Can co-operatives crowd out capitalism?
Co-ops – democratic, community-focused – offer an egalitarian way out of our current mess.
By Wayne Ellwood
SolidarityEconomy.net via The New Internationalist
In the eyes of the mainstream media and the high priests of the free market, Argentina just doesn’t get it.
This past May, the country was savaged by the international business press for nationalizing the Spanish-owned oil company, YPF. Scarcely mentioned was the fact that Argentina’s oil and gas industry was only ‘privatized’ in the late-1990s under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other hardline enforcers of then fashionable neoliberal economic policies. Like many countries around the world, Argentina’s oil industry used to be state-owned.
Back in 2001, the knives were out again. After years of enforced austerity and ‘structural adjustment’ the resource-rich South American country was awash in debt, crippling inflation, staggering unemployment and negative economic growth. (Notice any parallels with present day Greece and Spain?)
The IMF’s prescription for setting the economy right – ‘flexible’ labour conditions, deregulation, loosening of capital controls, privatization of state-owned assets, devaluation of the national currency – only made things worse.
With inflation raging and tens of thousands of workers on the streets, the government finally called it quits, defaulting on its debt and devaluing its currency. Predictably, the kingpins of global finance went ballistic, warning that Argentina would sink into penury and chaos.
It didn’t happen. Over the next decade the country’s GDP grew by nearly 90 per cent, the fastest in Latin America. Poverty fell and employment rose steadily while government spending on social services slowly increased.
Many factors contributed to this astounding turnaround, including the determination of Argentineans to strike an independent economic course not reliant on the whims of foreign capital.
But a significant part of its success is rooted in Argentina’s rich history of co-operatives. Waves of Jewish and Italian immigrants brought the co-operative vision with them during the early 20th century. Co-ops were well established, especially in agriculture, prior to the financial and political meltdown in 2001. According to the International Co-operative Association (ICA), nearly a quarter of the South American country’s 40 million people are linked directly or indirectly to co-operatives and mutual societies.(more...)