While a great many commons seek to develop alternatives to conventional businesses – and even to bypass markets altogether – the struggle to democratize capital should not be lost in the shuffle. Popular ownership of capital assets and business enterprises is still a great strategy for building the commons and advancing the public good. Fortunately, there's a growing enthusiasm for this approach.
One of the most eloquent advocates for socially friendly forms of capital ownership – the French call it the “social economy” – is Gar Alperovitz, a historian and political economist at the University of Maryland and a founder of the Democracy Collaborative. Alperovitz's 2005 book, America Beyond Capitalism, was recently re-issued, presumably because it speaks to the political moment. How can we make economic progress when banks and large corporations are simply looking out for themselves? How can we reduce wealth inequality when government is captured by corporations and the affluent?
Alperovitz showcases the history and great potential of co-ops, worker-owned companies, and urban land trusts. He notes the constructive role that is played by municipal utilities, state-owned banks and state-chartered trusts such as the Alaska Permanent Fund. There are also dozens of cases in which states use their investment dollars to help communities, use government procurement to help worker-owned businesses, and provide venture capital to startups.