Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Crow here. I've been flying back and forth from Europe the last few weeks checking in with old friends and new ones who are looking at the current economic situation from a different point of view. Things aren't just going to change. They have changed but there's no reason we (and you) can't be part of making things better without even bothering about the banks and the government.

"Those who opt to make history and change the course of events themselves have the advantage over those who decide to wait passively for the results of the change"

This was said an old friend of mine after the Spanish Civil war. He was a young priest called Arizmendi who was sent to the Basque country after Franco's defeat and what he found there was severe unemployment, a region badly damaged by the war and a populace in serious financial difficulties. He wasn't a particularly gifted speaker but he was determined to assist his parishioners in spite of the fact they didn't much like him. You can't let a little thing like that get in the way. He decided to focus on the economic development of the town, settling on co-operative methods to achieve his goals.

In this small town, whose name translates to Mondragon, he started a democratically managed polytechnic school and in 1956 several graduates began the first of the cooperative businesses that have become a model for a little known but world wide democratic cooperative revolution. Three years after the inception of the small manufacturing business they went on to set up the 'People's Worker Bank' which allowed the co-operative members access to financial services and subsequently provided start-up funds for new co-operative ventures. Since then it's worked out very well. The associated companies give preference to fellow co-operatives, workers manage their finances, hold health insurances and pension funds and have discounts at cooperative stores. When a cooperative has got in economical trouble, workers preferred to take pay cuts over layoffs and if the situation worsens, redundant workers are provided with positions in other group co-operatives.

In the United States right now there are more people involved in cooperative movements than there are union workers. You can read about it in a book called 'America Beyond Capitalism' by Gar Alperovitz - a political science professor at the University of Maryland. It's a few years old but, hey, there are always a few folks ahead of the curve and he saw something coming. There are 11,000 worker owned companies in the US and 120 million people involved in cooperatives of one kind or another. The best of them are one person one vote places but true democratization of the cooperatives is still at a minority level here. Still, it's something to look forward to as we all move toward the next thing.

Kim Stanley Robinson described the potential of a fully functioning Mondragonian Cooperative system in his science fiction epic series of Mars books (Red, Green and Blue) where people owned their personal possessions but not property. That was held in common. It may sound uncomfortable but think for a minute of the freedom you could have if you didn't have to make mortgage payments or pay property taxes on one single place. What if you could go to live anywhere and be guaranteed a job once you arrived? It might be similar to the way my friends and I live. As it is now your society holds slavery as anathema but what is practiced is oppression of a subtler kind - it's called serfdom.

There are other alternatives to Capitalism than Communism and Cooperatism might just be the best way to a better future for all of us since it's based on fair use and sustainability rather than greed and destruction. My brothers and sisters with four legs or wings are definitely in favor of anything like that.

I see susan has my fruitcake on a little plate and a snifter of nicely warmed Remy Martin so I'd best make myself comfortable on my perch and look out the window at Mars. I will tell you more next time if you're interested.


  1. it just goes to show not everything has to be the same. there is room for new ideas.
    i like the idea of cooperation. i used to be super competitive, until i learned winning wasn't everything- it's ok to appreciate the effort and talent of others. being competitive becomes more fun when everyone wins.
    recognising that we are all in this together- we have a vested interest in having as many people be financially successful as possible- certainly merits additional consideration and energy.
    crow, you is wise beyond your ears.

  2. Co operatives are a good idea and growing in popularity as you say. I gather they employ about 800 million people worldwide- Do you have any operating close by? No doubt they will continue to gain in popularity in the US.
    I know of several very large co ops operating here which are manly rural but they can be in any industry including community banking which is meeting many local employment and investment needs.
    Nice to read about the young priest called Arizmendi whose tradition continues today in many countries including Malawi where Fr Taylor set up a community development fund for businesses. Each loan was made subject to 3 people being liable in the event of default which ensured there were never any bad debts. He only gave the scheme away once the micro loan era became so entrenched the co operative was no longer a necessity.

    Best wishes

  3. I was just talking to my husband the other day about how great it would be if the company he works for could break away (the employees buy it) from the big corporation that seems intent on sucking the life blood out of them until the business collapses.

    Nice in theory, but at this point he doesn't think that it's possible.

    Great post, crow. Although I didn't realize you were that old..."an old friend from the Spanish Civil War"? You look very good for your age! ;-)

  4. Thank you for trying to get us stubborn humans to think outside the box Crow.

  5. I love this concept - it goes right along with my commune. Shared resources is something my family is taking very seriously. Please tell us more, Crow - we're listening!

  6. I do like the idea of Cooperatives. It is a shame that the Cooperative movement here in teh UK has fallen a way over the last 30 years. There used to be a lot of Coop stores locally and even a department store. They have virtually all gone sadly

  7. Anything that begins with coop is okay with me. In our area, there is Whole Foods and then there are three food coops. Part market part specialty store, I can't afford to do all of my shopping at these but I do stop in once in a bit for things I need and can't find at the our small town market.

    I don't suppose you need to concern yourself food shopping too awfully much, Crow.

    That was very hopeful and uplifting. I don't wonder you ran the idea by Susan before publication. ;-)

  8. sera - This is true. Think of my friends the emperor penguins who all stand together in the icy blast taking turns to stand in the outer ring and the soft warm center. Have you ever tried to hold an egg on top of your feet without a friend to bring you food? I didn't think so.

    lindsay - Most of the co-ops I've heard about in the US are a farm related but the interesting part is that more young people are taking part in co-operative efforts to run them. The best part is that they're spreading to cities where vacant lots and even rooftops are being farmed by well-educated young people as well as those not so lucky. I've seen them.

    Micro loans are doing very well all over the world and that makes this old bird a little less dismal in outlook.

    nunly - I think you will see more co-operative business arrangements as things continue to go downhill with macro-economics. They're even beginning to teach the principles at the big business schools like Harvard and Yale. Likely it will take years to catch on but we'll see more cities participating in 'municipal socialism' as it's being called.. or active cities.

    and, yes, I'm very, very old in human years. I once knew a t-rex who.. oh, never mind - I'll tell you that one another time.

    liberality - I've decided to focus for the most part on what can be done. We all know the results of what can't.

    nancy - There's definitely more to tell and lots of examples for me to tell you about next time. It's wonderful what you and your family are planning.

    jams - When the principles are solid and all the rest is going down the bung hole, it's bound to be something that will return. I'm looking forward to seeing it happen with my own beady little eyes.

    pagan sphinx - Whole Foods has had a similar history of ruining small businesses as Walmart. In this area they did a hostile takeover of an organic market called 'Wild Oats' that had itself bought out another that was known as Nature's. Interestingly, WF closed all of the other stores because they weren't big enough to hold all the stuff they sell. Then they not only charge very high prices but they also destroy what isn't sold. It's good you try to use the other markets when you can. So does susan. As for me, well, I do have to get the fruitcake and Remy Martin from somewhere.

  9. crow, I am still basking in the glow of susan's storytelling but as one person, we can make a difference...I tend to think alone, not listen to others, I don't play well with others either...yet cooperatives have always made the most sense to me and in families, the commune is making more and more sense, families of all types and shadows...

    we need to begin to see another way besides the one of the government, the president, the democrats and on and on, we need to begin to think independently again and be less reliant on the good will of our big brother...I like your story very much as well as the premise behind is idealistic to think that it could work and yet idealism is built on hope, a dream of tomorrow and it's a dream we all need to know we can make happen...we don't need a pile of documents to tell us nothing is working and seems actually to be getting worse, perhaps this will be the first step toward a better, more loving, more idealistic, more giving society where gain is about the community as a whole as well as each of it's parts...

    did that make sense? I hope so..

    fly safe crow ~~~~~~~~~^^\/^^~~~~~~~~~~

  10. Cooperation. Between masses of humans. Man, pass some of whatever you're smoking. ;-)

  11. Tell us more, Crow. I'm interested.


  12. linda - You got it all just right and I think it's something you'll see more of as time goes by. The old ways of doing things never go easy though. I remember the dinosaurs - now they are birds and sometimes we talk about the old, old days.

    randal - Come by anytime to share a nice Havana and a snifter of Remy.

    the crow - I will, dear lady.

  13. i was in an egg toss sontest once. you know, where you have to toss an egg back and forth. and you keep taking a step back, and toss the egg to your partner. if you broke your egg, you were out of the competition. i wasn't very good at that either.
    who makes these things up?
    holding an egg on my foot?.. it's not one of my best skill sets either.

  14. sera - I did that once too - ended up with egg on my face. It's sadists invent games like that ;-)