A Toxic Work World

A Toxic Work World

Sunday New York Times Reprint By ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTERSEPT. 18, 2015 FOR many Americans, life has become all competition all the time. Workers across the socioeconomic spectrum, from hotel housekeepers to surgeons, have stories about toiling 12- to 16-hour days (often without overtime pay) and experiencing anxiety attacks and exhaustion. Public health experts have begun talking about stress as an epidemic. The people who can compete and succeed in this culture are an ever-narrower slice of American society: largely young people who are healthy, and wealthy enough not to have to care for family members. An individual company can of course favor these individuals, as health insurers once did, and then pass them off to other businesses when they become parents or need to tend to their own parents. But this model of winning at all costs reinforces a distinctive American pathology of not making room for caregiving. The result: We hemorrhage talent and hollow out our society. A Toxic Work World Can only the young and childless truly succeed in their careers? Leave a question for Anne-Marie Slaughter in the comments with this story or on the Times Opinion Facebook page. She will respond to a selection of reader questions next week. To begin with, we are losing women. America has unlocked the talent of its women in a way that few nations can match; girls are outpacing boys in high schools, universities and graduate schools and are now entering the work force at higher salaries. But the ranks of those women still thin significantly as they rise toward the top, from more than 50 percent at entry level to 10 to 20 percent in senior management. Far too many discover that what was once a manageable and enjoyable work-family balance can no longer be sustained — regardless of ambition, confidence or even a partner who shares tasks equally. Every family’s situation is different; some women may be able to handle with ease conditions that don’t work for others. But many women who started out with all the ambition in the world find themselves in a place they never expected to be. They do not choose to leave their jobs; they are shut out by the refusal of their bosses to make it possible for them to fit their family life and their work life together. In her book “Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home,” the sociologist Pamela Stone calls this a “forced choice.” “Denial of requests to work part time, layoffs or relocations,” she writes, will push even the most ambitious woman out of the work force.

cooperatives worker self directed enterprises

Public Seldom Hears the Truth about Inequality

A young lawyer I know from Virginia was offered a general counsel position, which she determined she could take but only if she could work from home one day a week to be with her two children. Her employer refused. Still another woman wrote to me about her aspiration to an executive-level position and the predicament of doing so with a 2-year-old at home: “The dilemma is in no way the result of having a toddler: After all, executive men seem to enjoy increased promotions with every additional offspring. It is the way work continues to be circumscribed as something that happens ‘in an office,’ and/or ‘between 8–6’ that causes such conflict. I haven’t yet been presented with a shred of reasonable justification for insisting my job requires me to be sitting in this fixed, 15 sq foot room, 20 miles from my home.” Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world. The problem is even more acute for the 42 million women in America on the brink of poverty. Not showing up for work because a child has an ear infection, schools close for a snow day, or an elderly parent must go to the doctor puts their jobs at risk, and losing their jobs means that they can no longer care properly for their children — some 28 million — and other relatives who depend on them. They are often suffering not only from too little flexibility but also too much, as many low-wage service jobs no longer have a guaranteed number of hours a week. This looks like a “women’s problem,” but it’s not. It’s a work problem — the problem of an antiquated and broken system. When law firms and corporations lose talented women who reject lock-step career paths and question promotion systems that elevate quantity of hours worked over quality of the work itself, the problem is not with the women. When an abundance of overly rigid workplaces causes 42 million American citizens to live day to day in fear that just one single setback will prevent them from being able to care for their children, it’s not their problem, but ours.

protest mob

protest mob of women

THE problem is with the workplace, or more precisely, with a workplace designed for the “Mad Men” era, for “Leave It to Beaver” families in which one partner does all the work of earning an income and the other partner does all the work of turning that income into care — the care that is indispensable for our children, our sick and disabled, our elderly. Our families and our responsibilities don’t look like that anymore, but our workplaces do not fit the realities of our lives. Irene Padavic, a Florida State sociologist, Robin J. Ely, a Harvard Business School professor, and Erin Reid from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business were asked to conduct a detailed study of a midsize global consulting firm where top management thought they had a “gender problem.” The firm had a paucity of women at the highest levels — just 10 percent of partners were women, compared with nearly 40 percent of junior associates. After careful study, Professors Padavic, Ely and Reid found that an equal number of men and women had left the firm in the preceding three years, a simple fact that contradicted management’s women, work and family story. Some of the men also left because of the long hours; others “suffered in silence or otherwise made do.” The firm’s key human resources problem was not gender, as management believed, but rather a culture of overwork. The firm’s leadership resisted these findings. They didn’t want to be told that they needed to overhaul their entire organizational philosophy or that they were overpromising to clients and overdelivering (for example, making hundred-slide PowerPoint presentations that the client couldn’t even use). They wanted to be told that the firm’s problem was work-family conflict for women, a narrative that would allow them to adopt a set of policies specifically aimed at helping women work part time, or be mentored, or join support networks. As Professors Padavic, Ely and Reid wryly concluded, their attitude “required a rejection of evidence on the part of evidence-driven analysts.” Bad work culture is everyone’s problem, for men just as much as for women. It’s a problem for working parents, not just working mothers. For working children who need time to take care of their own parents, not just working daughters. For anyone who does not have the luxury of a full-time lead parent or caregiver at home.

Why Do I Care Anymore?

Why Do I Care Anymore?

But there’s good news. Men are also beginning to ask for and take paternity leave and to take lead parent roles. According to a continuing study by the Families and Work Institute, only a third of employed millennial men think that couples should take on traditional gender roles. Some tech companies warring for talent are also beginning to compete by offering longer paternity leaves, which will hardly affect the average American workplace, but is a sign of changing cultural attitudes. Recent Comments HJA September 20, 2015 This article pits childfree and young people against the rest of the workers unnecessarily. It is unfair to expect the employer to decide… D Safie September 20, 2015 It’s not just everything mentioned in the article; it’s also the fact that “work” itself has become meaningless. We no longer even take… Baron95 September 20, 2015 Sounds to me like the author is an enabler of the whining generation.A business is not a social welfare organization. It is a business… EVEN if men and women join forces to demand changes in the workplace, though, we cannot do this alone, as individuals trying to make our lives work and as workers and bosses trying to make room for care. Some other company can always keep prices down by demanding more, burning out its employees and casting them aside when they are done. To be fully competitive as a country, we are going to have to emulate other industrialized countries and build an infrastructure of care. We used to have one; it was called women at home. But with 57 percent of those women in the labor force, that infrastructure has crumbled and it’s not coming back. To support care just as we support competition, we will need some combination of the following: high-quality and affordable child care and elder care; paid family and medical leave for women and men; a right to request part-time or flexible work; investment in early education comparable to our investment in elementary and secondary education; comprehensive job protection for pregnant workers; higher wages and training for paid caregivers; community support structures to allow elders to live at home longer; and reform of elementary and secondary school schedules to meet the needs of a digital rather than an agricultural economy. These proposals are not so far-fetched as they may seem. President Obama put forward proposals to expand access to affordable, high-quality child care in his 2016 budget. Hillary Rodham Clinton has made providing a foundation for working families, including child care, one of the central aspects of her campaign. One of the few states that offers paid family leave (workers pay the cost out of a small increase in their payroll tax) is New Jersey, under the Republican governor Chris Christie. Republican senators have sponsored a bill that would allow employers to offer employees paid leave hours instead of overtime pay; some polls show that a majority of women who vote Republican support paid family leave. Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, is co-leader of a bipartisan caucus across both the Senate and the House devoted to assisting family caregivers. She follows in the footsteps of former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, who successfully sponsored legislation to allow homemakers to contribute to retirement accounts the same way that salaried workers can. And as the baby boom becomes an elder boom, we can expect a whole new constituency for care, on both sides of the aisle. Change in our individual workplaces and in our broader politics also depends on culture change: fundamental shifts in the way we think, talk and confer prestige. If we really valued care, we would not regard time out for caregiving — for your children, parents, spouse, sibling or any other member of your extended or constructed family — as a black hole on a résumé. We would see it as engaging in a socially, personally and professionally valuable activity. We would see men who lean out for care as role models just as much as women who lean in for work. We would think managing kids matters as much as managing money. Impossible, right? Yet I grew up in a society where my mother set out little vases of cigarettes on the table at dinner parties, where blacks and whites had to use different bathrooms, and in which almost everyone claimed to be heterosexual. That seems a lifetime ago, but I’m not so old. Our world has changed over the past 50 years, vastly for the better from the point of view of African-Americans, the L.G.B.T. community and families who lost loved ones to lung cancer. Given the magnitude of that change, think about how much we can still do. We can, all of us, stand up for care. Until we do, men and women will never be equal; not while both are responsible for providing cash but only women are responsible for providing care. And though individual Americans might win out in our current system, America as a whole will never be as competitive as it ought to be. If we do not act, over time our families and communities, the foundation of our flourishing, will wither. The women’s movement has brought many of us the right to compete on equal terms; it’s time for all of us to claim an equal right to care. Anne-Marie Slaughter is the president of New America, a think tank and civic enterprise, and author of the forthcoming “Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family,” from which this essay is adapted.

Nouriel Roubini – Is Capitalism Doomed ?

Nouriel Roubini is a professor of economics at NYU

The massive volatility and sharp equity-price correction now hitting global financial markets signal that most advanced economies are on the brink of a double-dip recession. A financial and economic crisis caused by too much private-sector debt and leverage led to a massive re-leveraging of the public sector in order to prevent Great Depression 2.0. But the subsequent recovery has been anaemic and sub-par in most advanced economies given painful deleveraging.

Now a combination of high oil and commodity prices, turmoil in the Middle East, Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, eurozone debt crises, and America’s fiscal problems (and now its rating downgrade) have led to a massive increase in risk aversion. Economically, the United States, the eurozone, the United Kingdom, and Japan are all idling. Even fast-growing emerging

As the economic crisis persists around the globe, the value of capitalism continues to be questioned [GALLO/GETTY]

The massive volatility and sharp equity-price correction now hitting global financial markets signal that most advanced economies are on the brink of a double-dip recession. A financial and economic crisis caused by too much private-sector debt and leverage led to a massive re-leveraging of the public sector in order to prevent Great Depression 2.0. But the subsequent recovery has been anaemic and sub-par in most advanced economies given painful deleveraging.

Now a combination of high oil and commodity prices, turmoil in the Middle East, Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, eurozone debt crises, and America’s fiscal problems (and now its rating downgrade) have led to a massive increase in risk aversion. Economically, the United States, the eurozone, the United Kingdom, and Japan are all idling. Even fast-growing emerging markets (China, emerging Asia, and Latin America), and export-oriented economies that rely on these markets (Germany and resource-rich Australia), are experiencing sharp slowdowns.


Debt-based Money from the FED

Until last year, policymakers could always produce a new rabbit from their hat to reflate asset prices and trigger economic recovery. Fiscal stimulus, near-zero interest rates, two rounds of “quantitative easing”, ring-fencing of bad debt, and trillions of dollars in bailouts and liquidity provision for banks and financial institutions: officials tried them all. Now they have run out of rabbits.

Fiscal policy currently is a drag on economic growth in both the eurozone and the UK. Even in the US, state and local governments, and now the federal government, are cutting expenditure and reducing transfer payments. Soon enough, they will be raising taxes.

Another round of bank bailouts is politically unacceptable and economically unfeasible: most governments, especially in Europe, are so distressed that bailouts are unaffordable; indeed, their sovereign risk is actually fuelling concern about the health of Europe’s banks, which hold most of the increasingly shaky government paper.

Pyramid of Capitalism

Pyramid of Capitalism

Nor could monetary policy help very much. Quantitative easing is constrained by above-target inflation in the eurozone and UK. The US Federal Reserve will likely start a third round of quantitative easing (QE3), but it will be too little too late. Last year’s $600bn QE2 and $1tn in tax cuts and transfers delivered growth of barely three per cent for one quarter. Then growth slumped to below one per cent in the first half of 2011. QE3 will be much smaller, and will do much less to reflate asset

Govt data or actual inflation, choose one

Govt data or actual inflation, choose one

prices and restore growth.

Currency depreciation is not a feasible option for all advanced economies: they all need a weaker currency and better trade balance to restore growth, but they all cannot have it at the same time. So relying on exchange rates to influence trade balances is a zero-sum game. Currency wars are thus on the horizon, with Japan and Switzerland engaging in early battles to weaken their exchange rates. Others will soon follow.

Meanwhile, in the eurozone, Italy and Spain are now at risk of losing market access, with financial pressures now mounting on France, too. But Italy and Spain are both too big to fail and too big to be bailed out. For now, the European Central Bank will purchase some of their bonds as a bridge to the eurozone’s new European Financial Stabilisation Facility. But, if Italy and Spain lose market access, the EFSF’s €440 bn ($627bn) war chest could be depleted by the end of this year or early 2012.

Then, unless the EFSF pot were tripled – a move that Germany would resist – the only option left would become an orderly but coercive restructuring of Italian and Spanish debt, as has happened in Greece. Coercive restructuring of insolvent banks’ unsecured debt would be next. So, although the process of deleveraging has barely started, debt reductions will become necessary if countries cannot grow or save or inflate themselves out of their debt problems.

So Karl Marx, it seems, was partly right in arguing that globalisation, financial intermediation run amok, and redistribution of income and wealth from labour to capital could lead capitalism to self-destruct (though his view that socialism would be better has proven wrong). Firms are cutting jobs because there is not enough final demand. But cutting jobs reduces labour income, increases inequality and reduces final demand.

Recent popular demonstrations, from the Middle East to Israel to the UK, and rising popular anger in China – and soon enough in other advanced economies and emerging markets – are all driven by the same issues and tensions: growing inequality, poverty, unemployment, and hopelessness. Even the world’s middle classes are feeling the squeeze of falling incomes and opportunities.

To enable market-oriented economies to operate as they should and can, we need to return to the right balance between markets and provision of public goods. That means moving away from both the Anglo-Saxon model of laissez-faire and voodoo economics and the continental European model of deficit-driven welfare states. Both are broken.

The right balance today requires creating jobs partly through additional fiscal stimulus aimed at productive infrastructure investment. It also requires more progressive taxation; more short-term fiscal stimulus with medium- and long-term fiscal discipline; lender-of-last-resort support by monetary authorities to prevent ruinous runs on banks; reduction of the debt burden for insolvent households and other distressed economic agents; and stricter supervision and regulation of a financial system run amok; breaking up too-big-to-fail banks and oligopolistic trusts.

Over time, advanced economies will need to invest in human capital, skills and social safety nets to increase productivity and enable workers to compete, be flexible and thrive in a globalised economy. The alternative is – like in the 1930s – unending stagnation, depression, currency and trade wars, capital controls, financial crisis, sovereign insolvencies, and massive social and political instability.

Nouriel Roubini is Chairman of Roubini Global Economics, Professor of Economics at the Stern School of Business, New York University, and co-author of the book Crisis Economics.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera

We Are The Reason Behind 6th Mass Extinction

We Are The Reason Behind 6th Mass Extinction

Congratulation: We Are The Reason Behind 6th Mass Extinction

If biologists of Stanford University, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, University of California, University of Florida, and Princeton University are to be believed, then the 6th largest mass extinction has already begun and the reason behind it is us HUMANS.

What Is It & Why It’s The 6th? :

Proposed to be named Holocene Extinction, this current ongoing extinction is the largest after the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs from the face of earth. During this period, earth is losing mammals on a massive rate apart from other animals and birds, and effects are also visible on plants.

Statistically speaking, in the last century itself the number of vertebrate species which vanished from the planet should have ideally taken 800 to 10,000 years to extinct naturally. In other words, the rate of extinction is 15 to 100 times faster as compared to what actually or naturally should have been. This shocking figure has many repercussions on the ecosystem of the planet.

As per experts, large animals across the planet are facing higher risks of extinction, and this happens to be a trend very similar to previous extinctions that hugely affected earth and altered the ecology. This will affect the food chain and eventually humans will also have to bear the burden. In short, we also stand a chance to extinct.

Most importantly, if scientists are to be believed then this dramatic biodiversity activity might affect human species within the next three generations.

To understand the gravity of this mass extinction, let’s look back at the other 5 previous extinctions and what caused them:

1st Mass Extinction: 443 million years ago

Named End-Ordovician, this extinction began with fast glaciations that eventually destroyed the marine ecosystem.

2nd Mass Extinction: 360 million years ago

Late Devonian extinction also directly hit the marine life and it was caused by change in the climate.

3rd Mass Extinction: 250 million years ago

A volcanic eruption caused the worst extinction in the history of earth’s ecology. 95% species vanished during this Permian-Triassic mass extinction.

4th Mass Extinction: 200 million years ago

Termed as Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction, volcanic activities led to loss of lives in land as well as on oceans.

5th Mass Extinction: 65 million years ago

This was the extinction that made dinosaurs a part of history. Experts say asteroid impact and other factors like volcano triggered this extinction called Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction.

Why this is happening now?

air pollution from humans

Blowout into atmosphere

The reason behind all the previous extinctions was grave natural changes in the ecology of earth, but for the ongoing one we are the reason. The growing human population and our growing needs are directly contributing to the ecological degradation, escalating the process of 6th mass extinction.

As per researchers, the human activities that are causing devastating effect to escalate this mass extinction process are:

1. Clearing of land for various reasons including settlement, farming, and logging.

2. Growth of invasive species; meaning those organisms, including plants, fungus, bacteria, animals that are foreign to a particular area and have negative impact on health and environment.

3. Carbon emission leading to change in climate as well as acidification of oceans.

4. Toxins that change or poison the ecosystem of earth.

natural resources

Essential to Life

In short, what seems like essential and regular human activities are actually causing one of the largest extinction on earth’s biota. The current biodiversity of the planet is the outcome of 3.5 billion years of evolution and now is the time when everything we ever knew might change forever.

The Bottom Line:

The life that exists around us is in danger because of us humans. Intense conservation action and drastic change in lifestyle perhaps are the only solutions left; but, here is a catch, decide fast as the window of opportunity according to scientists is “rapidly closing.”

10 of the Biggest Threats to Human Existence

Will Not Happen Under Capitalism

13 things that cannot happen under Capitalism:

  1.  Full employment
  2. The end of poverty
  3. World peace

    Why Do I Care ?

    Why Do I Care ?

  4. Decolonization
  5. Full equality of all social classes
  6. A lastingly stable economy
  7. Abolition/effective reformation of prisons/schools
  8. Ethical consumption
  9. Permacultural and fair global food system
  10. Retirement of all senior citizens
  11. Functional anarchy (looking at you, an-caps)
  12. Free association
  13. Direct democracy

Our Failing Socialism They Call Capitalism

Socialism. That word is one of the largest and most feared taboo words since the end of the Second World War. That word carries with it death, poverty, starvation, the image of concentration camps, mass slaughter, holocaust, and the loss of millions upon millions of lives. When one mentions the word Socialist the people of the United States shudder with fear. The past is controlling the present, the old ideals, conceptions and the outside implanting in the minds of the people as to what defines evil. When one claims today to be a Socialist in the United States, one of two reactions are brought forth as a result of this declaration. Either they are looked upon with doubt, judgement and fear, or they are looked at with judgmental humor, a lack of believing that they truly identify with this, and are merely saying so in the “hipster” sort of way in a vain attempt to be different.

Is this truly what American Socialists are, posers, or radicals, no. It seems in 2015 many young American’s are Socialist, or identify with the party platform, either consciously or unknowingly.

Firstly, Socialism does not promote massacre, the damnation of the minority, the silencing of the people for one supreme leader. It does not promote concentration camps, poverty, or any of those extreme assumptions that are unfairly interlaced with its definition, it is imperative that this is made clear before one continues to read this article.

So what is the Socialist Party in the United States in particular, and why are many if not all Millennials a part of this party? The answers are laced in the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Party of America, specifically Article II. Listed Below is this very article from the Constitution, and consider whether or not any of these statements reflects your feelings at one time or another…

Article II. Purpose

We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race and sex, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo. We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships. We are socialists because we are developing a concrete strategy for achieving that vision, for building a majority movement that will make democratic socialism a reality in America. We believe that such a strategy must acknowledge the class structure of American society and that this class structure means that there is a basic conflict of interest between those sectors with enormous economic power and the vast majority of the population.

Upon an initial reading of this first article of the Constitution it seems almost as though it is too idealistic, too utopian. How can a political party achieve these basic, recognized, human values, that we all claim to share? In the past we have seen clearly that parties cannot achieve an overpowering of these basic aspects of human hatred and ignorance. They seem imbedded in our system at times.

However what needs to be considered is that many political parties use these claims as mere rhetoric. They consider them simply too myopic, too straight forward to be brought to the table when it comes to campaigns, or the basics of the party. For various parties it comes down to “big government” versus “small government.” Not humans for humans. This is what Socialism addresses, within the first article of its Constitution.

However this does not appear to bring to light the apparent doubt in the party being far too idealistic. Consider this however, are these not our basic human emotions? Equality, liberty, and in today’s society more equality of opportunity for those taken advantage of? This may be why it appears too utopian, because we all take it for granted that we hold this true, yet we are unable to achieve it. Does that make it unachievable? Maybe. But a party that addresses it to the strength that Socialism does may bring our ethical, ideal beliefs ever stronger.

Many of us are indebted former students, many of us are unemployed, or poverty stricken while we witness those who relish and promote themselves and their riches through our struggles. The politicians are purchased not elected. Money Rules, not the People. This is what Socialism is, its what it is fighting against, it is for the people, not the dollar.

I am a Socialist, and so are you.

This article from Criticl.com written by a member of http://www.dsausa.org/constitution who reminds us how important history is to our civic responsibilities, so as not to confuse the current propaganda tsunami with actual lessons and events of the real past.

Critics of Capitalism Must Define Term

Richard D. Wolff | Critics of Capitalism Must Include Its Definition

Tuesday, 26 May 2015 00:00By Richard D. Wolff, Truthout | News Analysis

Capitalism definition

Most business leaders, mass media, politicians and academics keep defining capitalism, the main economic system in today’s world, as markets plus private (“free”) enterprises. That definition is wrong. Definitions matter more now than ever as people increasingly question, challenge and want to move beyond capitalism.

Consider the 20th century revolutions that overthrew a capitalism they defined as markets plus free enterprises. In Russia and China, they replaced private, free enterprises with socialized (state-owned-and-operated) enterprises and replaced market mechanisms of distribution with central state-planned distribution. They called that “socialism,” thinking they had abolished and gone beyond capitalism. However, their socialism proved unable to sustain itself and mostly reverted back to capitalism.

One reason those revolutions failed to go beyond capitalism was those revolutionaries’ definition of capitalism and socialism. That definition crucially shaped their strategies for and very conceptions of revolutionary social change. Since that definition still shapes debates over and strategies for social change today, it urgently needs to be criticized and set aside.

Because capitalism is so regularly defined as “a market system,” we may consider first the actual nonequivalence of capitalism and markets. Capitalism became the dominant economic system in England in revolt against feudalism there in the 17th century. Capitalism spread from England to the western European mainland and thereafter to the rest of the world. However, capitalism was neither the first nor the only system to utilize markets as its means of distributing resources and products. In the slave economic systems that prevailed in various times and places across human history, markets were often the means of distributing resources (including slaves themselves) and the products of slaves’ labor. In the pre-Civil War United States, for example, masters sold slaves and cotton produced by slaves in markets. Thus, the presence of a “market system” does not distinguish capitalism from a slave system.

Whatever distinguishes capitalism from such other systems as slavery and feudalism, markets and free enterprises are not it.

The same logic applies to feudalism. In many times and places across European feudalism, for example, products of feudal enterprises (called “manors”) were sold in markets to serfs and lords of other manors. During the 20th century, for example, feudal latifundias in Latin America sold their products on world markets. The presence of a “market system” does not distinguish capitalism from feudalism. Even the presence of a particular market – e.g., for wage labor – is no definite marker of capitalism’s presence. Economic history displays various examples of slaves and serfs having some or all of their labor power exchanged in markets for money or other commodities.

A parallel argument applies to “free enterprise.” The capitalist enterprise is more or less “free” to set the prices, quantities and qualities of its outputs; organize its labor processes; choose among available technologies; and distribute its profits. But much the same has often applied to slave plantations and feudal manors.

Likewise, capitalism has persisted when markets were subordinated to other mechanisms of distribution. For example, during World War 2, ration cards distributed by the US government fundamentally displaced the market system for distributing many goods. Capitalism also can and has coexisted with “unfree” enterprises. In August, 1971, President Nixon took away the freedom of capitalist enterprises to set prices or wages. Capitalism elsewhere has often continued despite markets and enterprise freedoms being variously abrogated or suppressed for differing lengths of time.

Whatever distinguishes capitalism from such other systems as slavery and feudalism, markets and free enterprises are not it. Nor will competition or the extent of government intervention serve to differentiate capitalism from other systems. The competition among capitalist enterprises had its parallels in competitions among slave plantations, feudal manors, feudal guild workers and so on. Competition varies in its forms and intensities among capitalist enterprises depending on the context and conditions of each industry across time and space. The same is true for competition among noncapitalist enterprises.

How an economic system organizes the production, appropriation and distribution of its surplus neatly and clearly differentiates capitalism from other systems.

Finally, government intervention into an otherwise “private” sector of the economy has also been a variable feature of all economic systems. In some slave systems, slaves were chiefly privately owned, while in others, states owned and worked many slaves. In Europe, the absolute monarchies toward the end of feudalism were states owning huge numbers of subordinated serfs alongside the privately run feudal manors of such kings’ subjects. Shifting constellations of private versus state production units characterize noncapitalist as well as capitalist systems.

So then how should we define capitalism to differentiate it from alternative economic systems such as slavery, feudalism and a post-capitalist socialism? The answer is “in terms of the organization of the surplus.” How an economic system organizes the production, appropriation and distribution of its surplus neatly and clearly differentiates capitalism from other systems.

In slavery, one group of persons, the slaves that are others’ property, performs the basic productive labor. Slaves use their brains and muscles to transform objects in nature into what masters desire. Masters immediately appropriate their slaves’ total output, but they usually return a portion of that output for the slaves’ consumption. The excess of the slaves’ total output over what they get to consume (plus what replaces inputs used up in production) is the surplus. The masters take that surplus and generally distribute it to others in society (e.g., police and army, church, etc.) who provide the conditions (security, belief systems, etc.) needed for this slave organization of the surplus to persist through time.

Feudalism displays a different organization of the surplus. Serfs are not property as slaves are; lords do not immediately and totally appropriate what serfs produce. Instead, serfs and lords enter into personal relationships entailing mutual obligations (in European feudalism: fealty, vassalage, etc.). In medieval Europe, lords assigned land parcels to serfs, whose labor there yielded outputs. Feudal obligations typically included either 1) serfs’ laboring parts of each week on their assigned plots and keeping the proceeds and laboring other parts of the week on the lord’s retained land, with the lord keeping the product of that labor (“corvée”); or 2) the serf delivering to the lord as “rent” a portion of the product (or its monetary equivalent) from the land assigned to and worked by the serf. Corvée and rent were forms of Europe’s feudal surplus.

Marx used the word “exploitation” to focus analytical attention on what capitalism shared with feudalism and slavery, something that capitalist revolutions against slavery and feudalism never overcame.

Capitalism’s organization of the surplus differs from both slavery’s and feudalism’s. The surplus producers in capitalism are neither property (slavery), nor bound by personal relationships (feudal mutual obligations). Instead, the producers in capitalism enter “voluntarily” into contracts with the possessors of material means of production (land and capital). The contracts, usually in money terms, specify 1) how much will be paid by the possessors to buy/employ the producer’s labor power, and 2) the conditions of the producers’ actual labor processes. The contract’s goal is for the producers’ labor to add more value during production than the value paid to the producer. That excess of value added by worker over value paid to worker is the capitalist form of the surplus, or surplus value.

While the capitalist, feudal and slave organizations of the surplus differ as described above, they also share one crucial feature. In each system, the individuals who produce surpluses are not identical to the individuals who appropriate and then distribute those surpluses. Each system shares a basic alienation – of producers from their products – located at the core of production. That alienation provokes parallel class struggles: slaves versus masters, serfs versus lords, and workers versus capitalists. Marx used the word “exploitation” to focus analytical attention on what capitalism shared with feudalism and slavery, something that capitalist revolutions against slavery and feudalism never overcame.

The concept of exploitation serves also to differentiate socialism clearly from capitalism, feudalism and slavery. In a socialism defined in terms of surplus organization, the producers and the appropriators/distributors of the surplus are identical; they are the same people. In such socialist enterprises, the workers collectively appropriate and distribute the surplus they produce. They perform functions parallel to those of boards of directors in capitalist corporations. Such “workers’ self-directed enterprises” (WSDEs) are unlike slave, feudal and/or capitalist enterprises. WSDEs represent the end of exploitation.

Significant conclusions follow. Soviet socialism from 1917 to 1989 did displace private in favor of social ownership of means of production and markets in favor of central planning. It did not displace the capitalist organization of the surplus in favor of WSDEs; surplus producers and appropriators in state enterprises were not made identical.

Workers produced and others – the USSR’s Council of Ministers and their appointed state officials – appropriated and distributed surpluses generated in state industrial enterprises and on state farms. The Soviet definition of socialism did not focus on the organization of the surplus. Most socialists over the last century, pro- and anti-Soviet alike, used the same definition. In the 19th century, Marx and Engels saw the seizure of state power as a means to transition from capitalism to socialism. In the 20th century, state ownership of the means of production and state central planning became the definition of socialism itself: the end, not just the means. That problematic definition of capitalism and its difference from socialism remains prevalent to this day.

The 20th century’s major experiments to establish socialism would have ended differently had organizers defined capitalism and socialism differently. Their policies might then have replaced not only private with social property and markets with central planning, but also exploitative with nonexploitative organizations of the surplus. As ground-level organizations, WSDEs might have secured a democratic accountability of socialist governments and thereby the survival and development of socialist economies.

The surplus-focused definitions of capitalism and socialism are available to social movements today as they engage and contest economic systems. Or those movements can stay enmeshed in old, endlessly recycled debates between more (Keynesian and welfare statist) versus less (neoliberal) government intervention in capitalist economies. Will the movements keep limiting their goals to expanded government regulation of, and intervention in, economic systems where capitalist organizations of the surplus continue to prevail?

Or will social movements – increasingly facing a hostile global capitalism – seek alliances with advocates of system change via establishing enterprise democracy through WSDEs? Such political questions become urgent as more people than ever question capitalist globalization and capitalism generally.

Cooperatives of all kinds, including worker cooperatives, have a long complex history. In many parts of the world today, they have carved out an acceptable – on condition of remaining a relatively small – place in otherwise capitalist economies. They rarely confront capitalism as an alternative economic system, likely fearing capitalism’s probable reaction.

Confrontation – putting WSDEs forward as a systemic alternative to capitalism – could take may forms. For example, labor unions could add the establishment of worker coops to their strategies vis-à-vis capital. When employers demand concessions by threatening to close enterprises, move them abroad, etc., unions could refuse and proceed instead to establish workers coops if and when the employers actually abandon enterprises. To take another example, localities could campaign for use of eminent domain to address both unemployment and poverty by organizing and supporting worker coops. The successful Mondragon Cooperative Corporation was born in a poor and unemployment-ravaged part of 1950s Spain. High school, college and university curricula could include both abstract discussions on how the US might do better than capitalism and practical courses for establishing worker coops.

Most important would be if progressive political forces saw gains from allying with, helping to build, and undertaking mass political and ideological support for worker coops. The latter could then provide a crucial communication bridge between the left and the daily struggles of workers in their enterprises, both those still capitalist and those that are WSDEs or becoming so. Workers already in WSDEs and those working for transition to WSDEs could also provide economic and political supports to left political initiatives and campaigns. In return, the left could mobilize for legal and other changes to provide worker coops with the needed legislative framework, capital and markets. Mass political campaigns eventually secured the Small Business Administration for small businesses and various levels of political supports for minority and women-owned businesses. WSDEs could benefit from parallel administrations assisting them.

Eventually, when WSDEs had become widespread enough and an allied left had grown enough, they jointly could offer the American people a real choice never before available. They might choose an economy based on capitalist, top-down hierarchical enterprise organization or one based on WSDEs, or some mixture of both. If fair and open, I have little doubt where that vote would point.