A co-operative alternative to capitalism?

The question asked increasing – Is such a thing as a social economy possible?

As I discover today it’s the question raised by a prize winning essay for Ethical Consumer

3 years ago, on the Skoll Social Edge forum the question was – who will build this new social marketplace?

In 2004, I thought so, when approaching ICOF the funding arm of the UK co-op movement with our business plan. describing our work on an alernate economic paradigm. We needed loan funding for a community benefit society based broadband proposal.  It argued that ‘capitalism is an insufficient economic model’ drawing attention to the urgent strategic case for dealing with widespread poverty.

It was something we’d argued a year earlier making the case for economic development in a peaceful muslim community.

We were  not successful.  Funding for broadband was being restricted  to bona fide coops, I was told and we were then registered as a guarantee company, ironically, on the suggestion of ICOFs outgoing finance director.

In 2005, I wrote to the chair of the Social Enterprise Coalition, Baroness Thornton, descibing the problems of funding  for social enterprise.  Baroness Thornton,  a Labour Cooperative peer has yet to consider my concerns worthy of any response.

In 1996, we’d been alone, as far as l know in suggesting an alternative to capitalism, with the paper presented to the White House.  It questioned the ethics of imagining money into existence as debt:

Returning to Ukraine on the eve of the Orange Revolution we aligned with the Maidan activists and spoke out about organised crime in institutional childcare, publishing  the ‘Death Camps for Children’ article which began to explore solutions

In the ‘Marshall Plan’ strategy proposal which followed,  investment in family homes for all children was the primary focus and key area of impact on government policy.  It argued:

“This is a long-term permanently sustainable program, the basis for “people-centered” economic development. Core focus is always on people and their needs, with neediest people having first priority – as contrasted with the eternal chase for financial profit and numbers where people, social benefit, and human well-being are often and routinely overlooked or ignored altogether. This is in keeping with the fundamental objectives of Marshall Plan: policy aimed at hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. This is a bottom-up approach, starting with Ukraine’s poorest and most desperate citizens, rather than a “top-down” approach that might not ever benefit them. They cannot wait, particularly children. Impedance by anyone or any group of people constitutes precisely what the original Marshall Plan was dedicated to opposing. Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first — not secondarily, along the way or by the way.”

By February 2008, even the US Senate were aware of this alternative to capitalism, with a letter calling for their support and for international policy based on love and respect for all humans. We also became  partners in the Charter for Compassion:

My enthusiam for a cooperative capitalism dipped again when  UK cooperatives adopted celebrity economist Noreena Hertz, who seems to be on the same page with regard to the debt based economy and greed.   Out in the field however, where we’d been toe to toe with organised crime there were no academics nor  finance gurus. This was far too risky a territory.

Sir Richard Branson got as far as the Ukrainian lunch at Davos, telling us that business should focus more on social problems, but suggesting we could lead the way seemed to end a conversation.

Today, the Guardian tops all of this with an article suggesting co-op capitalism can offer a solution to the Greek crisis.

So why aren’t they out there alongside the civic activists as we were in Ukraine. Why aren’t they uncovering social problems and finding solutions or dying in the attempt?

Are we really going to change capitalism by offering prizes for derivate thinking.  What about the IPR of the original author?

Can we combine the words Love and Business? –  asks the editor of theGuardian’s  sustainable business hub, though he’s already  aware of the practitioners.

This kind of self-promotion which imagines something what others have given their lives to, in order to re-brand it,  is neither an alternative to capitalism, nor any interpretation of being cooperative.

To the children who continue to perish, the man who died trying to help them, the final insult is perhaps the congratulatory tweet from Ed Mayo of Cooperatives UK.

A death is social enterprise was of little concern to most.

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