from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #48


     This worldview theme is descriptively titled using key components of what its adherents would like society to ultimately be based on: community, co-operative based economics and local, decentralized control.  Those who value it disdain big government and big business centralized social organization, and the "top down" elitist approach to problem solving that typically accompanies it (Figure #20a).  They prefer their living and working arrangements structured on   smaller, more human scales.  They typically choose cooperating with people over competing with them.  They are more comfortable solving related problems in "bottom up" fashion. 

     The sociological distinction between "community vs. society" was originally made by Ferdinand Tönnies in his 1887 book Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.  According to Tönnies, the former group is built around the personal, family, neighborhood relationships and feelings of togetherness that one expects in a place where people have direct, face to face contact.  In contrast, the latter group is one of self interest motivated individuals held together by formal regulation and legal framework. There, relationships between people are more impersonal with less cohesion and less dependence on each other.

     "Co-operative, Decentralized Society Advocates" are saddened that, since the Industrial Revolution, generally speaking, Western countries have steadily had less community and more society.  They would like to reverse this trend.  They like the subsidiarity principle, believing societal matters should be handled by competent authorities at the lowest practical level—which they feel is usually the community level.  This worldview theme could be alternately titled: "Economics for Democracy."  Just as "Education for Democracy" (theme #31) emphasizes that well-educated people are needed for democracy to work, this alternative name implies that economically empowered people are also needed for it to work! 

     The argument here, as advanced by those possessing some "Cynicism" (theme #36A) and disliking corporate power goes like this.  "People vote their pocketbooks. If their corporate masters can convince them that their jobs & livelihoods are at stake, they will subserviently vote as directed. That direction is provided by the corporate controlled media. Their preferred candidates are given massive campaign contributions and are essentially bought and pay for by corporations.  Since people lack economic power, they have no real political power.  Until they do, democracy is a sham!" 

     The economic democracy movement promotes restructuring society so economic decision making is transferred: from the (corporate elite) few to the majority, through worker management and ownership of productive enterprises.  While


currently small, this movement sees itself as a core around which a new society can rise as the old fades.  It consists of co-operatives, collectives, community supported agriculture groups, ecovillages, credit unions, other alternative financial institutions, etc.  Democratic, for profit co-operatives can be classed as worker owned, with workers investing when they start work, or consumer co-ops.  The latter are customer-owned businesses that aim to provide customers with low cost, high quality products and services. Many adhere to principles (Figure #48) formulated in the 1840s in Rochdale, England.

    The advantages of economic democracy—both ethical and economic—have long been recognized.  In their 1986 Economic Justice for All pastoral letter, the U.S. Catholic bishops recalled words from their 1919 Program for Social Reconstruction: "The full possibilities of increased production will not be realized so long as the majority of workers remain mere wage earners.  The majority must somehow become owners...of the instruments of production."

     Conceptions of economic democracy vary from no government ownership and/or interference in markets, preferred by left anarchists (theme #50B), to governments levying taxes that allow social control of investment and abolishing private ownership of productive resources, preferred by socialists (theme #49B).  While some battle corporate power at the local or regional level, other activists rally behind "Ethical Globalization" (theme #51) and fight corporate imperialism globally.

     Many enthusiastic about making economic democracy work at  the community level around the world are excited about the ability of the Internet to bring people together (buyers & sellers, etc.) They are also excited about appropriate technology.  This is technology selected, designed and implemented with the special environmental, cultural, social and economic aspects of the community it is intended for in mind.  It typically has little or no significant environmental impact and is well suited to an area since it makes use of what is relatively abundant (e.g. labor in places where people need jobs).  Typically it involves devices that are small, relatively simple, inexpensive, and decentralized.  It often creates meaningful work for people, especially in poor countries.

     Many in affluent countries seek an alternative to corporate capitalism, viewing the consumerism (theme #26A) they associate it with as spiritually and environmentally lacking. Influenced by the small is beautiful philosophy of enoughness (theme #23B), beginning in the 1970s some have turned to both co-operative economics and voluntary simplicity.  Alarmed by global climate change, many today view economic democracy as a better route to "Sustainability" (theme #23A) than business as usual.  A motivated few live in ecovillages—off centralized power girds, off city water and sewage systems.  They're committed to (what they feel is) a more meaningful sustainable living lifestyle. 

Figure #48:  The Rochdale Co-operative Principles

#1 Voluntary and Open  Membership


#2 Democratic Member Control

#3 Members' Economic Participation


#4 Autonomy and Independence


    Co-operatives are

   "Businesses People  Trust"


#5 Education, Training,

      and Information

#6 Cooperation Among




#7 Concern for Community


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