Eber: Capitalism Dissected at new museum

Oakland has, as to be expected a “Museum of Capitalism”.  No you will not see the words and theories of Dr. Milton Friedman promoted here—they are abused and used to oppose capitalism and freedom.  This bunch of Leftists though are not the rioting kind.  They sincerely disagree with Capitalism and believe the ills of the world are because of the freedom allowed by capitalist’s theory.  These folks love socialism—wonder what they think of Castro and the Venezuelan crisis?  People in Caracas, the socialist paradise, must eat their dogs and cats for food—and if you disagree, you will be taken away in the middle of the night.  I can’t remember any capitalist society like that?

“While these individuals were all left leaning in their views, the panelists certainly did not appear to be Marxist’s in training.  They all desired for their various enterprises to be economically viable. What separates them from traditional capitalist enterprises is their desire to be successful in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

No one mentioned what the role of government should be in assisting them in creating the new capitalism of tomorrow. Without exception they welcomed the challenge of training workers to being able to participate in the management of their various enterprises.  They were not trying to operate a commune.

These are the well meaning, theoretical Leftists.  Wonder how many could survive in China?  Good to know there are idealists on the Left that don’t want to stop your free speech or declare you a bigot because of the color of your skin.

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Capitalism Dissected at new museum By Richard Eber

Richard Eber,  California Political News and Views,  8/2/17

When curiosity got the best of me and a visit was made to the newly opened Museum of Capitalism in Oakland, museumofcapitalism.org, I was expecting a Marxist sing-a-long.  This perception was dead wrong.  Communism was barely mentioned in the exhibits which dealt primarily with the history of capitalism and its effects on the people who have lived under it.

In contrast to the vitriolic hatred exhibited of late at Republican and Democratic gatherings, it was refreshing to experience what reminded one of “meaningful dialogue” from several generations past. According to one of the museum’s co-curators and founder Timothy Furstnau:

“The desire of the museum isn’t merely to educate on the negative aspects of capitalism, but to remind them of its historicity – i.e. that it is not a natural law, but a contingent arrangement that can be changed if we find its negatives outweigh its positives, or if it is out of step with our goals and values”

This is done with an interesting collection of exhibits which integrate past history with how the artists view capitalism today. Among the most striking presentations we had Michael Mandiberg’s “FDIC Insured,” which was collage of logos from failed banks along with Superflex’s “Bankrupt Banks Flags,” which featured logos from failed businesses and the misery they brought on with environmental and social consequences.

While history was accurately depicted at the Museum of Capitalism, almost all of it was negative; Emphasis was placed on exploitation of workers as opposed to the economic prosperity that the system has brought forth for mankind.

Typical was an exhibit showing the relationship of law enforcement in a capitalistic society. A series of firing range target practice silhouettes with bullet holes were illustrated.  Nowhere in this display was it mentioned the influence of the police forces in other economic models especially totalitarian ones such as the old Soviet Union.

Despite its perceptible distain for Capitalism and its negative effects on workers and the environment, the museum doesn’t try to direct its visitors to a contrasting one.  Instead it leaves this task to its visitors on how they envision how our present day economic system might evolve.

On the day I visited, the Museum of Capitalism co-founder and curator Andrea Steve presented a look at modern hybrid, free enterprise cooperatives presently in operation. This was done through a panel that featured:

  • Esteban Kelly Executive Director for the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and advocate leader in promoting the worker co-op movement. He sees a world without bosses where democracy in the work place will be the capitalism of tomorrow.
  • Andrea Fike a leader at the Mandela Foods Co-Operative who sees businesses such as hers providing accountability and sensitivity in a post slave economy where the welfare of employees and environmental sustainability are different than the present economic model we live under.
  • Daniele Priestly, who serves as General Manager and on the Board of Directors of the Home Green Home Cleaning Service which is owned by its rmployees. In addition to the traditional capitalistic goal of staying in the black, Priestley’s organization strives to promote fair wages, being gender neutral, provide family leaves, and democratizing the work place. She sees training workers to take on more responsibility in management and decision making is an important part in the work that they do.
  • Paul Bissinger: A union organizer from Berkeley he took on the more traditional role of promoting the progressive economic model where problems fueled by capitalism with managing the environment and labor justice can be arranged to be successful in a sustainable economy.

While these individuals were all left leaning in their views, the panelists certainly did not appear to be Marxist’s in training.  They all desired for their various enterprises to be economically viable. What separates them from traditional capitalist enterprises is their desire to be successful in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

No one mentioned what the role of government should be in assisting them in creating the new capitalism of tomorrow. Without exception they welcomed the challenge of training workers to being able to participate in the management of their various enterprises.  They were not trying to operate a commune.

Assisting in this task to aid “workers capitalism” was Ricardo Nunez, Director of Economic Democracy at the Sustainable Economies Law Center. He acted as the moderator for the panel discussion at the museum.

His organization exists to bridge the gap in legal expertise needed to transition from destructive economic systems to innovative and cooperative alternatives.  They attempt thru a multi-pronged program approach, to identify identifies key leverage points in our existing economic and legal systems to remove strategic legal barriers and create replicable models for community resilience

Nunez differentiates how co-operatives vary in structure with traditional businesses. He explains:

 

 

Cooperatives can take many forms, from housing and agricultural to community based organizations and worker-owned cooperatives. When we’re collaborating with worker coops, they differ from typical businesses because all the worker-owners have equal power, ownership, and control over the business. This creates a whole ecosystem of issues to understand if one is to work effectively with cooperatives. Understanding the different mechanisms to balance the need for innovation, autonomy, and creativity with transparency, democratic governance, and equal voice is difficult. But not impossible.”

For someone like myself who has been around the block several times in business during my career, most of what I heard from those trying to provide a viable alternative to the present capitalistic system are naïve of what lies ahead for these various co-operatives.  At the same time it reminds me of the idealism my generation exuded in improving on the Industrial Military Complex we thought we were living under in the post Vietnam era.

These semi entrepreneurs should be given high marks for their idealistic approach to achieving economic success while obtaining social justice and environmental sustainability at the same time. How this might translate in the future on an economics of scale level with large companies and their stockholders is another matter.

For the Museum of Capitalism, (55 Harrison Street in Oakland)  which is scheduled to close on August 20th, I have to give it an “A” for effort.  The organizers aided by grants from the Tremaine Foundation and other corporate sponsors including Clorox, hope to do future exhibits around the country. They have provided a valuable platform for constructive discussion of our economic system which is a welcome relief from the rants of ideologues from both the left and right.

 

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.