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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Economics As If People Mattered

    Something to be Said About Socialistic Competition

    Marco Procaccini

    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 taking everything.”

    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 organizations.

    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.

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