I’ve had a book in me for most of a decade, and it’s time to get back to work on it. After my previous book laid out a Christian case for cooperative economics, it’s time to broaden the field and look more generally at a fundamental question: How do we work with those who share our values and work around those who don’t? I believe that we must answer this question if we are to continue with a reasonably civilized and democratic form of society.
Indeed, I think that everyone should at least consider the cooperative model as we face some very serious problems caused by the capitalist model. We should also reflect upon ways that we might move beyond using government to impose a one-size-fits-all morality upon a population that is not in agreement with such morality. Finally, we should look to cooperative development as a way to move beyond charity and spark economic development that is both driven by and accountable to the people whom it is supposed to benefit.
It is clear that capitalist business cannot regulate itself, and also that regulation interferes with the efficiency and success of business. A third way is needed that combines the best of the public and private sectors, and this is the essence of co-ops. In a sense, we should seek to democratically privatize some current functions of government while we voluntarily socialize some businesses. There are many thousands of examples of how cooperatives have already done this, and I will provide a selection of highlights—historical and current, domestic and international—to show the tremendous array of models that we may apply to our various situations.
These cooperative models are valuable enough by themselves, but their real potential comes as they flow together into larger and more complex arrangements. Government should be freed up to devote itself to tasks for which there is either general agreement or minimal passion. In cases where there is intense and principled disagreement—how to define a marriage, for example—government should step aside and focus on relatively simple and less-charged tasks in which a single solution is inherently necessary—such as transportation infrastructure or environmental policy.
This is not to say that these simpler topics will be effortless. Indeed we will be unlikely to reach satisfactory conclusions with these topics unless give them serious focus, and we are unlikely to do this unless we let go of areas in which general agreement is impossible and either solution will be regarded as a severe oppression by a significant minority of people. These are cases in which majority rule is tyranny of the majority, and so we must find ways to develop parallel systems through which people may build with those who share our values, rather than waste our energy trying to tear down those who do not.
There are already several complex models through which cooperative economies are being built. They have taken on more and more of the functions typically left to government, without ever forcing the support of anyone who does not buy in to the basic premise. We can already see a new order forming in Italy, the Basque country of Spain, arctic Canada, and elsewhere. It remains to be seen how far these models can go, but considering the growing crises faced by governments, we should be inspired to seriously investigate the frontiers of this approach. They might not solve all our problems, but they can certainly help to solve some of them and thereby free up government to address other issues that can only be addressed by government.
If we fail to remove hot-button issues from the public agenda, we are likely to see more government paralysis and continued social division. We might very well poison the atmosphere in Washington DC, our statehouses and city halls, so that we are unable to move forward and build upon what agreement does exist. Indeed, this poisoning is well underway.
I would like to close with a comment about the working title. Some people rightfully object to the use of “America” to describe the United States of America. In fact, the name America can also apply to all the nations of this hemisphere, and their exclusion from this named entity is linked to continued exclusion from the economic benefits enjoyed in the United States. If my work contributes to the creation of a US economy that is internally more just but does not address the serious international injustices on which our prosperity is built, I will only be partly content. The real challenge will be to provide a model through which the world’s wealthy (including people like myself who are poor by national standards) can voluntarily contribute to a just redistribution of wealth. In this way, we can not only share America with others in the United States, but more generally share the promise of a new and better life that (although largely mythical) makes America such a powerful name throughout the world.
I originally started writing this book several years ago, but much has changed since then. Not only have our economic situation and social division grown more serious, but I have also learned quite a bit. Over the next few months, I will be dusting off my old writing and updating it for the current situation. I will essentially be producing a rough draft of Sharing America as a serial, because I believe that it is a work that needs to be released immediately in order to spark discussion of productive solutions to the world’s snowballing economic and social crises.