Cooperatively owned and democratically governed organizations are widely regarded among progressives as a powerful lever for transforming both the world of work and the wider economy. However despite their emancipatory potential, and the fact that they have existed for many years, these organizational forms have yet to fully take root at scale. One classic explanation as to why can be found in the orthodox economics literature: cooperatives are simply not effective enough to survive in the competitive, capitalist economy. If the cooperative movement is to advance, it will be important to seriously interrogate the problems posited by mainstream economics, and how cooperatives may overcome them.
Our initial whitepaper provides a rigorous, academic foundation for those interested in this work. The paper explains what cooperatives are, gives a wide range of normative and practical arguments for their transformative potential, and outlines in detail the problems orthodox economics posits them to face. It finishes by drawing on the work of the late Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom to argue both that these problems should be taken seriously. and that an in-depth program of case study-research must form the backbone of any posited solutions. As well as providing a useful introduction to the key topics and debates the paper is intended to act as a call for action, and we hope it will underpin further collaborative research in the future to follow through on its conclusions.