Blog #30 – Transformative Proposals in Nine Areas


Blog #30: Beyond Immediate Proposals: Some Transformative Provocations

The last blog, Blog #29 began with the puzzle that the United States faces deep-seated problems today: problems of poverty, inequality, discrimination, poor education, unemployment, unaffordable housing, unaffordable health care, social aggressiveness and exclusion, insecurities of all sorts, all in a country that claims the values and has the  resources to remedy them.  The answer suggested was that the situation was partly the result of shortfalls of democratic procedures, partly the result of inequalities of wealth and power, but that both of these rest on an ideologically and culturally blocked awareness of fundamental causes and available alternatives – a blocked consciousness that needs to be directly addressed.

That blog  argued that, in dealing with the tea party (as a stand-in for the defenders of the status quo}, it would be most effective to combat those blockages by starting with the problems that are generally acknowledged, pushing some immediate steps towards solutions, but constantly linking those steps to a critique of a frame in which they ought to be embedded, showing how logically the immediate leads to more and more radical and even utopian visions of what in the long run needs to be done.

Some examples, not presented as developed proposals for the formulation of demands or platforms, but as examples of the approach that might be taken, follow. [1]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: reforms that simply make existing programs or policies more efficient, eliminate waste, trim costs, but change neither the thrust of the program not the power relations in which it is enmeshed.

B: Liberal reforms: reforms which expand or modify a program, using market mechanisms wherever possible, and without challenging its structural causes or the power relations in which it is embedded.

C: Radical reforms: reforms which drastically modify programs and expand their aims, challenging the power relations in which they are embedded

D: Transformative Claims: claims, going beyond specific reform proposals which address their structural causes and links to systemic issues, directly challenging the power relations in which they are embedded and serve.

[These examples are suggested only as illustrative, and are thus far really only perfunctorily sketched. For each, there are groups and individuals who have gone much further in working out demands and claims, at all levels, who should be consulted on each issue.  The point here is only to suggest the kind of differences to be found on each, and in each case running along a non-exclusive spectrum from dealing merely with efficiency-only to presenting the need for full-scale transformation. More detail and other examples would be welcome.]:

        Higher education:[2]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Standardized conditions of private loans

B: Liberal reforms: Provide a public option for loans; provide substantially increased public grants

C: Radical reforms: Limit scope of private for-profit institutions.

D: Transformative Claims: Make higher education free.

2.      Mortgage foreclosures[3]:

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Higher reserve requirements of banks; judicial review of sloppy paper work.

B: Liberal reforms: Expand opportunities for voluntary renegotiation of loans; subsidize lowering of interest rates and writ-downs of loans; regulate rents taking into account landlords’ finances.

C: Radical reforms: Require write-down of loan principals; mandate continued occupancy at reasonable rents after foreclosure; facilitate non-profit ownership; regulate rents taking into account occupants’ finances.

D: Transformative Claims: Remove housing from the speculative market through public acquisition or facilitation of conversion to private non-profit, limited equity, cooperative, or community land trust ownership, with adequate subsidies to cover maintenance and utilities at levels affordable to lower-income occupants; confiscatory taxation of speculative profits; aggressive expansion of public housing. Housing should be treated for its use value, not its exchange value.

3.      Public Space:[4]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Administer to protect surrounding property values.

B: Liberal reforms: Provide, expand, and administer to protect surrounding property values and quality of life of neighbors; regulate use by reasonable police measures; give zoning bonuses where privately provided.

C: Radical reforms: Provide, expand, and administer taking into account needs of surrounding community; Protect use against police repression, Require private provision in connection with new construction.  Protect right of use by homeless.

D: Transformative Claims: Provide, expand, and administer adequately to satisfy the needs of the population as a whole; give priority to uses appropriate for the exercise of political democratic rights; mandate public use for these purposes of private property where necessary. Provide supportive permanent housing for homeless users.

4.      Health

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Planned decentralization/consolidation. Computerize records; permit cross-jurisdiction private insurance in a transparent marketplace.

B: Liberal reforms: Finance Medicare and Medicaid properly. Permit unified bargaining with pharmaceutical companies; subsidize insurance, providing a public option.

C: Radical reforms: Medicare for all. Buy out private hospitals and care facilities at asset, not income, values. National Health Service

D: Transformative Claims: Eliminate fee for service provision, comprehensive national health care system, without access restrictions, paid for routinely as a public service, like police and fire protection.

5.      Jobs and Labor Relations

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Full appointments to NLRB; adequate information to workers;

B: Liberal reforms: Adequate inspections and enforcement of FLSA, health and safety standards; facilitation of discrimination cases. card checks for elections; indexing minimum wage levels

C: Radical reforms: Living wage requirements for all jobs; expanded public service jobs; ceilings on management and ownership incomes and benefits

D: Transformative Claims: Requirement of worker participation in decisionmaking in ownership; public provision by public employees of all essential services.

6.      City Planning:[5]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: independent technically qualified City Planning Commission with adequate staff

B: Liberal reforms: Advisory community planning boards

C: Radical reforms:  Community Planning Boards with decision-making powers

D: Transformative Claims: Public ownership of land, city-wide Assembly of Planning Boards with decision-making power over all land use issues.

7. Homelessness

A. Efficiency-only reforms: Screen applicants for shelter eligibility; track applicants; police supervision of shelters;

B. Liberal reforms: Expand shelter system; provide social service consultations.

C. Radical reforms: Provided expanded affordable housing opportunities; staff transitional housing where needed; provide homeless persons input into policy and administration.  Policy;

D. Transformative reforms: Establish and implement a legal Right to Housing for All, including direct public provision and stringent rent controls.

8. Municipal Budgeting

A. Efficiency-only reforms: Putting the capitol budget within the jurisdiction of the City Planning commission.

B. Liberal Reforms: Giving Community Boards or Councilmanic District assemblies a decision-making role in expenditures within their districts.

C. Radical Reforms: Providing a comprehensive city-wide Participatory Budgeting process affecting both operating and capital budgets

D.Transformative Reforms: Expanding a Participatory Budgeting proeess to cover revenues/tax policies locally and adopting national legislation prohibiting tax evasion by cross-border evasion and prohibiting local-level competition in tax programs.

 9. Worker Ownership and Co-operatives

A. Efficiency-Only Reforms. Permit NLRB-supervised elections for union representation

B. Liberal Reforms. Permit Card-check Voting. Aggressively enforce rights to organize and bargain.

C. Radical Reforms. Provide for majority worker ownership, in stock or co-operative form, of individual firms.[6]

D. Transformative Reforms. Strengthen or transfer to democratically controlled public ownership entire sectors of the economy and of production and services provision. [7]

Many other examples could be given, and the above certainly need further development. The point is that, at whatever level of reform is strategically immediately attainable, the principles behind the further levels should always be on the table, including the arguments for the most transformative. They may seem utopian goals here and now, but there is no historical or material reason why any of them are not reachable. Insisting that they be acknowledged even in the midst of the more immediate objectives is at least a small step in the direction of getting there.

Blog #31 will hesitantly suggest some New Rules for New Radicals as possibilities for moving to implementation of such transformative reforms.


[1] My debt to Andre Gorz and the concept of reformist and non-reformist reforms should be clear.

[2] See Andrew Ross’ discussion, described in Dan Schneider, “Occupying Student Debt,” Dollars and Snse, Jan-Feb 2012, p. 6

[3] See further Marcuse, Peter. 2009. “A Critical Approach to the Subprime Mortgage Crisis in the United States: Rethinking the Public Sector in Housing.” City & Community, vol. 8, No. 3, September, pp. 351-357.

[4] See my blogs #3, 4, and 5.

[5] Tom Angotti, New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011, provides excellent background.

[6] Gar Alperovitch,

[7] See Alliance for a Just Society.

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