Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Institutions and cooperatives

Right after I completed my earlier post, A theory of institutions, I started thinking about cooperatives. Cooperatives don't really fit at all into the theory. I can try to shoehorn them in: they do deliberate and vote, but that isn't their primary motive: members of a cooperative aren't institutionally rewarded or punished for their voting in the same way that politicians are (or should be). They do creative work, i.e. they solve problems big and small, but, again, they aren't rewarded or punished for their creative work in the same sense that a team of engineers would be. (I was, for example, a creative worker in the Kerista commune, but the organization as a whole wasn't primarly involved with problem-solving.) And cooperatives are certainly not self-interested organizations such as capitalism: people are not vying with each other within the organization to maximize their short-term material self-interest.

There are two ways that seem to make sense to define "institution." One is simply any well-defined collection of individuals that reproduces itself, i.e. persists in time and space. The other, of course, is my definition in the earlier post, an organization that uses short-term, local incentives to achieve long-term global goals.

Cooperatives (ideally) just don't do the latter. Everyone in the cooperative acts (or should act) directly on the long-term, global goals. And they not only act directly on those goals, they act to set those goals, and even in setting those goals, they don't (or shouldn't) act just to push their own small goals on the big goals of the cooperative, but try to develop a mutual, cooperative sense of what the organization "should" be. In short, in a cooperative, people (should) actually cooperate, on every level. There's no dialectic between short-term and long-term, local and global. (There are always dialectical processes, of course, just not those particular dialectical processes.) Thus, in the sense of the previous post, cooperatives are just not institutions.

I think this conclusion helps us understand the interaction between capitalism, communism, and "socialism" (in the sense of the transition between capitalism and communism).

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