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Tue Oct 15, 2019, 12:24 PM

Bernie Sanders is right, it's time to redistribute economic power




An emphasis on reimagining ownership and governance is a vital step forward. We face two deep crises – environmental breakdown and stark inequalities of status and reward – both sharing a common cause: the deep, undemocratic concentration of power in our economy. Working people lack a meaningful stake and a say in their firm. Corporate voting rights are near-monopolised by a web of extractive financial institutions. The needs of finance are privileged over the interests of labour and nature. Tinkering won’t address this deep imbalance in power. To build an economy that is democratic and sustainable by design, we need to transform how the company operates and for whom.

For the left, remaking corporations must be at the heart of a radical agenda. The company is an extraordinary social institution, an immense engine for coordinating production based on a complex web of relationships. The critical question is who controls how it operates and who has a claim on its surplus. Today, the answer is a combination of shareholders, institutional investors and executive management; the company has been captured by finance and extractive economic practices, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The company – and the distribution of rights within it – are neither natural nor unchangeable. There is nothing inevitable about the existing, sharply unequal distributions of power and reward within them. The company is a social institution, its rights and privileges publicly defined. We can organise it differently: through social control, not private dominion, via democracy, not oligarchy. Sanders’s announcement is an important step toward that democratisation, and the deeper economic reconstruction that both people and planet deserve.

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