by Julius Jones, Co-Director of Worcester Roots
If success in the old economy is the key to access the New Economy, we will fail.
Success in the old economy as a requirement for access to the New Economy is flawed logic, unsustainable and, oppressive, and poses a practical threat to the entire Solidarity Economy Movement. It will manifest as a New Economy that failed to scale in the worst case, and at best be white supremacist, if left unchecked. We must act now in the early parts of this century for our mutual escape from the shadow of the old, lest it heap shade on and taint our New Economy.
Corporations, family businesses, old economy models and, cooperatives, all have a group of people’s interests at their core. Be they shareholders, family members, investors or even the smallest group of an individual, old economy models have a small group of people at the apex, reflected in the 1% concentration of wealth the world over. Cooperatives, by bucking the traditional apex flow of out and up, place a larger group at the center, and since many are place-based, the flow often goes back into the community. Still, both have a group of people at the core of their interests, but co-ops won’t usually burn down the world profits, like some companies old economy institutions are doing. The old and New Economy share at least one other characteristic too: their pathways to the “inside” – their access points for participation in ownership, are based on explicit and implicit criteria.
Access to business in the old economy is based on a certain criteria, an exclusive criteria. To save space, not give too much voice to the problem and, not trigger anyone, I offer a summary: The old economy is run by white cis-men, from companies to government officials, and their conspicuous over-representation is not coincidence. Racism is real, among a long list of -isms. Exclusive access is expressed best through access to capital, which explicitly requires personal wealth, and/or friend/family wealth and implicitly cuts out the low-income population. Favored access is granted to a certain small band on the spectrum of identity while there is a general ban to access for those who live in Blackness on that same spectrum. Taken together, these identity norms implicitly create a caste system for some, and limited mobility for most who live outside that favored zone.
Low-income people of color are largely blocked from access to capital, for these and many reasons more in the old economy and, sadly, cooperatives are repeating the process as we move into the New Economy by often having a criteria of upfront buy-in that is exclusive. In this same way, when cooperatives require upfront buy-in and investment of cash, collateral and, pre-earned resources as the only means of access, they are engaging in criteria that requires success in the old economy, which is proven to be based on identity, mostly race. IN ADDITION, IF WE ARE USING COOPERATIVES TO ADDRESS MARGINALITY IN THE OLD ECONOMY THEN HOW DO WE EXPECT THEM TO HAVE HAD SUCCESS IN THE OLD ECONOMY IN ORDER TO PARTICIPATE IN THE NEW?
For cooperatives to succeed, their access points must go beyond upfront monetary buy-in. Success in the old economy should not be a requirement for access to the new economy. A criteria based on upfront buy-in and/or success in the old economy is exclusive, and unsustainable. By disallowing people who come from low-income family histories and/or poverty, a cooperative limits it’s capacity for success in the long-term, by inviting into its solidarity-based new economic engagement, the fissures from the broken economic model we have today.
In diverse communities, such as urban environments, white nepotism doesn’t serve the cooperative. The new economy cannot succeed without people of color and, all practices that exclude us should cease. The cooperative movement needs to diversify for survival. Cooperatives that do not value inclusivity in both practice and theory are in danger of succumbing to the same problems of the old economy, and extend, rather than eliminate the plagues therein, to the movements eventual demise or, its white supremacist horizons. The changing demographics of the US means that the majority of the country will no longer be white people, and it’s due to change during this century. In your meetings, do not allow fear, ignorance, feigned practicality and, all other blocking concerns to dominate. They are not reason enough to rationalize exclusive membership that directly or indirectly keeps low-income people of color out of a cooperative. Try harder to overcome your resistance, and exert the energy necessary to get people of color into the movement. We all have to exert more energy to get marginalized families into the movement then was spent to keep them marginalized in the current economy in the first place.
This is not to say that having wealth isn’t essential to the success of a coop, for surely it is, but to explicitly or implicitly disallow all other kinds of assets sourced from culture, experience and identity is to exclude that which makes a company rich, adaptable, and current, which is diversity. Said another way: diversity in a cooperative is a synonym to diversified, implying an inherent resiliency to regular shocks in the economic system and, perhaps more relevantly, the coming shocks to the cultural system.
While the demographics of the United States are shifting, it is of greater importance to think long-term and big picture in terms of race and identity as they relate to your cooperative. For example, as the Spanish speaking population increases, your cooperative will be unprepared and playing catch up by it’s lack of native speakers, as well as at a marketing disadvantage by lacking someone of similar cultural identity who can inform your poorly google-translated advertisements, or company practices. In another example, Black buying power is 1.1 trillion dollars for 2015, and rising, yet advertisers and, companies are missing the mark by underestimating that buying power. Cooperatives who exclude based on current buy-in capabilities do so at the cost of lost access to these dollars because each member has access to a network of family and friends who would rather shop where they know the owner.
The mutual benefit of higher standards of making a living and working equitably far outweigh the short-term benefits of only doing business co-ownership with those who currently have capital to buy in. It is unnecessarily limiting to solely allow access with upfront buy-in. The cooperative venture that practices this is ideologically, and financially rooted in the old economy mindset because the criteria of access is success in the same old economy we seek to amend, a success which is largely based on race.
The old economy is run by white cis-men, from companies to government officials and, the New Economy cannot win by expanding the numbers of this narrow group. For cooperatives, our success lies in aggressively seeking to call into our ranks the very same marginalized groups that were aggressively kept out of the old economy, both as a practice for sustainability, and a hastening of the New Economy to scale. Our goal isn’t to move the needled ratio of wealth from 99:1 to something more palatable to our moral sense. Our goal is to offer what we all deserve, the freedom to have our needs met, the freedom to be exactly who we are meant to be, regardless and because of how we are born.