‘Economic Democracy’ Key to Solving Global Financial Crisis, Says City Tech’s Costas Panayotakis in New Book

October 27, 2011 | New York City College of Technology

Brooklyn, NY — Discussing citizen movements that arose in response to the global financial crisis, Costas Panayotakis, author of the new book Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy (Pluto Press, UK, September 2011), notes that although it seemed the whole world except the U.S. was in revolt, “uprisings and the eruption of social movement activity are unpredictable because they usually represent the convergence of many different factors interacting with each other in complicated ways.”

Even earlier, preceding the Occupy Wall Street protest movement by almost a year-and-a-half, Panayotakis, associate professor of sociology at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), wrote in a published article: “As a Greek teaching at The City University of New York, I can’t help but notice the parallels between brutal budget cuts in Greece and the impact of the economic crisis in the United States.”

The timeliness of Panayotakis’ work was captured in the forward to his book by Joel Kovel, author of ten books in the field and editor-in-chief of the international journal Capitalism Nature Socialism. “In Remaking Scarcity, Costas Panayotakis expertly dissects a capitalist system in the agonies of intractable crisis and gives a radical yet practicable guide to its transformation.” The book has been favorably received by experts on economics, politics and “green” economics from universities in the U.S. and England.

Panayotakis will read from his book on Thursday, November 10, at 5 p.m., in the City Tech campus bookstore, 259 Adams Street, in Downtown Brooklyn. Also reading that same evening will be City Tech Professor Ben Shepard, from his book The Beach Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York City’s Public Spaces.

In Remaking Scarcity, Panayotakis proposes “economic democracy,” a restructuring of economic control ensuring that a wealthy minority does not determine economic and political priorities and make decisions affecting the majority of citizens.  As an example, he cites the 2003 Argentinian workers’ transformation of nearly 200 bankrupt factories, where they became the stockholders and managers, sharing administrative responsibilities and profits.

While teaching courses on sociology and globalization, Panayotakis has long been an observer of the global economy, political systems and their effect on democracy, social problems and the environment. “We now are seeing a popular loss of faith in the economic and political decision-makers who affect all our lives and the future of the planet,” he says, “especially the banks, whose profit-seeking severely damaged the global economy.”

Panayotakis has given presentations at international conferences including at Oxford University and York University, at meetings of the American Sociological Association and Eastern Sociological Society, at the Kennedy Space Center and at the Brecht Forum in New York. He was also recently invited to present his ideas on economic democracy at Tufts University. He has appeared on radio and television talk shows in Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Iran, and the U.S., and contributes regularly to scholarly journals and other publications. He is book editor for Capitalism Nature Socialism.

Formerly a Robert Gillece Fellow at The CUNY Graduate Center, he has taught at several colleges within the CUNY system before becoming fulltime at City Tech in 2002.

During the past few months, Panayotakis also has taken his message to the streets of New York City in a theatrical way. In the subways, he and other participants perform his satirical script, “Confessions of an Austerity Nut,” preaching the virtues of belt-tightening to assist “our neediest billionaires,” and blaming the current economic crisis on working people who are “too rich and too greedy.”  Afterward, he and his cohorts distribute the script to observers, encouraging them to perform it publicly.

The idea for this project came to Panayotakis after a union meeting and discussion with a colleague on creative ways to resist what he calls “the austerity policies imposed on ordinary New Yorkers.” “I got up at 6 a.m. one day and furiously scribbled the script,” he explains. “It’s more appealing and inspiring to people if this kind of critique takes the form of comedy.”

More “Austerity Nuts” have joined in, and recently the professor himself became a homework assignment for a college journalism student, who posted online a radio journalism report on that experiment. Support for the “Austerity Nut” experiment has continued to grow ever since the recent launch of an Austerity Nut video and website (see austeritynut.com).  Says Panayotakis, “My dream is that one day I will walk into a train, and I won’t be able to perform the script because somebody is already doing it!”

New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest public college of technology in New York State. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, the College enrolls more than 16,000 students in 62 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs.