Essay Prize 1st prize – Dan Gregory

Essay Prize 1st prize – Dan Gregory
Ethical Consumer

Is there a co-operative alternative to capitalism? – Synopsis


“Co-operatives and social enterprise which eschew conventional capitalist forms of ownership, perversely, have been financially outperforming red-blooded businesses within their own capitalist game. In the UK, the co-operative sector grew by more than 25% between 2008 and 2011; RBS (sic) report that social enterprises are “flouting the fiscal gloom to grow faster than the rest of the UK economy”; social enterprises are outstripping SMEs for growth, business confidence and innovation and Spanish co-operatives have seen an increase in employment of by an average of 7.2% in the last quarter of 2011, despite wider unemployment at record levels. Furthermore, co-operatives have higher resilience in economic crises, based on research by Roelants and Bajo.”


“So a case can be made that imagines a more co-operative economy, in the sense that each distinct sector adopts a more co-operative approach – with co-operative businesses taking a higher market share and organisations in the public and third sector mutualising or embodying more co-operative principles. Yet this is only a co-operative alternative to capitalism in a limited sense – simply more co-operative actors playing the capitalist game. As far as it goes, this is perhaps not so hard to imagine. 


But from a more fundamental perspective… such changes could be a stepping stone to the transformation of the relationships not only within but between the sectors, and the creation of a system of production that could be defined as an alternative to capitalism – or co-operativism.


“So is there a co-operative alternative to capitalism? Perhaps not, if what we mean by capitalism is a mixed market economy. But the answer is almost certainly yes, if we are in the market for an alternative to ‘actual existing capitalism’. The recent history of the private, public and social sectors – and also the story deep inside us – could prompt a dawning realisation by participants in the economy that a more co-operative approach could potentially deliver a more efficient, human and harmonious market economy in a world with ever scarcer resources. A co-operative economy can be in both our common and our self-interest. As Robert Owen says “the union and co-operation of all for the benefit of each.” Imagine.”


See full essay here