For our special issue on “Reimagining Capitalism” [June 27], The Nation asked sixteen activists and economic thinkers, “If you had the ability to reinvent American capitalism, where would you start?” We also posed the question to our readers, who readily flooded us with hundreds of thoughtful and creative proposals—a sample of which follows below. The enthusiastic response confirms special issue editor William Greider’s argument that “the nation is alive with fresh thinking and bold outlines for big change.” The challenge is to put them into action.—The Editors
If we want to fix what is wrong with American capitalism, the best thing we could do would be to reaffirm our commitment to US workers by passing a new Wagner Act. That will once again put government on the side of the workers and affirm its support for the principle that organized labor is critical to ensuring that all Americans share in the benefits that a strong, vibrant capitalist system can bring.
San Jose, Calif.
The one thing I would do to change capitalism to get it to work for the people (if that is even possible) is simple: the Constitution needs to be amended to declare that corporations are not people. The people who run corporations should not have the right or the ability to cause untold damage and harm to other people poorer (in money and rights) than they are, and then be able to hide behind the mask of “I didn’t do it; the corporation did—I’m just a shareholder.”
Reforming capitalism is about making the largest corporations, and their officers and directors, accountable to society and their stakeholders. This entails fostering a culture of social responsibility among these companies. I would achieve this by creating a classification system for corporations: “A” corporations would be required to meet the highest standard of social responsibility. In return, they would pay lower taxes, avoid double taxation, enjoy greater liability protections, access to financial credits, etc. “F” corporations—those with histories of poor or irresponsible conduct—would be subject to tighter regulation, higher taxes, decreased liability protection, etc. A national ombudsman would create a public record for each corporation and its officers and directors, including lawsuits, regulatory actions, complaints and business actions. This record would be used to rank each corporation A through F. I believe such a system is long overdue and would benefit all of society.
If we aim to create a more equitable and inclusive form of capitalism, we must find ways to overturn the legacy of free and cheap labor the United States has used to bolster its economy since slavery. Instead of functioning as an alternative to sweatshops and factory lines, prisons should serve as the rehabilitation branch of our criminal justice system. By overturning the for-profit prison system and creating public-private partnerships between the state and corporations, we can create training programs and services for prisoners that address many of our underlying societal problems like poverty, homelessness, and lack of resources and education. This model of employment and rehabilitation has already seen great successes among ex-convicts in nonprofits like DC Central Kitchen. Through the creation of these partnerships, we can overturn the exploitation of prison labor and change a workforce of indentured servants into responsible, skilled and employable citizens.