John Wiley and Sons, New Jersey, 2004, pp. xv + 320, $ 24.95, 0 471 66730 7
Economic, social and political crises are now part of everyday life. America Beyond Capitalism takes this concern to an academic level by systematically analysing the components of the current political economy in the United States. Alperovitz discusses the ideals of capitalism, democracy, equality, and liberty; he believes that they are virtually absent in the United States. He suggests that the only solution to this dilemma is an overhaul of the economic, political, and social systems.
The book is divided into five parts, all of which suggest alternative policies that have the potential to transform the system in a peaceful and evolutionary manner.
Part I focuses on the concepts of equality, liberty, and democracy. The first chapter provides evidence for the deepening inequalities in society. The next chapter deals with liberty and the two distinct trends in society that threaten the culture of liberty: one that restricts personal liberties, and the other that relates to the fundamental issues of the political-economic system as a whole. The third chapter addresses the importance of democracy at a macro and at a micro level in a stable political economy: ‘…A necessary if not sufficient condition of rebuilding democracy in general is to get it to work locally’ (p.43). Alperovitz suggests a ‘pluralist commonwealth’.
Part II deals with how the ownership of wealth needs to be shifted on an institutional level so that it benefits the majority rather than a minority, and asks about the technical and political feasibility of such a change. Alperovitz recommends worker-owned firms, new forms of municipal businesses, the building of a stable community, strategies leading to innovations in the State, and critical measurement and analysis of fiscal development.
Part III focuses on the importance of local democracy and regional decentralization which are of growing importance in an era of globalization, and part IV discusses social security funding, retirement savings, health care provisions, and a shorter work week in order to encourage political participation. Part V suggests that just as transformative shifts have shaped the United States throughout its history, we too should expect and hope for the same. The concluding chapter brings the book and the goals of a new model of attaining a pluralist commonwealth together.
This book offers a good synopsis of the literature and provides real-world examples of strategies which would lead to the proposed pluralist commonwealth. Whilst there is discussion of the redistribution of wealth, and of the necessity of long-term strategy rather than a short-term strategy in this area, the implementation of a Citizen’s Income is not discussed. This is a pity, as such a policy would contribute to the liberty, democracy and redistribution for which Alperovitz hopes. However, some of the ideals and proposals would provide useful theoretical underpinning for a Citizen’s Income.
This book should be read by liberal as well as conservative thinkers, by public policy makers and critics, by academics in the political, economic and social policy fields, and by students, who ultimately are the people who will be most affected by a new system ‘in the long run.’
Kruti Dholakia, PhD Public Policy and Political Economy, The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX, USA. Email: Kruti@utdallas.edu