Archive for April 30th, 2009

I’ve enabled a feature where you can reply to comments via email. For the other mods, this means that you can go into your own discussion settings and have it notify you by email with all comments, which you can then reply to easily by email. For general surfers, to use this feature, you need to check the box on each thread’s comment section to email you any follow-up comments, which you can also reply to by email. I hope this makes it easier for free-flowing discussion on posts. Enjoy!

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Guilty Purchases

The rich are thinking twice – and feeling a little guilty – about those luxury purchases:

More than half of affluent consumers say they feel “guilty” making luxury purchases in this economy, a survey of the most-moneyed Americans finds. Fewer this year also say they like to be labeled as “wealthy.”


Of course, far more than a guilty conscience is at play. More than half of those polled — 53% — said they worry they could actually run out of money.

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Starts at 2:15.

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It is easy to critique capitalism. Probably too easy. Offering alternatives can be more difficult, but when they offered, they are immediately dismissed by many. Over the past few days, I have heard many times that the alternatives offered could never work, or they are unsustainable, or they could only work if everyone cared about one another and wanted to share, but then we would have to change human nature. Basically, alternatives to capitalism are unrealistic, especially for the United States. 

I am not sure why so many of my peers and elders are so closed to thinking about alternatives to capitalism. But I did find one person who was not: my roommate. And no, he is not an international student from Socialist Sweden. Right here in the United States, workers are taking control.

My roommate’s home in New Hampshire is supplied electricity by the New Hampshire Electric Co-op. NHEC is a member owned and controlled electric distributor serving approximately 80,000 members in 115 towns and cities.

We begin with respect for each other, our environment, and our communities. We commit to work together with integrity to create change and innovation for the betterment of the Cooperative and us as individuals. We will act courageously and decisively to create breakthrough change. The change we create will have a positive impact on our communities and result in the thriving (sustainability) of NHEC for the members’ benefit.

Nearby is the Littleton Food Co-op, a community owned market. As the mission statement describes:

The mission of the Littleton Food Co-op includes promoting local food production and environmental sustainability. While other markets focus primarily on the bottom line, the Co-op also works to enhance the local society and environment. The Co-op emphasizes fresh, local, organically grown foods; superior customer service and a knowledgeable staff; and a healthy lifestyle. Because the Co-op store is owned by its members, we provide what our members want, rather than what manufacturers want to sell.

 Decisions in the Littleton Food Co-op are made democratically by members, and membership is open and voluntary.

We do not need to go to New Harmony, Indiana in 1825 or down to Argentina to find viable examples of non-capitalist production. Nor do we need to change human nature. They exists here and now. All we need is a bit more open mindedness, and yes, maybe a new word. (Democratic workplace, cooperative, economic democracy. be creative.)

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Ok, this was a poor title for a blog post, I admit. The main topic of the professor dinner talk I mention below was “Capitalocentrism,” a term coined by the economic geographer(s) J.K. Gibson-Graham.  Capitalocentrism means that we understand everything to be capitalism, even if it’s non-capitalist, and this obviously distorts any attempts at envisioning alternatives to capitalism.

I missed most of the discussion on this specific topic, because again, I have the fatal weakness of being a sports fan. In addition, our “lecturer” preferred the role of discussant or interlocutor greatly, so the discussion I did participate in ranged far afield. I hope that the contributors to this blog who participated in the whole discussion can fill in the blanks for me, but I would like to add one thought:

From a political standpoint, I think socialocentrism is almost as important as capitalocentrism. When I say socialocentrism, it is the idea that any alternative to capitalism is deemed socialism and automatically dismissed by the mainstream. How can ideas like cooperatives gain hold when they are associated with a “dirty word?” This socialocentrism is not a new idea, at least I don’t think. However, it cannot be ignored by left economists who would like to present alternatives, as it changes how they can frame their ideas.

Note: thanks to Sean for some comments on my initial post, which had a number of errors resulting from too little sleep. I’m shamelessly scrubbing them in this updated post.

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