25 April 2012

Co-operatives—the proven alternative to capitalism

In this, the International Year of Co-operatives, we cannot remind ourselves too often of the tried and true alternative to conventional capitalism. Co-operatives have for generations offered a more humane approach to economic activity than competitive enterprise, even while competing successfully in a capitalist marketplace. They have provided a full range of economic services at the local, national and international levels, combined with social benefits absent from capitalism.

The greatest benefit is that they are democratic institutions—one member/one vote—as opposed to capitalist corporations—one share/one vote, a classically plutocratic arrangement. By providing equitable investment in the economy and reducing the excessive influence of wealth in society, they answer the Occupy Movement's two concerns about corporate power. They help create community locally, nationally and internationally. They are amenable philosophically to both left and right—they are capitalist in the sense that ownership is private but socialist in the sense that ownership is equitable.

Their capacity for success is illustrated nicely by the Calgary Co-operative Association. Principally involved in supermarkets, the Co-op also provides service stations, home health care, pharmacies, travel agencies and liquor stores. It has 440,000 members—40 per cent of the city's population. All its employees are member-owners, sharing power equitably with the customer-owners.

Needless to say, I am a long-term member. I buy almost all my groceries there as well as my booze and gas for my car. I round out my co-operative experience by doing all my banking at First Calgary Financial, the city's major credit union. Going co-op to the max is my way of helping to build a more humane and democratic economy.

The co-operative is here, and it works at every level. Globally, one out of five people are already members of co-ops. We need look no further for an answer to capitalism with its inequities and its insults to democracy. By maximizing our own economic relationship with co-ops and pushing our governments to favour co-operative enterprise over competitive enterprise, we can replace the misguided mantra "we must compete in the global economy" with the more civilized "we must co-operate in the global society."


  1. Bill, I agree with you fully that Co-op's are the answer and have taken the liberty of reposting your article (with credit and link) on my blog at http://ruralcanadian.blogspot.ca/2012/04/co-operativesthe-proven-alternative-to.html.
    I trust that meets with your approval.

  2. Certainly. I appreciate your support.