It could be messy. The end of a trend so often is. But we couldn’t keep making cake exclusively for a select few. Income and wealth inequality are at extremes. Generational equity is plumbing all time lows. Globalisation is being fractured. Brexit says that the weight of numbers is turning inwards.
This doesn’t have to be a bad thing — if it becomes about building our communities not fighting over the cake. It’s why we think the time is right for the cooperative movement.
Our society has thrived on the corporate. The invention of joint stock companies and limited liability gave birth to modern capitalism. They enabled the collectivisation of social power while allowing it to remain in private hands. The problem is that the power, and the wealth that often goes with it, has become concentrated in too few hands. Businesses have grown in scale while retaining ownership structures that were created for a less ‘global’ age. Social power has been disengaged from what it has created.
A cooperative is a business that is owned by its community members. It’s a simple change that can make a big difference. The objectives of the business change. No longer is it only about maximizing return to investors. As the shareholders are also the customers or employees, they also benefit from what the business does. They care about more than the bottom line.
By way of example, consider how our two megalith social networks compare to a cooperatively owned platform:
There are two fundamental differences:
Scale benefits — the owners of Twitter and Facebook got fabulously wealthy due to the scale benefits of their platforms. The more people that joined their platforms, the more money they could make as their operating costs were relatively fixed. But think about this. The bulk of the value that is created comes from the users — without them the platform is irrelevant. In a member-owned cooperative, these scale benefits accrue to members as they own the platform.
Revenue models — when the owner of the business is also the customer, they are unlikely to seek to extract value in ways that are at odds with their interests. Users of Facebook and Twitter must agree to have their participation monetised by the owners of these platforms. ‘It’s free to use cause our customers pay us to sell to you.’ In a cooperative, the only people seeking to monetize participation are the participants themselves. Being a cooperative doesn’t stop you creating third party revenue streams — in fact sponsorship models can become a lot more interesting and mutually beneficial. What it does is align interests, so that the revenue models are working for you not for someone else.
It is not just Millenials that want more ‘community’. It’s an evolutionary reaction to the unwelcome concentration of social power in the hands of the few. As networked platforms have proliferated, so too has awareness grown that sharing has become assymetric in our economy.
We’re seeing the resurgence of the Cooperative party in the UK with calls for a cooperatively-owned People’s BBC. In the US, there is the rise of platform cooperativism — Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung has a good in-depth report. And then there’s the emergence of platforms such as Loconomics (freelancer owned coop), Fairmondo (a cooperative version of EBay in Germany), and Stocksy (stock photography that is cooperatively owned by photographers).
There is no reason why cooperatives can’t do everything from car-hire, to holiday rentals, to selling houses. For example, imagine a music industry where artists can own their own distribution channels, create their own ‘radio’ stations, and build their own brand. The technology infrastructure is not difficult to build. All it needs is the collective will and the startup capital.
We are converting Geddup to a cooperative. It’s the ideal structure for a community action platform. We’re interested in hearing from people that would like to participate. If you are interested, sign-up at geddup.com and join the Cooperative working group. Or simply click the “like” button below.