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The Progressive Economics Forum

Alternatives to Corporate Globalization: Cooperatives

In this guest post Tom Webb gives a summary of the pitch in his new book, that co-operatives are the answer to the problems of the global capitalist agenda.

At the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University, at the beginning of the new millennium, I was part of a team creating a masters level program for managers of co-operatives and credit unions.

Teaching neoclassical economics and its core belief that the economy should serve the interest of capital was out of the question. There were many good critiques of neoclassical economics, but the only alternative offered seemed to be to lobby governments, which are already captured by corporate interests, to regulate capitalism. My book, From Corporate Globalization to Global Co-operation: We owe it to our grandchildren, was born out of that search for an alternative economics curriculum.

It seemed clear then, as it does now, that the global capitalist economy was in increasing trouble. The capitalist idea that nature should be exploited for an economy whose overriding purpose was maximizing the returns to the 1%, who already owned more than 50% of the world’s wealth, is neither an intelligent way of meeting human needs nor is it sustainable. ‘Triumphant’ capitalism has spawned an inter-related set of growing crises that promises to get worse.

A hard reality is that the investor-driven business model has a strong tendency to ‘make good people do bad things.’ The problem is not business people, but the structure and purpose of the business model. Decisions are driven by commercial potential, regardless of negative impacts. It is a business model that resembles a car with a huge powerful engine but lacking steering or brakes. It lacks a purpose rooted in the admirable, moral and most worthy aspects of human nature.

From Corporate Gobalization to Global Co-operation suggests an alternative with deeper roots in evolution and human nature than competition and greed. The book explores how co-operation has driven evolution and is profoundly imbedded in human nature. It also suggests that the logical outcomes of co-operative values and principles are much less likely to produce antisocial side effects and human suffering than the self-centered hyper-individualism and inherent greed of capitalism. Rather, the purpose of co-operation is to meet member and community needs. This is a far more productive purpose than maximizing returns to the owners of capital.

There are seven related themes in this book:

  • There is a set of inter-related destructive trends sweeping our world and it flows from the irrational purpose on which we have focused our society – that the purpose of nature, human society and the economy is to serve capital.
  • Neoclassical economics is not an explanation of how our economy works, but a rationale for why all nature, including humans, must serve the needs of capital.
  • The investor-owned corporation is a fundamentally flawed structure whose purpose is to serve capital.
  • Capitalism is characterized by inherent contradictions and is not sustainable in the long run.
  • All life on the planet is rooted in co-operation. It is the key driver of the emergence of complex life forms, and, even more than competition, a key shaper of evolution. Co-operation and altruism are integral to human nature and persistent forces driving constructive human behaviour.
  • We can build an economy based on co-operation and that economy will help lessen destructive trends. A solid foundation exists for that economy which, while it needs improvement, already is having a positive impact on our world.
  • We can destroy the world as we know it, or we can build a better world. A better, more co-operative world is possible, but not inevitable.

The book does not claim that co-operatives are perfect nor that it is destiny that they will take over as the way humans provide themselves with the goods and services they need to live meaningful, satisfying lives. Their ability to perform is persistently diminished by the extent they have to co-exist with a capitalist economy. They are also run by less than perfect people. Instead, the book explores why they tend to diminish problems like inequality and environmental destruction, to better meet human needs beyond just goods and services, and provide a better opportunity for individual people to make meaningful contributions to creating a better world.

Capitalism has the capacity to destroy nature and human society upon which it depends to exist. Its social and natural world destruction is producing an anger that can fuel progressive alternatives or ugly destruction. The book expresses the real possibility of a massive shift of human consciousness toward global co-operation that can grow co-operatives even larger than their present 250 million workers and 1 billion members who already positively impact the lives of 3 billion people.

There is an alternative to Trump, Brexit and extreme right wing governments fueled by the politics of fear, hatred, violence and revenge. We must choose. Not to choose another direction is to choose growing chaos.

Tom Webb is an educator and author.  He was a founder of the Co-operative Management Education program in the Sobey Business School at Saint Mary’s University, Board Chair of the Centre of Excellence in Accounting and Reporting for Co-operatives. You can find out more here.

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Comments

Comment from Anne Peterson
Time: February 6, 2017, 10:29 pm

The Mondragon Co-op in Spain is huge and successful and should be studied more. It even has its own university. Lots about it on line.

Comment from Larry Kazdan
Time: February 7, 2017, 5:55 am

An interesting paper from the OECD:

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Local Economic and Employment Development Programme
THE SOCIAL ENTERPRISE SECTOR:
A CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

http://www.oecd.org/cfe/leed/37753595.pdf

Further to the above, U.S. economist Pavlina R. Tcherneva writes:

The Social Enterprise Sector Model for a Job Guarantee in the U.S.
http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2014/01/social-enterprise-sector-model-job-guarantee-u-s.html

“The non-profit and social enterprise sectors produce original, innovative and sustainable solutions to seemingly intractable socio-economic problems, which the private sector has failed to solve. Their mission and reason for existence is to create social value and address very specific problems like poverty, hunger, homelessness, environmental degradation, community blight, inadequate care and education for all, and other. The work of this sector is perhaps the one bright spot in our economy today. Yet delivering large-scale solutions to these problems remains a challenge for two reasons: 1) its work is always underfunded and 2) it is always understaffed. The Job Guarantee solves both problems—it provides funding and labor.”

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