These days, it is easy to be cynical about democracy. Even though there are more democratic societies now (119 and counting) than ever before, skeptics can point to low turnouts in national elections, the degree to which money corrupts the process, and the difficulties of mass participation in complex systems as just a few reasons why the system is flawed. The Occupy movement in 2011 proved that there is an emphatic dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, particularly with the economy, but, ultimately, it failed to produce any coherent vision for social change. So what should progressives be working toward? What should the economic vision be for the 21st century?
After Occupy boldly argues that democracy should not just be a feature of political institutions, but of economic institutions as well. In fact, despite the importance of the economy in democratic societies, there is very little about it that is democratic. Questioning whether the lack of democracy in the economy might be unjust, Tom Malleson scrutinizes workplaces, the market, and financial and investment institutions to consider the pros and cons of democratizing each. He considers examples of successful efforts toward economic democracy enacted across the globe, from worker cooperatives in Spain to credit unions and participatory budgeting measures in Brazil and questions the feasibility of expanding each. The book offers the first comprehensive and radical vision for democracy in the economy, but it is far from utopian. Ultimately, After Occupy offers possibility, demonstrating in a remarkably tangible way that when political democracy evolves to include economic democracy, our societies will have a chance of meaningful equality for all.
York University research fellow Malleson (Stand Up Against Capitalism) advocates strongly for economic democracy, defined as people's "equal formal decision-making power in their core economic associations." In particular, Malleson would like to see worker cooperatives replace the present hierarchical organization of the workplace, where, he asserts, workers are effectively "servants" who are "directed by others." He cites studies showing that such worker co-ops as La Lega in Italy have more internal equality, increased motivation, and greater job satisfaction. Malleson also illustrates how economic democracy can be instituted in finance and investing through such methods as citizen participation in the budgeting process (currently done in Porte Allegre, Brazil), giving workers a say over the use of their pension funds, and enacting laws to prevent capital flight. He provides ample historical detail to support his points, although the book would have benefitted from more anecdotal material. While some will dismiss his proposals as utopian (though, strangely, he does not argue for changes in our campaign financing system), shows how these ideas have worked in social democratic countries and why they are worth serious consideration.