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Author Archives: Keith Taylor

About Keith Taylor

I have two simple missions in life. 1. To demonstrate that living in the "world of the possible" means to dream big and make big change. 2. To change the world through building self governing capabilities of individuals, communities, and relevant institutions.

Poor Choice Of Words? The Mismatch Between Growth Goals And Co-operative Values

I have had the pleasure in recent months to attend a few conference on the social economy and co-operatives.  At both conference, I have heard advocates of social responsibility and economic justice express a disdain for what they perceive to be the growth motive behind many co-operatives executives and board directors.

I actually think that many co-operators espousing a growth motive are accidentally using the dominant corporate business grammar; it’s the only way we know how to communicate our goals to the broadest swath of the general public.  In other words, growth to many socially conscious co-operators is not so much about conspicuous consumption or runaway corporate capitalism as it is about market share.

I believe that market share is the intended end-goal, and that growth is a means to that end.  Co-operatives seek to democratize and diffuse power centers, doing this through the erosion of the corporate enclosure movement (sponsored by such state initiatives like Reinventing Government or the Ownership Society).

My Workshop colleagues, Charis Heisey and Ryan Conway, are fond of calling this process “commoning.”  Commoning is a…

“…verb to describe the social practices used by commoners in the course of managing shared resources and reclaiming the commons.”

Think about it.  Corporate-state partnerships are fond of taking common property and public services, and putting them under private governance structures.  A select few get to govern over critical resources, enhancing their power over the rest of us via dependency-building mechanisms.

Yet co-operatives seek to either sustain public resources, or move otherwise private resources and services into the arena of public or commons governance.

We should not be frightened of the idea of growth.  But growth is not a co-operative end.  Growth is merely a means to gain greater market share and move private goods under public governance.

My preferred phrasing?

We are democratizing the economy.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 
Link

When the media isn’t there, you can count on Exxon.

I am utterly amazed that with as much attention is paid to the potential Keystone XL pipeline, that there was virtually no major media outlet reporting on this.  Instead, Exxon pretty much outed itself. 

Insanity.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Addressing the “it’s not really a co-op” problem

A question pops up all too often in the world of co-ops: when is a co-op not really a co-op?  This is a long-running, nagging question that reared its ugly ahead again the other night.

Friday I ventured to the local specialty foods store.  The cashier noticed my CO+OP Stronger Together branded jacket and asked if I worked for the local food co-op.  “Nope, I am a researcher studying the co-op model’s impact on development.  Why do you ask?”  His response took me back: “co-ops aren’t really good for the community, y’know.  The food co-op caters to a small niche of white, upper-middle class consumers and drives out the competition.”  Before I could respond, a line formed behind me.  So now you, the reader, will be at the receiving end of my deconstruction of a local stranger’s takedown of the co-operative model.

Why would a cashier working at a specialty foods store make an effort to rail against the local food co-op when this community is littered with Wal-Marts, Kroger’s, Target, Starbucks, and McDonalds?  What the Hell is a co-op?  What’s its purpose?  Does a co-op have a responsibility to build the community it’s positioned in, and is it doing that?  If the food co-op is doing that, then where does this focused angst arise from?

More than any other type of co-op, food co-ops are on the frontline of the movement.  Food co-ops promise food with integrity, quality jobs, local economic investment, and participatory democratic ownership.  These features in action would to me seem to provide more community impact than any of the other box stores.  Yet why is it that I seem to find more critics of food co-ops than of Target?

My hunch?  Co-ops are held to a much higher standard.

The box stores promote a downward spiral, singing a “siren’s song” of low-priced consumerism.  Workers are treated poorly, sweatshop jobs are proliferated, and the environment is destroyed.  Just head out to any of your suburban strip malls on a Saturday afternoon and you can feel the misery ooze through your car’s windows as you look at the telltale CheeseCake Factory, Apple Store, and Chipotle.  

This is to be expected, though.  We all accept this nasty reality.  But I think those of us with a fondness for co-ops aspire for so much more.  We reject the notion that the economy is without social values, that store “associates” are to be treated as the property of the job creators.  We want a new, humanized economy, and we want it now!

But “now” ain’t gonna happen.  This isn’t an economy-question so much as a democracy-question.  We have to change things, and collective, democratic action has never been easy.  We live in a top-down world.  A purpose of the co-op movement is to pull the hierarchy downward so that it’s flatter, more horizontal, and accessible to the everyday person.  But that purpose in embedded in a world that teaches us that solutions can only come from the top of the pyramid.  Citizens are supposed to be voters or consumers, not do-ers or public entrepreneurs.   

Our capacity for democracy is sadly diminished.  Unfortunately citizens don’t really know how to “do” democratic governance or public entrepreneurship.  But when an institution like a food co-op takes center stage and implies they are creating new venues for participatory democracy, they are left wide open for criticism.  

Why?  Because people are hungry for change.  They want it now.  But they have also been taught that it is up to someone else to hurry it along and do it for them.  It follows that if a co-op exists, and the world is still full of centralized corporatism and bureaucracy teeming with alienation, then to many the co-op has failed.

We need time.  It takes tireless energy and the efforts of many who previously never “did” democracy.  Co-ops must drive this point home.

And yet I don’t think we can be dismissive of this criticism that our local co-op “isn’t acting like a co-op.”

Co-ops are great at extolling the value-added to their goods and services (electric co-ops provide competitively priced, reliable energy, and food co-ops give us amazing, fresh, local foods).  But they have yet to really hammer home what it means to be a co-op!  

Co-ops must promote themselves as co-ops involved in the great experiment of citizen democracy, not merely as a great provider of a competitively priced good or service.  They must drive home the proposition that they exist to democratize (or humanize) the economy through the infusion of values into their business model.  And the marketing isn’t enough; co-ops have to back up their claims of empowerment with substantive action.  Co-ops must provide venues for direct democracy by their member-owners.  Member-owners, the citizenry of the co-ops, must feel as if a hand is extended to them, inviting them to participate in meaningful democratic discourse, lest they feel they are being taken for fools (and as Elinor Ostrom was fond of saying, “no one likes to be a sucker!”).  In other words, citizens must feel as though they have a stake, they must be engaged, they must be listened too, and they have the opportunity to act upon their voice.

I take the criticism as a constructive challenge.  Should the participatory democratic features of our co-ops become more pronounced and obvious, I believe that the criticism of co-ops not acting like co-ops will diminish (and more importantly level a challenge of legitimacy at corporations and corrupt governments).  We are in a sense striving to make people feel as if they belong to something, that they need not feel alienated, and the co-op is the model best suited to do so.  We are attempting to move beyond a system that fosters passivity and artificial structural dependence, to one of individual empowerment through collective action.

Our mission is to prove the critics wrong!  But we don’t do so through a critical, pointed finger; we do so through an extended hand, an open mind, and a caring heart.  That is a social vision worth the wait.  That is a co-op.

 

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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After Bain Capital Buyout and Closure, Wyoming Town Got Organized [part two]

[Guest blog post by Andrew McLeod, co-op developer and author of Holy Cooperation!  He usually blogs at http://www.coopgeek.wordpress.com

Ironically, the organizing modeled by Powell is not much different than the efforts of the early Mormons of mid-19th Century Utah, who faced hostile outsiders who marked up prices when the Mormons came in to trade. So the Latter-day Saints founded the Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution along generally cooperative lines. Community members were encouraged to buy stock in their local mercantile store, which brought local merchants together under one roof and provided a wide array of goods in what was known as “America’s first department store.”

Before long, there were around 150 stores organized more-or-less cooperatively, although it should be noted that sometimes wealthy members and the church had disproportionate control. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

After Bain Capital Buyout and Closure, Wyoming Town Got Organized [part one]

[Guest blog post by Andrew McLeod, co-op developer and author of Holy Cooperation!  He usually blogs at http://www.coopgeek.wordpress.com

Vanity Fair recently published an article about Mitt Romney’s wealth. Like many recent articles and ads, it viewed the activities of Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital LLC through a political lens.

Buried in the piece was a list of “formerly healthy” companies that Bain bought and bankrupted. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Democracy Ain’t Easy [But It's Necessary]

Democracy isn’t something that just happens.  Democray’s like fitness; the more you target your workouts to specific weaknesses, the stronger it’ll get.

Previously I noted the problem with relying on just the government or just corporations to meet our individual and community needs.  Infusing democracy into our ever day lives may be a powerful antidote to the malaise of the last two decades.

Cooperatives should be the leaders of democratic governance.

Did you know that we are actually seeing a shrink in the number of democratic institutions?   Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Empowering Individuals for Collective Action (or How Neither Obama Nor Romney Will Be Your Savior)

Hear that nails-on-the-chalkboard sound?  The sound coming out of the mouths of overpaid, self-important, egotistical blowhards in designer suits, blowhards doing their damnedest to come off as if they authentically “understand your pain” while jockeying their bosses into a plum political position for a life, where they will all share in the spoils of privilege.  And why do the sounds coming from their mouths elicit those nails-on-a-chalkboard goose-bump reaction?

Because you know you’re being lied to.  Again.  And you know these yappin’ heads on FoxNews are doing their best to sound like one-of-the-people while getting us to turn our aggression on each other.

Ahhhh, it must be another election year.  And it must be yet another distraction from the real issues impacting our lives.

How often do you hear “man, our choices suck.  AGAIN!”  Year after year, we seem to put more and more of our civic energy toward choose the lesser of two evils for president, governor, senate, congress…

A recent piece on RawStory got me thinking… Why do we keep asking “where is the promising new leader?  How do we get new leadership?” Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Doing Critical Education in Co-ops

I argue the core purposeful design of the Rochdale cooperative model is to instigate social-economic change through deep democracy.  Go.coop lists the core principles simply as

  • Voluntary and open membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training and information
  • Cooperation among cooperatives
  • Concern for community

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Anti-credit union bias in Vermont?

By Don Kreis, Guest Blogger & Assistant Professor of Law and Associate Director, Institue for Energy and the Environment, & Board Member of the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society

The question of whether the Vermont State Employees’ Credit Union (VSEC) – and, by extension, all of Vermont’s state-chartered credit unions – may publicly describe what they do as “banking,” turns on many things.  But one thing it should not turn on is the personal opinion of the state’s Commissioner of Financial Regulation that the Vermont Legislature lets credit unions avoid a tax that he believes they ought to pay. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Cabot Cheese: From Vermont to Delaware . . . and back again

[Guest Post by Donald M. Kreis]

Here in Vermont, we like to take on the big philosophical questions.  Like:  What’s a cooperative?  Or, for that matter, what exactly is “Vermont?”

Regarding the latter existential inquiry, we know what “Vermont” means when used as a noun.  We’re not so sure what “Vermont” means when used as an adjective – as in Cabot “Vermont” cheddar cheese.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 
 
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