Our Place in the Sun
March 2012
At last, cooperatives have become a topical subject! The time was finally right for us to have our own International Year of Cooperatives. Maybe a little cooperative education will bring back common sense? Every single day the media reports on the distressing consequences of unbridled capitalism, an unstable and chaotic economic system. There are crises, bankruptcies, and layoffs all around, and if we dare look beyond our borders, famines and insurgencies. It’s all gone to heck! And yet, there are people who, with pockets full of cash, continue to rise to the highest echelons of personal wealth ever imagined. For example, Forbes ranked the top 10 richest people in the world whose fortunes total some 400 billion dollars. These magnates each have on average 40 billion dollars. I can barely conceive of such personal wealth. Absurdity has no limits!

This economic climate, characterized by a huge gap in equality, is unquestionably unhealthy! It only serves to feed a series of powder kegs that may, sooner or later, explode. If there is one aspect of life that motivates us into activism, it is to bear witness to injustices. In fact, behavioural economics’ researchers referred to this data as “IA”, which stands for inequity aversion. They realized that this aversion was so intense that many people, even those not targeted by injustice - or people who benefitted from a said injustice - are ready to take a stand to restore equality. In essence this could be referred to as a form of instinctive social solidarity.

Therefore we can agree: were it only to ensure better risk management, the cooperative model should be proposed more often. Cooperation is a model that stays away from excess and doesn’t allow wealth to be amassed and concentrated in the hands of a small minority, but neither is it distributed equally with complete disregard for personal motivation. The cooperative model exists in the middle ground. It proposes a balance: It rewards merit, attributing dividends according to usage, but it also acknowledges that each person has his or her say, as demonstrated by its democratic operations. Such social considerations, set forth by the cooperative enterprise, can undoubtedly explain its greater stability and continuity. 

Don’t get me wrong: Cooperation creates wealth. And lots of it. In fact, cooperatives in Quebec employ some 92,000 people and generate sales over $25.6 billion. Furthermore, on the international front, cooperatives provide 20% more jobs than all multinationals combined! However, the difference between a public company and a cooperative is that the latter redistributes its wealth among those who contributed to its creation. And to top it all off, not only does a cooperative create financial wealth, it also creates social richness.

The cooperative economy is based on solidarity and collaboration. The cooperative discourse, once coloured by Christian morality -“Be good to each other” - is now supported by research on economic and social sciences. The number of researchers currently interested in cooperation and social preferences realized that, ultimately … the parish priest was right! Cooperation, solidarity and concern for others are all part of our deepest aspirations as men and women, where research and realization motivate us to action and lead us to happiness.  

Long live the International Year of Cooperatives! Our numbers are growing across this small planet; we may as well make sure we all find our place in the sun. Otherwise, the future could very well be a reflection of this tempestuous economic climate: unstable and chaotic.

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
and Board Secretary Assistant
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: 514 850-2567


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