David Leonhardt (“It’s 2022. What Does Life Look Like?”) paints a compelling picture of what our economic future may look like and the key role that policymakers must play if we are to take on the generational challenges of economic instability, climate change and racial justice. As we look for solutions, the cooperative business model represents a proven strategy that has helped stabilize our economy, gone to scale and now serves more than on-third of the people in the U.S. who are members of their local co-op.
Cooperatives have been part of the fabric of our nation since its beginnings but are most visible at times of economic turmoil when they are recognized as a tool for economic development, stability and participation. Co-ops are democratically-controlled businesses owned not by outside investors but by the people who use the businesses. People join co-ops to meet their needs for products, services, or employment and are rooted in the communities they serve. Because their focus is on the long-term needs of their members rather than short-term profits, cooperatives are more resilient in times of change, sustaining good jobs, supporting businesses and farmers, and ensuring access to financial services.
Leonardt concludes by pointing out that in less than 15 years, our nation has suffered two of the largest economic crises, largely catching policy makers off guard and without a clear vision for a better future. In contrast, as part of the effort to rebuild in the wake of the Great Depression legislators provided a policy framework for the growth of cooperative enterprise as one solution. Today, more than 120 million people are members of credit unions, more than half of all farmers are members of farmer co-ops, and nearly 50 million people are members of rural electric cooperatives. While the scale of this business model is impressive, even more so is its flexibility, enabling people from all walks of life to work together to meet their needs, strengthen their communities, and drive innovation.
As our nation looks to recover from COVID-19 and address systemic racism and economic inequality, policymakers should again look to cooperatives as a central strategy for rebuilding an economy that is more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient.
Doug O’Brien, President and CEO
Erbin Crowell, Chair
National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International