, and uncensored free press        •  a government strong enough to address and eliminate excessive economic inequality Over time, the drafters of state constitutions, as essential frameworks of democracy and governance, have outlined three additional requirements:        •  the right to a free education for all citizens, through grade twelve, which is in all state constitutions        •  the right to form free trade unions and to engage in collective bargaining, as it is identified in some state constitutions        •  the right to a clean and sustainable environment, as it is identified in some state constitutions4432

The Populist and Progressive Eras recognized that the character of America was changing as a once predominantly rural and agrarian country was becoming increasingly urban and industrial. New democratic practices and arrangements were developed to counter corruption and inequality. The backroom deal was finally ended as a directly elected US Senate was established. Citizens were given the power to write and veto laws via initiatives and referendums and to remove officials via the recall power. Government was given strength and meaning in relation to economic power, via the establishment of the progressive income tax, the authority to tax corporations, and the banning of corporate contributions to campaigns. But even this progress was insufficient, as the Great Depression and the rise of fascism confirmed with scorching force and immediacy. In response, Franklin Roosevelt proposed a Second Bill of Rights, also known as an Economic Bill of Rights. To realize the full promise of democracy, the United States would need to guarantee the rights to        •  meaningful work and a living wage        •  healthcare        •  an education        •  housing        •  adequate food, clothing, and recreation        •  old-age pensions and social security        •  freedom from the abuses of private monopolies in business This remains an extraordinary agenda. Realizing just what is written above would constitute nothing less than a political revolution, and an economic revolution. Our economy would need to be radically transformed—to get off the drug of militarism, to end crony-capitalism policymaking, to get real about planning and social investment—in order to provide all the elements of the economic bill of rights. And the transformation would need to be ongoing. Today’s circumstance requires that a few new protections be added to FDR’s list. For instance, the ancient sanction against corruption must be updated to guard against the privatization and outsourcing of public education and public responsibilities. It is imperative to remove profiteering from the provision of public goods: education, municipal services, public safety, and the defense of the land from foreign threats. If recent decades have taught us anything, it is that Dwight Eisenhower was right to warn against the threat posed by a military-industrial complex. And it is becoming increasingly clear that, as taxpayers and citizens, we cannot afford a prison-industrial complex or an education-industrial complex. Democracy cannot be maintained when profiteers obtain lucrative contracts and then use the money to hire lobbyists and fund campaigns so that they can obtain yet more lucrative contracts.94459

Likewise, having an ecology that can sustain human life is not some premium channel a society can select in addition to the democratic basic package. It is not like having satellite radio added to your new car purchase. It is the very foundation for human existence for all societies and must be regarded as such. Environmental movements have come to understand and advance the idea that their success rises and falls with movements for democracy and social justice worldwide. Today’s environmental activists recognize that a new more accountable and community-oriented economy is mandatory for human survival, and that the only way to achieve such an economy is through the dramatic extension of democratic infrastructure. As author and environmental activist Bill McKibben argues, it is imperative to “break the intellectual spell under which we live.” This is what we have termed weltanschauung, and it is joined to the hip of democratic infrastructure. McKibben explains that “the last few decades have been dominated by the premise that privatizing all economic resources will produce endless riches. Which was kind of true, except that the riches went to only a few people. And in the process they melted the Arctic, as well as dramatically increasing inequality around the world.”10 As the rough outlines of the damage done on a host of environmental, economic, and social issues come into stark relief, a sense of urgency is increasing exponentially. Also increasing is the sense that we are all in this together, and we have common interest in a democratic infrastructure. Elite solutions for the environment, just like the economy, will tend to serve elite interests. As the saying goes, if you are not at the table when decisions are being made, you are the dish that is being served. A full democratic infrastructure provides more than the right to vote. Full democratic infrastructure provides economic and social security, a free flow of information, and absolute protection against discrimination and corruption so that every citizen—not just those who are wealthy—has the freedom to engage fully in the politics and governance of the nation. None of this presupposes a particular type of economy, yet all of it presupposes that every American will have the right to participate fully and meaningfully in determining what type of economy best serves her—and best frames the future. When a crisis causes a jolt, as will surely be the case with the technological and social transformations that are now unfolding, citizens must retain the power to put economic options on the table—and to embrace the best of those options. If we want to make it through the changes that are headed our way, and to come out on the other side as a nation that enjoys what the New Economy Coalition describes as a “new economy . . . where capital (wealth and the means of creating it) is a tool of the people, not the other way around,” then there must be a democratic infrastructure that is sufficient to foster economic democracy.11 DEMOCRATIZE THE CONSTITUTION A certain portion of the work in the coming decades must address the nation’s constitutions. Constitutions underpin and frame our democratic infrastructure. Yet, they do not always make it functional. Nothing thwarts political and economic democracy like a constitution so imprecise that it allows right-wing judicial activists to make buying elections easy and voting hard. Instead of democracy, the Constitution of 1787 gave us an unelected Senate and an Electoral College and other structures intended to control rather than empower the unruly masses. Americans who had fought to end the abuses of old elites objected to the prospect of being abused by new ones. They demanded and by 1791 had won the ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights. Seventeen more amendments have come since then. Seven of those amendments overturned Supreme Court rulings, and almost all of them sought to extend democracy, end corruption, and make the federal government more responsive to new times and new challenges.12 These…4487

Let’s start with the information that people need to be their own governors. To get to democracy, there has to be a democratization of communications that ensures that all Americans are sufficiently informed to fully engage as citizens.4571

There are no market solutions, no technical fixes, no new economic models. There is only one way out of this mess, and it is to put the people in charge of demanding the solutions that media conglomerates and “click-chasing” reporters will not demand. People—citizens—will need to be in charge of the funding of the next media system.25 Once we remove the shackles of our stilted political discourse, problems that seem impervious to reform become areas for experimentation and great hope.4574

With roots that go back for decades, the media-reform movement came together in its modern form to thwart Bush-era attempts to effectively eliminate limits on the amount of media that one corporation could own in one community—and, by extension, nationally. More recently, it has blocked efforts to undermine net neutrality, the essential tool for defending free speech and the free flow of communications on the Internet. In an age of rapidly changing media, then, the media-reform movement has already engaged millions of Americans in the fight to prevent some very bad things from happening.26 Now, it must make some good things happen. Media-reform activism must be part of a broad democratic agenda for a digital age.27 The goal—every bit as ambitious as those of the most ardent advocates for economic democracy—should be information democracy. Citizens who possess little or no wealth must have the same information that citizens with great wealth now enjoy. Hedge-fund managers and CEOs do not seek information as entertainment. They are not spectators. They get the best information that can be found and they act on it. Citizens who would be their own governors must adopt the same sensibility. For obvious reasons, journalism that democratizes access to information will not be funded by the elites. Bernie Sanders is precisely right when he says that “it’s not in the interest of the corporations who own the networks to actually be educating the American people so that we’re debating the real issues.”28 But it is in the interest of the people to support journalism that sustains democracy. So the United States should give the people the tools to subsidize independent, not-for-profit journalism.29 How? Begin with supercharged funding of public broadcasting and robust support for community media—along the lines already outlined by the most energetic campaigners on behalf of maximized funding for what should be “an American BBC.”304582

A democratic agenda must demand substantial public investments in journalism as a “public good.” This is nothing new for America. The United States developed a press system that was the envy of the world in the early nineteenth century through massive postal and printing subsidies for newspapers.31 These subsidies made the cost of production so low that the United States eventually had more newspapers per capita than any other country in the world. The founders of the American experiment were not familiar with the term public good, but they treated the press as just that. And they did so in the only way that made democratic sense, by providing generous postal and printing subsidies to all publications—even those that dissented, even those that, like the abolitionist press, proposed radical change—so that none were puppets of the government.32 What’s the modern model for establishing a nonprofit, noncommercial, competitive, uncensored, and independent press system that embraces digital technology, that recognizes the potential of new-media platforms, and that, above all, provides a journalism that is sufficient to sustain genuine democracy? How about this: every American adult gets a two-hundred-dollar voucher she can use to donate government money to any nonprofit news media of her choice. She can split her two hundred dollars among different qualifying nonprofit media, indicating her choice on her tax return or a simple form. This program would be purely voluntary, like the tax-form check-offs for funding elections or protecting wildlife. Simple universal standards can be developed for media that qualifies for voucher funding, erring always on the side of expanding rather than constraining the number of qualifying newsrooms. A small existing agency, such as the Postal Regulatory Commission (which has some history in this area), could provide necessary oversight and administration. Based on a proposal from economist Dean Baker, the Citizen News Voucher program we outline here represents a literal and practical response to the transformation of media in the digital age. Baker says it is “designed to maximize the extent of individual choice while taking full advantage of new technologies.”33 The idea borrows from the libertarian movement, in its recognition that vouchers can be used to give greater control over the expenditure of public tax dollars. It combines a healthy hostility to government control over news content with a faith in the power of individuals to make their own choices, and it recognizes the public-good nature of journalism. A news voucher program would allow public-media organizations to dramatically increase their funding. Imagine if a public television station in a metropolitan area of one million people that was ill-served by existing media—which is to say any and every metropolitan area—managed to get fifty thousand viewers to donate half of their Citizen News Voucher to help with the development of a newsroom to cover state and local elections and government. With a $5 million budget, that station would have the resources to hire top journalists and to provide a quality alternative to dwindling commercial coverage that is invariably surrounded by a slurry of negative campaign commercials. Now, imagine if most of those fifty thousand viewers donated the other half of their Citizen News Vouchers, in combination with similar numbers of viewers from twenty more metropolitan areas, to develop an evening radio and cable news program along the lines of Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now.” That program would have close to $100 million to hire journalists to cover national and international issues. But let’s also imagine that two thousand residents and allies of an impoverished and neglected neighborhood in the core city of that metropolitan area were to direct half of the vouchers to fund a community radio station newsroom covering policing issues. Let’s put it all online, with podcasts and apps and alerts so that every one of these initiatives is available to everyone—as news…4599

Millions of people came to the defense of the open Internet to tell Washington, in no uncertain terms, that the Internet belongs to all of us and not just a few greedy phone and cable companies.”34 Absolute protections for a free and open Internet were impossible to get. Then we got them. The information we need to utilize and maintain a democratic infrastructure will be ours if we make the struggle for that information part of an agenda that recognizes the necessity of political and economic democracy. And if we hoop ourselves together to advance that agenda, we can get it. Indeed, if we hoop ourselves together at a moment when people will be demanding transformative change, we can get a whole lot more.4640

DEMOCRACY, NOT MONOPOLY What is striking today is that there is an emerging genre of superb books outlining the stunning increase in economic inequality in the United States over the past four decades and the disastrous implications for our economy, our democracy, and the social structure. It seems like everyone gets it. When the Occupy movement exploded onto the scene in 2011, even Republicans talked about inequality as a problem, albeit for a split-second.35 For those old enough to remember the 1960s or early 1970s, today’s America feels increasingly like a feudal or Third World country, the kind few thought possible fifty years ago. Dramatically lessening economic inequality is required to have a functional democracy; there is no two ways about it. That is one theme that has been central in every period of democratic surge in the nation’s history, and it must be so today, because indications are that unless we the people act rapidly and boldly, the current circumstance is only going to get worse, possibly much worse. One of the essential explanations for mounting economic inequality in the United States is the increasing monopoly power over the economy. This was well understood in the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and even in the 1960s. Monopolies themselves were recognized as singularly anti-democratic constructs that needed to be weakened. Economic concentration is far more prevalent today than in any of those earlier times. The digital economy is nothing if not a hothouse for monopoly. Yet the issue gets barely any serious discussion; massive monopolistic corporations are treated as if they are part of the unchangeable scenery, like the Rocky Mountain range. It shows just how powerful these firms are that they can buy their way out of critical analysis.4646

Jefferson and Lincoln): concentrated economic power is not only a threat to smaller businesses, workers, and community enterprise, it is a direct threat to democratic governance. It must be addressed squarely or any hard-earned popular reforms will be fleeting. Fortunately, the current crisis is sparking a renaissance in thinking with regard to corporate power and monopoly.36 What’s even more encouraging now is that the talk is turning from identification of the crisis toward consideration of what to do about4660

Teachout took it as such. “Stopping a merger like this is real political power,” she explained in the spring of 2015.38 “The Comcast defeat reminds us that we haven’t always accepted big banks, big chicken, big beef, big Monsanto, big patents, big oil, a market defined by bigness instead of competition.” To Teachout’s view, “the crash of 2008 was the first sign for many people that this concentration of power was bad for people’s lives. Although calls to break up the banks failed, the mainstream demand lives on. Banks are bigger and more concentrated than ever, but the consensus ideology was burst. However, the anti-monopoly sentiment stayed largely caged in its own arena, an idea reserved for banks, not for a way of seeing the economy more broadly.” Teachout explained that a new populist fighting force representing the broad grassroots demand that we break up big companies. When the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed, Senator Sherman spoke about it in democratic terms, ‘A Charter of Liberty,’ he said—and until the 1980s we understood that. Comcast, even without the merger, threatens our liberties. One-hundred-and-ten years ago, a group calling itself the Antitrust League held events around the country, demanding the government break up big companies. A few years later, Teddy Roosevelt used the Sherman Act to break up Standard Oil. And while it took until FDR to put in place a persistent, rational antitrust policy, Roosevelt’s choice to battle Standard Oil was a critical turning point in American history—it showed we did not have to bow before big monopolists. The modern antitrust leagues are just now forming. Teachout’s not the only one proposing to break up digital giants like Amazon and even Google.39 Nor is she alone in speaking of the need for new movements and “a new charter of liberty.”40 That’s the ticket. But why stop there?4675

Breaking up monopolies makes sense in some cases, but in others, indeed in the most oppressive of monopoly circumstances, it is virtually impossible to break up a giant company into five or ten competitive parts. These are the “natural monopolies,” the kind that dominate the digital economy with its “network effects.” What to do? There is an old argument that could be made new again. Worried in the 1930s about the way in which “the corporation is simply running away with our economic (and political) system,” University of Chicago economics professor Henry Calvert Simons suggested that “the state should face the necessity of actually taking over, owning, and managing directly . . . industries in which it is impossible to maintain effectively competitive conditions.”41 Simons was no radical. Economist Milton Friedman referred to Simons as “my teacher and my friend—and, above all, a shaper of my ideas.”42 So why did Simons favor nationalization? His reason was both economic and political. “Few of our gigantic corporations can be defended on the grounds that their present size is necessary to reasonably full exploitation of production economies,” he argued. Yet, Simons explained, the most powerful corporations could easily thwart attempts at regulation, even blocking moves to apply antitrust laws. The practical solution was “direct government ownership and operation in the case of all industries where competition cannot be made to function effectively as an agency of control.”434692

Invoking Simons’s work, Alperovitz wrote in 2012 that the logic of his argument remains. “With high-paid lobbyists contesting every proposed regulation, it is increasingly clear that big banks can never be effectively controlled as private businesses. If an enterprise (or five of them) is so large and so concentrated that competition and regulation are impossible, the most market-friendly step is to nationalize its functions.”44 That opens up a host of questions that need to be solved. Most important: How can there be accountable and effective management of public enterprises? The track record in the United States and worldwide reminds us that FDR was right: the more democratic a society is, the broader its democratic infrastructure, the more likely public institutions will be honest, effective, and hugely popular.4706

link the elements of the democratic infrastructure that have already been described to the development of what the United States has never really had: a national industrial policy that        •  focuses on creating and retaining meaningful and well-compensated work in all sectors of the economy        •  guards against the development of monopolies that reduce competition and innovation, and that threaten small business        •  supports research and development—especially in areas where investment is necessary but not necessarily profitable in the short term        •  works with private and public employers and communities to establish a proper balance between work and leisure, providing a regulatory framework that defines full-time work and guarantees that compensation is adequate so that employees can support their families without being expected to work excessive hours        •  maintains the planning, funding, and support networks needed to guarantee healthcare, disability, and retirement security for all, as well as the education, training, and transportation services that are required by twenty-first-century workers        •  encourages economic development in industrial sectors and geographical areas that may not be immediately profitable, but have great social value; by doing so it can make areas eventually cost efficient        •  ensures that workers have a voice in their workplaces and, through their unions, in broader economic planning by corporations and governments        •  recognizes the value of public utilities and public services to the whole of the economy and to the whole of society, and encourages public ownership and cooperative development        •  guarantees that the benefits of technological advances are shared by all, and that changes in the workplace are made to ease economic and social burdens rather than merely to boost profits        •  requires that trade policies benefit workers and the environment in the United States and the countries with which it trades        •  maintains a steady commitment to environmental protection and climate justice with an eye toward ensuring that economic decisions are made to promote sustainability rather than exploit the planet        •  addresses the unique challenges faced by rural and urban Americans, and by people of color and immigrants who have suffered from historical discrimination and contemporary inequity        •  establishes a national land-use policy that supports sustainable agriculture and the development of livable communities rather than sprawl and factory farming        •  is constantly evolved in a transparent and inclusive manner, with democratic oversight and governance. Of course, to mention economic planning in the United States in the past few decades is seen as utterly absurd and extremely dangerous. We are told by people who plan all the time to improve their own lives that planning by society will lead to some totalitarian hack—usually a brain-dead bureaucrat who fantasizes about Khrushchev’s Soviet Union—interfering with the untouchable market. Everyone who listens to a politician or a corporate spokesperson knows the words by heart. But the truth is we do have serious economic planning in the United States and it has been effective. Trade deals, intellectual property protections, tax policies, farm subsidies, all sorts of monopoly licenses for broadcasting, cable TV, and cellphone spectrum are forms of economic planning. So are choices made with regard to privatization and outsourcing. And let’s not forget bailouts of Wall Street and multinational corporations. The market produces its own inefficiencies, its own failures, and—in an age of crony capitalism—its own pathologies that cost taxpayers and the US economy trillions of dollars.45 Yet, when the market crashes, there are plans to protect those who did the crashing. That’s a form of planning, although…4716

Those purportedly brain-dead bureaucrats of yesteryear are today more likely to be cynical hustlers looking to pass through “the revolving door” between government and the corporate sector. If they do it just “right,” as many former congressmen and regulators have, they can make millions in big-ticket private-sector jobs in the industries they oversaw during their period of “public service.” The minimal baseline level of credible planning that once gave the United States the most advanced physical infrastructure in the world has become so corrupt that decisions about how and when to repair that very infrastructure are made not with an eye toward keeping everyone safe and mobile but with an eye toward perfecting the curb cuts around corporate campuses and developing paying-customer lanes on soon-to-be-privatized highways. Oh, yes, there is a lot of planning on behalf of the very wealthy and the very powerful. What’s needed is planning for the rest of us. Economic planning needs to be democratized and popularized and made accountable. And this democratic planning must be done locally, regionally, and nationally. It could be that such planning will keep things just as they are, and regard its function as assisting the largest corporations to get even larger. But if that is the case, it should be the result of the informed consent of the people. There is no indication, however, that corporate America believes it can win a fair fight on those terms. So is economic planning un-American or necessarily radical? Hardly. Most of what is discussed here builds on the industrial policies and approaches to economic planning long embraced by the governors of the strongest economic powerhouses of Europe, especially Germany. We do not hold up the Germans or the Danes or the Norwegians or the Swedes as perfect planners. And we do not suggest that the United States must borrow precise policies—although they are instructive, and we particularly appreciate the groundbreaking work of Britain’s Trades Union Congress to show how easily the German model might be adapted to other countries.46 What we do suggest is that Jeremy Wiesen, a professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) at New York University’s Stern School of Business, was absolutely right to argue several years ago in the Wall Street Journal: “We shouldn’t need to implore the government to have at least as many officials focused on new business creation as are measuring GNP and GDP. The term ‘industrial policy’ should not be seen as a pejorative. It certainly isn’t in China. Nor should it be anathema for the U.S. government to provide capital and other incentives to keep scientific and entrepreneurial talent at home, give aggressive trade assistance, and incubate new businesses—all of which is done in China.”47 We believe with economists and Robert Pollin and Dean Baker that “an effective combination of public investments and industrial policies” is necessary “to meet the fundamental challenges at hand.”48 And we emphatically agree with Pollin and Baker that “a public investment/industrial policy agenda is quite viable in principle and has demonstrated its effectiveness in widely varying circumstances, in the U.S. and elsewhere.”49 Nothing about public investment and industrial policy—nor any of the broader changes that are necessary to democratize economic decision making—will halt, or even slow, the arrival of the future. Rather, these changes will shape the future along humane and equitable lines, rather than along some billionaire’s bottom line. There is moral and practical value in establishing an economy that responds to human values and human needs, and that recognizes, as have Green Parties around the world, that conventional economic policy uses economic growth, inflation, balance of payments and unemployment as “economic indicators,” the normal criteria against which progress is measured. Although it is the most usually quoted indicator, gross national product (GNP) is a poor indicator of true progress and does not…4763

One of the top excuses for Americans who do not vote is that they simply do not have the time to gather information, get to the polls, and cast a ballot. “When pollsters have attempted to ask non-voters why they haven’t voted, two of the common answers have been ‘too busy’ or ‘schedule conflicts’,” notes long-time political writer Eric Black. “A lame excuse by some, perhaps, but not for all.”51 The day-to-day burdens placed on low-wage workers who put in long hours, often at some distance from their homes and the neighborhoods where they would vote, make it hard to meet even the most basic requirements of democratic engagement, argues Congressman Steve Israel, who explains that millions of Americans simply cannot “find time to vote.”52 It is true that making voting easier, as Israel and others propose, could increase turnout. But it is even more true, to our view, that giving people more job security, steady hours, more workplace flexibility and, above all, more time away from work, will dramatically increase their freedom to participate in democracy. That fuller participation ensures that elections produce governments and policies that are more reflective of the popular will and more responsive to popular needs. Economic security begets greater economic security, as it allows working Americans to shape responses to questions about public investment, planning, and trade that are in the public interest—as opposed to the often misguided and invariably self-serving whims of CEOs who can hire lobbyists and fund politicians to do their bidding.4802

if the experience of the past four decades, and especially of the most recent period of booms and busts, bubbles and bursts, meltdowns and bailouts, wage stagnation and widening inequality teaches us anything it is that there is no market-driven route to justice and sustainability. No billionaire will deliver prosperity and equity. The only way up is democracy. The people have to shape this change. When the jarring reality of a jobless economy finally and fully hits, as it will, there is going to be an immediate demand for bold and meaningful economic change to ease immediate pain and long-term uncertainty. At this point, every economic and political charlatan in the land, every spin doctor and every paid-off pundit, will have a proposal. So, too, will many honorable yet misguided politicians who want to help but who have no clues. There will be horrible and dangerous plans. There will be those, as there always are, who promise that all will be well if we cede a little more authority to the elites who have been so in charge for so very long. There will be threats to democracy and these will be particularly horrifying—because moments of great turbulence will demand more democracy, not less. And the best way to prepare is to lock in as much democracy as we can. Alperovitz, a professor at the University of Maryland, has worked for a number of years to get Americans to “contemplate how to rebuild a more equitable economy.” Proposals for public banking and real regulation of corporations that are “simply running away with our economic (and political) system” are simply pieces of a greater program he proposes as part of a “new economy” movement that recognizes that “deepening economic and social pain are producing the kinds of conditions from which various new forms of democratization—of ownership, wealth and institutions—are beginning to emerge. The challenge is to develop a broad strategy that not only ends the downward spiral but also gives rise to something different: steadily changing who actually owns the system, beginning at the bottom and working up.”54 In recent years, Alperovitz has been a happy warrior on behalf of burgeoning movements for worker ownership nationwide. But, as he explains, “The current goal is not simply worker ownership, but worker ownership linked to a community-building strategy.” Alperovitz argues that the strategy must take up the challenge of rebuilding the basic institutional substructure of the local economy in ways that are efficient, effective, stable, redistributive and ongoing. This will include:                 •  Expanded use of city, school, hospital, university and other purchasing power to help stabilize jobs in a manner that democratizes ownership and benefits for both low-income communities and small- and midsize businesses;                 •  Expanded use of public and quasi-public land trusts (both for housing and commercial use) to capture development profits for the community and to prevent gentrification;                 •  An all-out attack on the absurdly wasteful giveaways corporations extract from local governments;                 •  Coordination with labor unions and community activists to build and sustain momentum.4820

The United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives, a decade-old national grassroots coalition, now includes more than one hundred member workplaces across the country as part of “a thriving cooperative movement” that provides consulting and technical assistance to cooperatives. Its slogan is “Farther-Faster-Together” and its express mission is to link worker cooperatives to one another and to broader social justice movements. The movement is growing. And they are focusing on communities that have been hit hard by deindustrialization and dislocation. The potential for these models is real, as is the interest in them. “When people start thinking about how they would organize their own workplaces if they had the opportunity and the tools to do it, they get so excited,” says Rebecca Kemble, the president of the federation’s board. “It frees them up from so much that beats people down, that depresses them. Suddenly, there are possibilities.”55 There are a lot of possibilities: in new movements by teachers and parents who seek to end the overemphasis on high-stakes testing and rote learning in favor of programs for educating children to think and to act as citizens, in movements to rethink backward models of training and retraining displaced workers for jobs that will soon disappear, in smart thinking about sharing jobs and dialing back the length of the work week, in fresh proposals for full employment and serious infrastructure investment (which recognizes that the infrastructure of the future will require both concrete and fiber optics), and in a renewed understanding of the power and value of public ownership and utilities that meet human needs. That’s a very good start—precisely4851

At the local level, where Kemble says it is still possible to make change, activists are on the move.56 She was elected in April 2015 to the Madison, Wisconsin, city council and is already working with Mayor Paul Soglin to invest $5 million over five years in “planning, research, grants, loans, and even forgivable loans” to get worker-owned cooperatives up and running. Based on a similar project in New York City, but significantly larger in scale and ambition, the Madison project will focus on both economic and racial justice. “Building a great local economy is not reserved for white males,” says Soglin. “We’re hoping this will be part of our economic development strategy in areas where there’s food insecurity, where there isn’t a concentration of jobs, and where significant numbers of households are below the poverty line.” Kemble and the mayor hope to shape a new understanding of twenty-first-century economics. “One of the benefits of a program like this is it gives us another opportunity to show that the economics of aggrandizing wealth in the top one percent is stupid,” says Soglin.57 To bring projects like the one in Madison to scale, to take them national so to speak, remains the challenge. And it is a challenge where the threat of a jobless economy comes into direct conflict with the politics of citizenless democracy. This is where, no matter how beautiful it may be, the dream gets deferred. “[What] we call traditional politics no longer has much capacity to alter most of the negative trends,” explains Alperovitz. “To be clear: I think projects, organizing, demonstrations and related efforts are important. But deep down, most people sense—rightly, in my view—that unless we develop a more powerful long-term strategy, those efforts aren’t going to make much of a dent.”584865

IMAGINE DEMOCRACY Imagine if that changed. Imagine if a justifiably frightened and angered American people were to look up from their gadgets and their unemployment forms. Imagine if they realized that the present is unsatisfactory and that the future looks terrifying. Imagine if these Americans recognized that what is terrifying is not the technology, nor even the fact that everything is going to change. What is terrifying is that they have no say about the scope and character and direction of that change. What is terrifying is that they cannot put proposals for a new economy on the table and make them the law of the land and the frameworks for our future. What is terrifying is that the essential economic issues of the time are not the essential political issues of the time. Imagine if the people recognized that they must have a say or they will have nothing at all. And imagine if they were hooped together, finally and fully, across what were once considered lines of division. Imagine if the people were ready to demand a new Constitution, a new politics, a new economy. Imagine if the people were ready, finally, to demand democracy—and all of the freedom, fairness, and human potential that extends from the moment when the profiteers and the pretenders are pushed aside and we, the people, forge our future.4880