How radical co-ops are leading the way to a new, democratic political economy

Organisations like Cleveland’s Evergreen Co-operatives are creating opportunities for co-ops in poor urban communities and helping to decentralise planning

Principles of a Pluralist Commonwealth, by Gar Alperovitz (available online at s.coop/pluralistcommonwealth)

Principles of a Pluralist Commonwealth outlines the vision of a new political economy, in which democratically owned enterprises, like co-ops, play a central role.

Looking at the idea of decentralisation, the book explores the flaws of centralised power and contemporary development in the direction of decentralisation such as Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperatives.

These co-ops use the purchasing power of large non-profit institutions such as universities and hospitals, to create economic opportunity for co-ops in poor urban communities. A political economist and historian, Gar Alperovitz argues that this is an example of how to decentralise economic planning.

Related: How Fairtrade made its way onto the co-op agenda

The book also looks at the role of co-ops in promoting equality. Alperovitz describes the Pluralist Commonwealth as encouraging the development of co-operative and other economic institutions that support a culture of community less driven by competition. Worker co-ops are featured as enterprises able to self-manage themselves in a democratic fashion.

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Another issue addressed is access to capital, particularly in terms of managing investment in democratic directions. A chapter on investment looks at community development financial institutions such as Shared Capital Cooperative, which in 2014 has made USD $3.1m in loans to co-operatives in 31 states.

The author also highlights the potential for co-operative market economies such as the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy, where 8,000 co-ops account for about 40% of the region’s GDP.

In addition to co-ops, Alperovitz stresses the importance of ownership forms that inherently integrate worker and community (neighbourhood or municipal) concerns in more complex relationships.

While the book’s official launch takes place on 1 June at a bookshop in Washington, it is already available online for free, to enable activists, organisers and practitioners working at grassroots levels to access it.

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