In this week’s issue of the Principle 6 Newsletter, republished below, Mike Mercer unpacks what he calls the “cooperative dilemma.” Credit unions and other co-ops encourage self-help, self-responsibility and individual well-bing; but they also advance democracy, inclusiveness, fairness and solidarity within the group.
“The challenge of embracing individual liberty as a fundamental right (or reality) while assembling principles, practices and structures designed for the common good can be difficult to balance,” Mercer writes.
Read the full issue of Principle 6 Newsletter below to find out. And while you’re thinking about “cooperation among cooperatives,” take a moment to consider how you and your cooperative practice this principle. NCBA CLUSA is on a mission to document Principle 6 collaborations across the country so we can identify trends, document best practices and share this knowledge with you—our fellow cooperators!
Principle 6 Newsletter – What is the Long Game?
Issue 19 – April 7, 2021
“As Americans, we are united in the belief that all people have certain inalienable rights. Chief among these are, as President Thomas Jefferson penned, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At the same time, American values are also deeply rooted in a strong sense of community. This sentiment is reflected in our national motto: “E Pluribus Unum,” which means “out of many, one.” – Balancing Individual Rights & The Common Good, A. Orlowski, Daily News, 2-23-17
“The self-seeking tendencies in human nature have been magnified by the American glorification of the individual and neglect of community.” – – For All the People, John Curl, 2009
“Nobody wants to put aside their differences and work towards a common good because everyone thinks that their best interest is the common good. Nobody cares about the common good anymore if it even inches close to their individual freedoms.” – The Common Good vs. Individual Liberties, J. C. Abaraoha, Odyssey, 2-1-16
“Cooperatives are businesses owned and run by and for their members. But in Italy one hears executives and boards also insisting that their co-ops are not for their members—they’re for future generations.” – Everything for Everyone, Nathan Schneider, 2018
The cooperative dilemma. Encourage self-help, self-responsibility and “getting ahead” for the individual. Orchestrate democracy, inclusiveness, fairness and solidarity within the group. In Italy, apparently, the group includes yet unborn members. The challenge of embracing individual liberty as a fundamental right (or reality) while assembling principles, practices and structures designed for the common good can be difficult to balance. Credit unions, of course, understand the need to balance.
There is no such dilemma when new cooperatives are formed. There is almost always a clear and present need that requires a solution. Organizers explain how coming together in a cooperative structure can enable people (or small businesses) to better solve for that need. Workers need jobs with living wages. Worker-owned co-ops are a solution, especially when the aging owner decides to sell her company. People need an affordable and comfortable place to live. Housing co-ops are a solution. It’s the same with a fresh food grocery co-op or a childcare co-op where better solutions don’t exist. There is no philosophic struggle around individual liberty and common good. The prevailing thought is likely that common effort enables a tad more individual liberty. Get back to work!
For co-ops that have been around for generations and whose products/services have been emulated or commoditized, that’s when the intellectual dilemma sets in. Especially when the “group” isn’t just one homogeneous group any longer. In the typical credit union membership, there are many definable subgroups. The members of a large purchasing co-op are no longer just small churches or family businesses with a panel truck. The electric co-ops still have the rural residential line connections, but they now provide power to big server farms and other large users. Many of these “been around awhile” co-ops cut their teeth during the industrial economy and are now trying to adapt to the digital information society. Consumers (which include small businesses) now have options that they can find in seconds with the help of Google and other web crawlers.
Credit unions are built upon a cooperative (ie: common good) skeleton in an increasingly individual freedom economy.
So, credit unions are built upon a cooperative (ie: common good) skeleton in an increasingly individual freedom economy. It’s the same for many other co-ops that are well beyond the start-up phase. And it’s not just that individuals are “free” to express individual choice. Credit unions are increasingly teaching them how to help themselves build personal net worth through financial education and armchair counseling. Except for the know-how, members don’t tactically “need” credit unions as much now. This individual liberty thing may be a virtuous evolution, but it leads to a lot more anxiety for those trying to get the bills paid at the institution. No wonder deceptive, emotion-molding advertising is so popular among the for-profit providers.
Hold the course, you aging co-ops…
The pursuit of common good in the clothing of the cooperative business model matters. The reason for the cooperative structure and culture is to enable members to advance their individual well-being.
The pursuit of common good in the clothing of the cooperative business model matters. The reason for the cooperative structure and culture is to enable members to advance their individual well-being. For credit unions, the democratic foundation is causal to a legitimate concern for each member achieving financial progress in their individual lives. Members are not all the same, not starting from the same place. But all of them can benefit by moving forward from where they are—getting ahead. The pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. The common good for an established co-op is empowerment for those being served, to help them become successful individuals. Less about the last couple of basis points, more about the advice or incentive that leads to full percentage point gains for the members. Stay the course with self-help and self-responsibility; don’t try to build dependency. Earn voluntary membership and engagement. Teach solidarity.
The common good for an established co-op is empowerment for those being served, to help them become successful individuals.
No wonder the for-profit actors want co-ops (credit unions) to disappear. Even old co-ops are purpose driven, in stark contrast to the shallow pretense of so-called stakeholder capitalism. Strategically, for consumers, empowerment for those of us being served trumps enrichment for those in control of capital.