Communitarianism . . . again!

Of course this subject is top of mind for me. See this post from the summer.

Given the personal importance I place on this concept, I’m always drawn to new discussions. The earlier post describes some of the writings of early writers on the subject–Amitai Etzioni and Robert Bellah. This morning I was pulling together more recent references.

One that jumps out is the Ezra Klein interview with Thomas Piketty, covered in The New York Times on “participatory socialism.” See the transcript here. Much of the discussion is about wealth concentration and how that inequality can skew public policy, also be created by it. I found the discussion of data access and its relationship to lack of transparency in wealth vs income discussions fascinating and informative.

I recommend reading through the entirety of the interview but feel constrained to offer a cautionary note. I have no problem with the language of socialism but politicization of it obscures the value of some initiatives that illustrate the term. Piketty calls out several within the European Union. He references an “interesting policy innovation, which took place in Sweden, in Germany, and more generally Nordic Europe, was what is sometimes called co-determination or co-management, which is the fact that workers’ representatives have a significant voting rights in the board of companies, even if they don’t hold any share in the capital stock of the company.”

Piketty concedes that in France, his own country, this is viewed as communism at its most controversial. But, he notes that “what people have seen is that not only this has not destroyed the capitalist system, the economy, otherwise we would have noticed it, just like for progressive taxation under Roosevelt, but in fact, this allowed for better involvement of workers in defining the long-run strategy of the company. And workers, in a way, are investors in labor in the company. And sometimes, they are more serious and committed long-run investors than many of the short-term financial investors that we see. And so getting them to be involved in defining the long-run investment strategy of the company can be good.”

Of course this corporate form of participation is just one facet of a more egalitarian economic model. As noted earlier, you have to put aside political angst and potential antagonism to see its potential as well as commit to the bigger public policy picture. Perhaps simply view it as a way of tapping the capacity of talented individuals more effectively than many of the corporate and political structures we have in place today.

In sum, not quite communitarianism as I have experienced and discussed it but a good example of “horizontal collectivist” approaches.

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