A Screed for a Better Tomorrow
Basically everyone agrees that our economic system is broken. And as the system of bondage known as capitalism continues to lay waste to everything it touches, we find ourselves in desperate need of workable alternatives. Time has continued to expose capitalism’s various flaws. As a result, those on the Left have become skilled in their ability to issue an anti-capitalist critique.
So many of them seem able to articulate the system’s inherent irrationality — that it distributes goods and services based not on need, but on ability to pay — with consummate ease. As our society continues to be pulled apart at the seams, more and more people are becoming attuned to capitalism’s tendency toward gross, unjust levels of inequality. The ills of capitalism go far beyond these two points, but you get the idea.
However, what is far less common are those able to think past capitalism altogether — myself included. We have made it clear what we are against, but what is it that we are for? What we need is vision.
Now, credit where credit is due: it is not as though the mainstream political Left is devoid of ideas and policy — not by a long shot. Members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar are legitimately doing great work. The Bernie Sanders campaign recently released their transformative Housing for All plan.
The plan would end homelessness, build 10 million affordable homes, expand community land trusts, and instate a cap on rent increases. Sanders’ Green New Deal proposal is also, by my estimation, brilliant. Not only could it potentially avert global climate catastrophe, but it would also create 20 million — yes, you read that correctly — “good paying, union jobs with strong benefits” in the process.
As great as these plans are — indeed, a Sanders presidency must be a priority of everyone on the political Left — we must come to grips with the fact that they would be put into place within a broader capitalist framework. Not doubt, Sanders’ platform would make life immeasurably better for working people. However, there are problems endemic to capitalism that, unfortunately, no amount of social democratic reform will be able to eliminate. These are the features — not bugs — of a flawed system.
As the Left continues to gain ground, we are faced with a rising urgency to make clear that a post-capitalist world is the ultimate goal. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that progress follows as close to a constant trajectory as possible, so as to prevent backsliding. As I mentioned earlier, the way to do this is through vision. The way to do this is through bold ideas and imagination.
My friends, Paul S. Adler — Harold Quinton Chair of Business Policy and a professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at the University of Southern California — might have just what we are looking for.
We need to answer the question: What would a socialist society look like? That is, a graspable conceptualization of what how our future should be. We need socialist realism.
Adler’s new book, The 99 Percent Economy: How Democratic Socialism Can Overcome the Crises of Capitalism, is socialist realism at its finest.
I think it is worth noting that our author’s background is not exactly typical of that of a committed socialist (though he is also a member of Los Angeles DSA, which is pretty awesome). However, I actually think this lends itself to just how special The 99 Percent Economy is. His business expertise and in-depth familiarity with the inner-workings of the private sector provide him with a unique and necessary perspective in the realm of socialist thought. After reading his fantastic new book, I have become further hardened in my conviction that in order to move past capitalism, we must have a nuanced, keen, and detailed understanding of it.
Adler begins The 99 Percent Economy by naming what he views to be the six main crises caused — or, at the very least, exacerbated — by capitalism. In those pages, I found no disagreement to be had with Adler. His common-sense points seemed to me to be things that just about anyone could get on board with. However, as insightful and important as these points were, as I alluded to earlier, they were all basically things I had heard before.
What I had not heard before was Adler’s vision for the future. Therein, Adler provides a detailed plan for what production and firm structure would look like under socialism. He also walks the reader through what sort of structures should be put in place for borrowing and lending following a necessary departure from our broken and outmoded system of banksterism. For those such as myself, admittedly, who find themselves struggling to think past our current economic system, this book may just provide the perfect spark for an elevation of consciousness. The way Professor Adler breaks it down, a post-capitalist world sounds purely rational and reasonable, as opposed to the pie in the sky fantasy the powers that be want us to believe it is. Until we are this clear about what it is we are striving for, our ideas and worldview will continue to be met with skepticism from the relatively uninitiated — and perhaps rightfully so.
Another key strength of the book was the ability of its clearness and lucidity to help the reader break out of capitalism’s mental prison. In The 99 Percent Economy, Adler challenges the notion of growth and production being inherently positive things. Indeed, there is such a thing as excess — that is to say, wasteful — growth and production. This was a fact that I had some difficulty coming to grips with. However, by the time I finished The 99 Percent Economy, the conclusion felt obvious and self-evident.
In presenting his vision for the future, Adler is careful to make clear that this societal transformation will not happen overnight. Change will likely be incremental. And, no doubt, it will be hard work. However, the potential rewards are too great for us not to forge on in this struggle.
In the later stages of the book, Adler lays out a brief plan for political operation in the path of realizing these goals. While he expresses some skepticism about the Democratic Party being a true vehicle for Left progress, he assures the reader that electing progressive Democrats to office should continue to be a focus of a socialist political project here in the United States.
In one of my favorite passages from the book, Adler eschews the sectarianism of the Left, and emphasizes the importance of joining forces with other factions who may not be explicitly socialist — specifically, social democrats — in the pursuit of common goals. According to Adler, such common goals could range from raising the minimum wage to a living wage to reinstating net neutrality. It is patently obvious that, as a result of their political program, socialists will never benefit from the support of global capital and the ruling class, as the Right does. Indeed, a mass movement will be necessary for any sort of substantive progressive change to gain a foothold. To cut people off via purity test is counterproductive.
In a move that may surprise some already sympathetic to democratic socialism, Adler lets us know what positives we can take from the capitalist system. While an “increasingly obsolete ... system,” capitalism — according to Adler — is not without its upsides. He charts the path of relatively ethical “high-road firms” and discusses how publicly-owned ones can be modeled off of their successes. Adler also makes clear that the propensity of capitalism towards growth should be studied and analyzed so as to avoid unnecessary scarcity once the means of production have been completely socialized.
Perhaps you find my review of Adler’s The 99 Percent Economy a bit vague. I must say, this was by design. As the book has not even come out yet, I wanted to be careful to not spoil it too much. However, if my vagueness is, in fact, a concern of yours, that tells me that the book has likely piqued your interest. My recommendation? Go out and get yourself a copy! I promise you won’t regret it. You are bound to learn tons of new things.
So, in summation, Professor Paul S. Adler’s The 99 Percent Economy: How Democratic Socialism Can Overcome the Crises of Capitalism is an absolutely enthralling read. It also might just change political life not just in this country, but worldwide. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I would like to thank Professor Paul S. Adler for taking the time out of his busy schedule to reach out to me and send me an advance copy of his fantastic new book. In the brief time we have gotten to know each other, he has been nothing but gracious and upstanding. On February 21st, he will be coming to Ann Arbor to give a talk on the book. I greatly look forward to attending this event.