Book of the Day: What Then Must We Do?

* Book: What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk About The Next American Revolution by Gar Alperovitz.

“In What Then Must We Do?  Gar Alperovitz points to the fact that many Americans are frustrated with the current economic system, concerned that it’s on the verge of collapse and open to the idea that there may be a better one. He argues that a new system, one that is not corporate capitalism and not state socialism but something new entirely, could “democratize the ownership of wealth, strengthen communities in diverse ways, and be governed by policies and institutions sophisticated enough to manage a large-scale, powerful economy.”
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Gar Alperovitz:

“The title is What Then Must We Do?, a phrase taken from Tolstoy. I suggest that traditional liberalism, traditional conservatism and traditional radicalism are now at a dead end. We are in a strange form of crisis which will neither end in societal collapse (as in the Marxist model) nor success (as in the liberal model) nor in some conservative model. Instead we’re caught in a never-never land of sustained stagnation and decay—which I argue is a very unusual societal context, being neither reform nor collapse. I think we’ve been in this context for some time now.

Amidst the pain, this situation has one advantage. Since we don’t appear to be headed toward dramatic change in any direction, we do appear to have time to think. And thus all these new initiatives we’ve been discussing here—a whole rich, new debate has started up in this country. Moreover, as I argue in the book, we are potentially in the pre-history of truly fundamental change, beyond traditional corporate capitalism, beyond state socialism. So all this experimentation is very important and it could be laying the foundations of something for the long-term.

If America is, as it’s sometimes called, a laboratory of democracy, then some of these principles, even at a small stage in local “laboratories,” can eventually be applied at other levels. This is the kind of important groundwork that was done prior to the New Deal, prior to women getting the vote, prior to the Progressive Era itself.” (

Review by Willie Osterweil :

“For Alperovitz, the way forward can be traced through the movement towards democracy (defined as decision making control over our lives, our cities and our workplaces, not just voting). For him, then, the most promising things that have emerged in the last decades are cooperatives, worker owned business and ESOPs, B-corporations and land trusts, etc., along with certain forms of local government ownership and management, such as public banks, sustainability planning, and direct municipal and state investment strategies.

Alperovitz points out that worker-controlled businesses do better, are more competitive and more efficient than traditional hierarchical companies at doing the same job. As things get worse, he argues, companies will look to these examples and build on them, using them as templates for action…he believes that, slowly and over time, democratically controlled and owned workplaces, along with more economically responsible local governments, could become the norm. This is ultimately his answer to the title’s question.

Alperovitz lays out four long-term strategy tactics:
“Evolutionary reconstruction”, which is the widespread development of more democratic economic forms like coops, land trusts and social enterprises.
“Checkerboard municipal and state development”, which involves the development of public banks, utilities, land ownership, etc.
“Crisis transformations”, which he describes as crisis driven initiatives to break the power of banks and reform the health industry.
“Big crisis transformations” which would involve the nationalization of major companies.

What Then Must We Do? features a thorough diagnosis of the problems facing the American economy, and is an excellent primer on the powerful ways that democratic ownership and management are changing businesses and government in real ways across the country. If it fails to fully answer its own question, it at least gives a powerful and serious look at alternative ways to imagine our society. In the end, we will need many more people imagining a new society if we hope to build one—to that goal, this book might just be a catalyst.” (

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