Competition rules, we are told. Market economies are shaped by
ideas of the survival of the #ttest, with companies that can’t compete,
driven out of business so that those who can compete can win. If
that sounds Darwinian, then that is no surprise, as economic policy
has long borrowed the mantle of evolution as a way of explaining
!e trouble is that it is not only a partial reading of economic life,
but an outright misreading of Darwin and evolutionary science since.
It is a model championed by the winners, even though it rarely even
describes their own journey to success. It is welcome, therefore, that
economists such as Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, authors of A
Co-operative Species, are developing the theoretical and empirical base
for a more rounded view of evolution, society, and economy that is
based on co-operation, alongside the dynamic of competition.
Why does this matter? Because business policy tends to start with
assumptions about how markets should work and then elevates those
assumptions into the goal of policy. Liberalised energy markets, for
example, should in theory be characterised by switching in order to
keep #rms competitive. But when consumers don’t then switch, noone
questions the model, just the reality. !e focus of policy moves
to encouraging people to do what they don’t want to do rather than
addressing the cartel-like behaviour of the big six #rms.
!ere are thriving UK businesses that exemplify co-operative
principles. Around 6000 co-operative enterprises operate in the UK,
owned by over 13 million members. !ey operate on the basis of one
member, one vote rather than one pound, one vote. In fact, the cooperative
economy has grown by around 20% since 2008, compared
to a static economy overall.
D\’ye see what the tosspot has done there?
Switched the meaning of \”cooperate\” half way through.
He\’s gone from the meaning of markets, in which people cooperate in order to compete with other organisations, to the meaning of how we organise such organisations.
No one at all has any problem with that second meaning. You want a workers\’ coop (Waitrose), a customer coop (The Co Op), a partners coop (any law firm) you just go right ahead. Have fun.
But that\’s got precisely fuck all to do with whether those organisations are going to compete with each other in the market, does it?