There is a saying sometimes ascribed to the philosopher Plato, that "Necessity is the Mother of Invention." Through time and changing culture, the phrase is still applicable today.
As a result of the 2008 financial crisis and resulting recession, there has been resurgence in the development of employee-owned businesses and cooperatives. "YES!" magazine devoted its entire spring issue to cooperatives and how they are transforming communities in the US and abroad.
In an Organic Trade Association press release announcing its 2011 Organic Industry Survey, it was reported, "even as the economic recovery crawls forward, the organic industry is thriving – and hiring.
"The organic industry grew at a rate of nearly eight percent in 2010, bucking the current trend whereby 'flat is the new growth' for many other segments of the economy. Further, some sectors of the organic market enjoyed annual growth of well over 30 percent, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) revealed today in releasing findings from its 2011 Organic Industry Survey. In 2010, the organic industry grew to over $28.6 billion."
Consumers are willing to pay a little more for fresh local organic food, not only for taste, but also for the long-term benefits of physical and economic health. This shift to sustainable farming practices produces soils that are more able to withstand drought and flood. With the increase in climate uncertainty, this shift could mean the difference in maintaining America's agricultural productivity.
In his famous "New Nationalism" speech of 1910, Theodore Roosevelt talked about the dangers of excessively concentrated wealth inherent in corporate capitalism. The cooperative model of economics spreads wealth and power among those who produce goods and services. According to the multiple examples cited in Yes! Magazine, employee-owned and cooperative companies are more resilient in the face of economic downturn. Free of short-term pressures from market traders and CEO salary inflation, cooperatives and employee-owned companies can allocate more of their income for long-term business development, expansion, employee benefits and rainy day funds, or to lowering prices to stay competitive.
An economy in which people can make a living wage and inequality is falling also is more politically stable.
We face uncertain times. Congress is frozen in a political stalemate. Our State Government has been painted into a corner by initiatives and mandates. The breadbasket of our nation is dominated by fossil fuel-dependent agribusiness that is not prepared for climate uncertainty.
Entrepreneurs supported by cooperatives, credit unions and employees-turned-business owners are building a more sustainable economy. Will corporations disappear? Not likely,..but they need not be the center of power. This change is all happening from the ground up, from the mother of invention: necessity.
Note: This is my last blog posting for the Shoreline Green Business Program. A new Chair will be appointed to take over. For an arcive of articles go to the Shoreline Green Business Program website blog page.