Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Split from and Re-emergence of Social Responsibility

     ACIPCO and Herman Miller are employee owned companies which were converted as a result of the spiritual orientation and the related social obligation of their original founders JJ Eagan and DJ Dupree.  Of the original founders of the Rochdale Pioneers co-op store, around 50% were members of a religious congregation, as reported in a 1944 book by B. Landis.  The Rainbow Grocery workers' co-op also reports in their on-line historical account their assessment of the role of their own original spiritual orientation as a Yoga center or the like.  The original orientation of spiritual service distinguished their co-op effort from the politically heated orientation of other similar projects.  The founder of Mondragon Co-operative Corporation was an independent and practically-minded priest, Padre Jose Marie Arizmendiarrieta.  While the MCC has become a large and diversified network of co-ops, Arizmendiarrieta's work has also inspired a network in the San Francisco area, the Arizmendi Association of Co-ops.
      Credit co-operatives, or credit unions, were innovated at the initiative in Germany by Raiffeisen some 20 years after Rochdale's initiative in 1844.  Raiffeisen was a deeply religious man and spiritual.

     Some widely referenced thinkers have legitimized anti-religious stances, such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, and with a certain amount of justice consistent with the spirit of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther's criticism of the Catholic Church.  From expressions such as "opiate of the masses" and "God is dead," facile means to address religious doctrine have been formulated, and often making more independent thought possible.  However, the benefits of many spiritual perspectives have continued, and churches continue to provide important sources of meaning around the world.  Some of the best cases include the work of the World Council of Churches and the UNEP Interfaith Partnership for the Environment.  In Latin America beginning in the 1970s, and following a Pope's perspective of social justice in the preceding decade, priests innovated the liberation theology perspective.  Existing threads of these approaches include Brazil's Rural Land Commission CPT, probably the secular Landless Worker's Movement there, and the Ecumenical Forum.
       Social responsibility as a Western cultural practice is larger than the alternative business model of co-operatives and employee ownership.  It is linked to its manifestation in a wide number of non-profit associations, from such current tigers as Global Witness, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, Action Aid, and Food and Water Watch, to historical manifestations in the women's movement and anti-slavery movement.  The Quaker Society of Friends (of Christ) first contributed to religious freedom in England, and then were significant in the latter movement which then prominently influenced the English government to begin to end the slave trade at the 1815 Treaty of Vienna.  Steve Charnovitch has written extensively of these roots in a 1996-97 University of Michigan Law journal article.
       We can trace social responsibility through the university also.  Karl Marx's ideas, for example, can be separated into distinct threads, and we can recognize his fundamental concern with the well-being of working people, the "proletariat" as was discussed in some depth by psychological philosopher Erich Fromm.  Jean Jacques Rousseau, although not formally educated, exercised his faculties to the extent that he produced philosophical work of a quality comparable to the university educated, such as Montesquieu, Locke, and DesCartes.  Rousseau's concerns discussed subjects such as the origins of inequality among people and the social contract.  Even Adam Smith can be recognized for his effort to identify the mechanism of economic functioning and "the wealth of nations."  Nevertheless, even before Marx and Engels 1840's Communist Manifesto and his social consciousness and compassionate fervor were formulated, the Swiss Sismondi was already engaging in his socially oriented economic ideas.  The functioning university environment, or of modern education in general from libraries to bookstores to high schools, had its beginnings in Church education.  Padua, Italy is one of the earliest examples.  The University of Paris, too, began in the Catholic Church and was where the power of Greek logic was wedded to Christian philosophy by monks, especially St. Thomas of Aquinas.  From Italy, educated in Cologne, Germany under Albert Magnus, St. Thomas of Aquinas preceded DesCartes by 400 years as the pioneer in applying Greek logic from Aristotle in seeking to define God.  Pyenson et al touch on aspect of these historical details in their 1999 book Servants of Nature, Koestler in his 1950s book, and Pieper in his 1980s book.  Stanley Jaki wrote the Savior of Science which goes into greater detail about the role of Christian thought as a foundation for the modern application of Greek logic.  He was awarded the Templeton Prize of Religion and Science for his work.
        St. Thomas of Aquinas, a monk like his contemporaries St. Anthony of Padua and St.'s Francis and Clare of Assisi, had taken a vow of poverty.  St. Francis and St. Clare demonstrated a renewed vision of Christ and the Apostles' social responsibility and St. Anthony as a member of the Franciscan order demonstrated a critique of nascent capitalist practices of exploitative usury.  St. Thomas, meanwhile, had become a member of the Dominican order.  The order in its own right was originally founded as an educational approach to heretics in an attempt to use non-violent persuasion and avoid the tragic and violent practices of the orthodox Inquisitions.  St. Thomas of Aquinas, then, elaborated on the approach of the Dominican order within the Catholic Church of the 13th Century, representing an alternative approach within Christianity at that time, and prior to the Protestant Reformation.  Martin Luther, for his part and along with antecedent critics of the Church like Erasmus of Rotterdam and Jan Hus (?) himself was a monk who followed the Dominican path of learning.
         Thus we see that Christ's principles of ethical behavior expressed in terms of "love of God, Moses, neighbor, self, and enemy" are not lost entirely in papal and Church corruption or aristocratic and technocratic philosophy and history.  Adam Smith and the appropriation of educational practice in the Cartesian and Newtonian scientific traditions by aristocratic merchants using stock market techniques and imperial conquests, for example in the British, Dutch, and French East India Companies, the Portuguese and Spanish Crowns, and the British Virginia and Hudson Bay Companies, all represent the foundations on which the capitalist employer Industrial Revolution of the steam engine, factories, factory labor, and expropriation of small farmers was conducted.  The degree to which genuine social responsibility was divorced and alienated in this process in the lives of working people is shown in the efforts of revolting slaves, striking employees, marching women, and the efforts of former artisan guild members to form co-operatives even prior to the Rochdale Pioneers.  John Curl has written a recent book and published a recent article in the Affinities journal on-line, and Johnston Birchall has written a 1990s co-op history The International Co-operative Movement which touch on related issues.
          If we compare the experience of the Roman Empire, we see that they had incorporated no positive reference to Christianity until Constantine in 323 AD.  Greek culture infused Roman militarist culture after their being conquered before 100 BC, and by 323 AD was mixed with the new ascension of Constantine and Christian culture.  As Roman imperial culture lacked a formal ethical structure beyond that of primitive and barbaric aggression, personality cults, and civil war, the society was overtaken by the strengths of surrounding tribes.  Christianity's divided manifestations nevertheless permeated and spread during these "Dark Ages."  Thomas Kenneally has written of the role of the Irish monks in his work How the Irish SAved Civilization, for example.  St. Augustine's Confessions from 400 AD is another example of one of the earlier new threads in Christianity in his self-consciousness as a transformed individual and then doctrinal philosopher. 
        Thus, by the time of St. Thomas of Aquinas, he established a renewed integration and a new application of Greek logic while under his vow of poverty in the Dominican order.  Martin Luther later extended the use of socially responsible spiritual logic to the Church itself.  The priest Copernicus initiated another philosophical approach which lead to threads of the scientific revolution detached from considerations of social responsibility, and even linked to defiance of Catholic Church authority.  From socially-mobile commoner Robert Owen and the Luddites in England to Raffeisen and Delitz-Schultz in Germany to Grundvig and the Rev. C. Sonne in Denmark and including reluctant slaves, striking workers, and utopians everywhere, social responsibility has been gradually reclaimed despite the self-serving economic philosophies of aristocrats, technocrats, and their sympathizers.
        Moreover, today social responsibility has been achieved by those within the financial matrix of the stock markets and its ideologies.  While the international co-operative organization, the ICA, the International Labor Organization, and UN COPAC are among major organizations promoting a socially responsible model of business, the Pax World Fund, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Domini 400 Social Index, and the Dow Sustainability Index are among the pioneers of socially responsible shareholder activists.  The non-profit PIRG's have gone even further with their Green Century Mutual Fund, while Shore Bank Pacific is part of a social enterprise that has created several branches, an international microcredit lender, and an environmental bank branch.           
         Moreover, Anita Roddick's The Body Shop, Food Co-ops as described by William Ronco in his 1974 book and organized in on-line directories, Whole Foods Markets, and Working Assets Long Distance (now Credo) have been leaders among socially responsible businesses and motivators for the more image oriented association the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.  Nevertheless, non-profit leaders like the Pew Center for Climate Change has helped organize corporations similar in renewable power commitments to the Green Power Marketing Group and the Climate Group.  Still a survey of more solidarity-based and community-oriented social enterprises leads us to the need to recognize such renewable energy pioneers as Denmark's first wind co-op in 1980 and most famous at Middelgrunden, Germany's like the Oederquart co-op partnership and Schoenau citizen buyout, and England's Baywind co-op and Woking Council.  The US too has locally oriented enterprises like the Northwest SEED, Ohio Evergreen co-ops, the Maryland Solar Co-ops, and NYPIRG's Fuel Buyer's Group.
        In these ways, the immense gulf that exists worldwide still between socially and environmentally responsible economic activity can be rebound, or reformulated.  The vision of Ronald Reagan that environmentalists want to turn the White House into a bird's nest won't define the vision of Jimmy Carter's sympathizers and the solar panels put on the White House, or those supporters of Al Gore, Ralph Nader, and Michael Moore who have suffered for years under the corporatized views social responsibility.  Moreover, the theoretical views of Herman Daly, David Ellerman, and others like Amartya Sen, M. ul Haq, Miguel Mendonca, Joyce Rothschild, and Jessica G. Nembhard can be reconciled favorably with real world accomplishments.  Even the emerging consciousness of economists like Jeff Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, and even Greg Mankiw can be presented with the realities which disprove any links they maintain with orthodox, cost externalizing thought.
        The reconciliation, or even the resusscitation of theories and practices becomes possible, as does the split between such views as progress, profit-maximization, and social responsibility.  Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud's healthy rejections of corrupt and dogmatic religious doctrines can be fully informed by such views as Owen, Sismondi, Kropotkin, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, Kant, and Jung among many others.  In Latin America, Hugo Chavez has based his support of co-ops on Boliviarian Socialism, while African fair trade networks continue the original ideals of pioneers like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, and now Elizabeth Sirleaf-Johnson.  Asia, too, where Japan's Hokkaido Green Fund resonates with the Right Livelihood winner Michiko Yajima and the Seikatsu Consumer Co-op Club, and the ideals of Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, and Nobel Winners indigenous Rigoberta Menchu, Africa's Wangari Maathai, Pakistan's Muhammed Yunus, and the recent Riksbank economic Nobel memorial shared by Elinor Ostrom.   ACIPCO, Herman Miller, Rainbow Grocery, and Mondragon as they remind us of their spiritual and religious associations can allow us to appreciate the underlying basis of socially responsible approaches and ideas, such as the Arizmendi Association of co-ops and the UNEP Interfaith Partnership for the Environment. 


Friday, November 26, 2010

Consumer Co-op Strategies

       NYPIRG's Fuel Buyer's Group provides an approximately 10% discount on home heating fuel purchases and is an example of a quasi-consumer co-op strategy with minimal outreach and marketing.  Since NYPIRG, the New YOrk Public Interest Group, conducts minimal marketing and the populous is generally not oriented towards seeking such   What steps can create a broadly appreciated view of a sustainable, prosperous co-operative economy?     Inspired by John McNamara's discussion of inspiring a solidarity vision amongst people-at-large at his blog, The Worker's Paradise, and I was interested to read John's comments recently on processes related to "vertical integration," most commonly understood in terms of corporations owning subsidiaries in strategic sectors.  Horizontal integration represents another strategy, in which corporations might own former competitors, and he postulates co-operative "deep" variations in which a co-operative is part of a network of interacting co-op firms, and engaged in educational activity to build understanding of co-operative participation.  The latter concept is contrasted with a consumerist egalitarianism, in which a range of socioeconomically distinguishable people identify themselves as "middle class," whether they are at official poverty levels or earning significant incomes.
            Before reflecting on orthodox and mainstream identities, I think we can gain some important perspective by reviewing some alternative identities which have achieved some significant membership.  Voluntary Simplicity is one first popularly defined by Duane Elgin in 1978 in his book, and discussed by  longtime sociologist Amitai Etzioni in a 2004 Review of Social Economy article.  Philip McMichael is another scholar who has written an article recently published in the Journal of Peasant Studies, and in his analysis he refers to Slow Food and Via Campesina.  In the area of union activity amongst employees and workers, the negotiation of the United Steel Workers with Mondragon, along with projects such as the AFL-CIO's Executive Pay Watch and Pension strategists strongly suggests that, among others,  America's consumers are not all the same.  
            From a slightly different perspective, William Greider's 2003 book The Soul of Capitalism is a comprehensive treatment of stakeholder activism.  In it, he cites for example the activity of pension investors, and various examples of problems and solutions in businesses.  The primary solution he discusses is that of employee ownership, along with the whole cost accounting of ecological, and social, economics.  He discusses a number of interesting examples, including that of Solidarity, an employ owned and managed temp agency in Baltimore formed by the community of members of the twelve step group NA, and Blue Ridge Paper, a former multinational subsidiary, which was reorganized on behalf of employee owners through a specialist financing firm KPS.
        At Blue Ridge, moreover, they reformulated their processes to detoxify their effluents entering a local river.  Greider also discusses SAIC, a large and successful high-tech services firm.  C. Rosen et al's book Equity surveys the subject of Employee Stock Ownership Plan ESOPs in a related way and discusses examples like Publix Supermarkets.  Environmental techniques would include perspectives shared in books like that of Cradle to Cradle by McDonagh and Braungart and R. Anderson's Mid Course Correction.
       NYPIRG's Fuel Buyer's Group represents a consumer wholesale buying group that is almost a consumer co-operative.  NYPIRG is a non-profit group that has a long history as part of the wider PIRG movement of non-profits, all of whom have lobbied and researched numerous issues in the consumer interest.
Their effort would be worth comparing first with both food co-operatives and renewable energy co-operatives.  In fact, a number of the PIRGs have taken an entrepreneurial strategy.  A group of them, perhaps not including NYPIRG, have organized to form a socially responsible and activist mutual fund adding extreme integrity to such diverse efforts as the Dow Sustainability Index, the Social Investment Forum, Pax World Fund, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, and the Domini 400 Social Index.  Their fund, Green Century Mutual Funds, includes shareholder activist strategies similar in nature to campaigns conducted by the founding non-profits and other activist civil society groups like Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, and Oxfam.  The PIRGs also formed a telecommunications company on the model of Anita Roddick´s original The Body Shop, Whole Foods Markets, Internet, and Credo (formerly Working Assets Long Distance), a company called EarthTones.
        While the purchasing of stock involves dynamics of stock prices and shareholder voting influenced by large shareholder holding differentials, organized efforts such as NYPIRG's Fuel Buyer's Group, the Park Slope Food Co-op, the South Bronx Food Co-op, and the Maryland Solar Co-ops are four specific entities that demonstrate practices which already are accessible to area residents, and make a viable discussion for enterprises which can offer immediate advantages  the subject of the employee ownership or co-operative business model.  For the record, I want to acknowledge other interesting partnership efforts following the co-operative model, such as Evergreen´s Ohio Co-operative Solar and the Kentucky-based Foothill Co-op.
      Mendonca et al's concept of concrete market institutions and innovative democracy encompasses these grassroots types of enterprises, and even other historical policy instruments.  The 1974 ERISA law involved Sen. Russell Long´s effort to incentivize Employee Stock Owner Plans, and the National Consumer Cooperative Bank Act in 1978 created the National Co-op Bank, and 1978´s PURPA created a vehicle requiring permission of independent energy generators and feed-in payments.  We could also review the role of the Rural Electrification Administration during the New Deal and view the successful financing of Rural Electric Co-ops in the U.S. 
      NYPIRG's practice provides a discount on fossil fuel's for home heating through wholesale purchases and membership, in what is similar to a consumer co-operative. Moreover, they have been including one of the renewable energy company's programs in their own plans with premiums that can be viewed as offset.
      However, their marketing and outreach has been built on canvassing and the benefits of their approach have otherwise had limited dissemination.  For my part, when I resided in the New York area until sometime in the last year, I had engaged in guerrilla promotions at one conference event and by inviting a NYPIRG speaker to the PSFC.  The speaker wasn´t available and able to accept the latter invite.  At the former, I don´t believe I encountered anyone that was familiar with the NYPIRG FBG program.
       By contrast, consider the Park Slope Food Co-op´s situation.  They participate actively in local outreach, including fairs.  The South Bronx Food Co-op has expanded their hours, and appears to be engaging in a successful outreach campaign in their underserved and economically disadvantaged neighborhood.  Green Worker Co-ops has initiated a construction recycling business and a co-op entrepreneurial training program.  By contrast, the East New York Food Co-op faced a similar challenge, but appears to have failed.
      A similar program exists in Pennsylvania, "The Energy Co-op."
      Conventional economists have operated according to certain assumptions concerning the functioning of corporate business enterprises, and the ownership of business process by shareholders without qualification.  David Ellerman has advanced the discussion in his 2007 Review of Radical Political Economics paper.  He describes one concept that publicly traded corporations can be considered capital co-operatives.  However, the lack of qualifications for involvement disqualify corporations from the term, since, for example, a company´s shares could be bequested to others.  Moreover, transaction cost barriers and social power relations have created a "fundamental myth" of neoclassical and Marxist thinkers that ownership of the means of production is the same as ownership of shares and the employer-employee contracts.  By identifying these distinct elements, we can unravel the assumptions which are often ignored in orthodox economic arguments and discussions.
       Moreover, ecological economists such as Herman Daly have outlined important assumptions in terms such as those of biophysical and ethicosocial limits, including source-sink, ecological interdependence, entropic flow issues, money fetishism, compensation, and more recently ownership issues.   

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ecological and Social Theory, Practice, and the UK's Baywind Co-op, etc.

      Mendonca, Lacey, and Hvelplund wrote a 2009 article in Politics and Society journal called “Stability, Participation, and Transparency in Renewable Energy Policy: Lessons from Denmark and the United States,” which I think is a well-articulated argument which combines diverse dimensions of the problem of the energy sector's economic foundations, advocating renewable energy strategies and including political and social perspectives.
       Mendonca et al refer to their perspective as the "concrete market institutions and innovative democracy" model in response to current conditions, in which “(the) economy is embedded in a human-made concrete institutional market design…. (T)he design of the concrete market institutions are, and historically have been influenced by the large actors in the energy scene, such as the large power and fossil fuel companies, and that the institutional market design often has been developed so that it benefits these companies.” (p.390) 
          Herman Daly's theoretical work on ecological economics at least is fundamentally concrete in his philosophical premise of economic processes and activities and ecological physical realities, and when combined with pragmatic descriptive work like that of Cobb et al's 1995 "...GDP's Up, ... America Down?" in the Atlantic, Clive Ponting's Green History of the World, Jared Diamond's Collapse, Michael Conroy's Branded, Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest, and Lester Brown's Plan B 3.0 can then deliver a combined perspective with strong theoretical and descriptive power.  
          Unfortunately, economists with some progressive dimensions such as Jeff Sachs reveal the problem with an insufficient appreciation for the ecological, physical, and social foundations of human society as indicated by his support of nuclear power despite its fundamentally severe toxic waste and accident-risk concerns, for example.  Joseph Stiglitz also showed his own restricted assumptions in his frequent references to "a failure of aggregate demand" after the 2008 Wall St. mortgage derivatives crash.
          One favorite phenomenon of mine in the middle of these views is the Baywind Renewable Energy Co-op in England 
      who gained their initiative through the entrepreneurial effort of a Swedish group following the Danish co-op model in the early 1990s.  Despite the Thatcherite energy markets and policies favoring the established and large concerns there in the UK, the Baywind co-op group ingeniously worked within the procedures without falling prey to the weighted system.  While the UK Parliament passed feed-in  payment legislation that was implemented in 2010, Baywind had begun entrepreneurial development shortly after the year 2000.  Thus, the co-op local enterprise of Denmark from around 1980 to 1999, Germany beginning at a slightly later date, and to some extent in Holland had found a basis in the oppressive energy market conditions of the UK.  Despite the UK's industrial prowess, large wind energy technology has had no success by homegrown engineers and entrepreneurs.  Perhaps the Baywind group will be a foundation for such an enterprise themselves.
         In a similar vein, co-operative enterprises in Germany have been the foundation of the wind sector's development there, in a different fashion than the residential and policy incentive nature of the solar sector.  Moreover, the small-scale developers Solarcomplex a.G. in Germany have worked with towns like Mauenheim to promote local hybrid renewable energy projects, combining diverse technologies in their efforts along with the existing policy incentives of feed-in payments.
         The US has policy barriers to entrepreneurial co-operative development of renewable energy, as discussed by John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.  Nevertheless, a smattering of the substantial number of existing energy co-operatives have made token efforts.  Moreover, some valiant efforts at entrepreneurial co-operative renewable energy have taken root, such as the DC-area Maryland solar co-ops. 
       While the UNEP Year Book of 2009 amplifies the tragic ecological impacts of economic activity far beyond that of climate change emissions, these community-oriented business efforts join a range efforts as discussed in books like Conroy's Branded, including Fair Trade and organic foods.  While the co-operative model may not be familiar to many, ample examples can be found in the international co-operative organization ICA's Global 300 project at  While Herman Daly pioneered ecological economics following Georgescu-Roegen, the Mendonca et al model of market institutions and innovative democracy makes a fine combination of social and economic perspectives.  I also want to refer to Mark Lutz's anthology of social economics in his books, Jaroslav Vanek's participatory economy, David Ellerman's work on the labor theory of property, Anna Milford's fair trade co-operative economics, Paul Singer's solidarity economics, and Boaventura Santos on the World Social Forum, among many others.  William Greider's less formalized writing in The Soul of Capitalism is a trenchant discussion based on his diverse research of stakeholder activism, and includes strategic discussion of both Daly and Ellerman's work.   Herman Daly himself is not oblivious to social concerns, and his 1996 book contains his discussion of executive salary limits with reference to moral sources.