Economics As If People
Something to be Said About
You may not hear much about it, but
competition and cooperation can go very well together within the
framework of a democratic community-based environment. Furthermore,
democratic and humanitarian values and social justice are not only
ethical and moral imperatives, but make sound economic sense as well.
Those were the main messages of the
address of Stefano Zamagni, professor and dean of Cooperative Economic
Studies at the University of Bologna in Italy.
No, this wasn’t just another lecture on
theory or abstract possibilities by another Marxist intellectual.
Rather, it was a report on the successes and challenges of practical
socialistic economic enterprises by Zamagni as part of his tour of BC
earlier this month.
“Originally, competition in the economy
was only intended as way to develop innovations and incentives within a
community with everyone working toward a common, mutually beneficial
goal,” he said. “Now, since the 19th century rise of
capitalism and corporations, competition has become more like conflict,
where individuals and groups seek to destroy each other with one winner
The tour, called Economics as if
People Mattered, was sponsored by the VanCity Credit Union Capital
Corporation and the Canadian Cooperative Association. Zamagni focused
his practical examples on the Northern Italian region of Emilia
Romania, which has one of the highest percentages of cooperative and
employee-run businesses, self-employed owner-operators and small firms
in the world operating within a network of democratic community
The results have phenomenal, as the region
has the highest living standards and best working conditions, including
the highest wages, in all of Europe and has practically no unemployment.
“In Emilia Romania, we use the cooperative
model and non-profit organization to deliver services that were once
delivered by the state and produce goods that were once under the
control of large corporations,” he said. “We are getting this out of
the way for self-governing democratically run enterprises for production
and service delivery.”
Zamagni is not happy with how terms like
“competition” and “free markets” have been twisted over the years to
suit elite capitalistic agendas and undemocratic economic institutions.
He says the economic ideals of Adam Smith, much like those of Karl
Marx, have been slandered and misquoted to serve the advancement of
corporate capitalist agencies and governments of various kinds.
He says Adam Smith viewed competition as a
way of maintaining creativity and diversity within communities whose
underlying goal was the mutual survival of everyone involved, not as a
way for elite groups to accumulate wealth at the expense of others and
use it to coerce the rest of the community. “He objected to business
owners and entrepreneurs acting like governments, making policy to suit
themselves and impose it on everyone else.”
That is exactly what happens in the
capitalist economy of today, he said, with competition being little
more than a process of elimination with the goal of one elite group
holding a monopoly.
In fact, with the so-called “globalization” process occurring within
capitalist institutions that control our economy, Zamagni sees that the
very existence of community is being attacked.
“There is a social transformation being
attempted,” he said. “We are being pushed from a relationship of the
individual to the community (made up of other individuals) to a
relationship of the individual to the machine. We are being atomized as
a society to the point where each one of us is isolated and expected to
exist primarily to service the machine.”
Zamagni met with labour, small business,
cooperative, community economic development and ethical investment
activists on his seven-day tour to discuss how to expand democratic
community based economics in BC.