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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Friday, July 08, 2005

Report from Emilia Romagna

Ecodema reproduces an interesting report by Dan Swinney of the Center for Labor and Community Research, on the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy. In the 1940s, it was among the poorest areas in Italy. Here's a description of the region today, from Bob Williams of the Van City Capital Corporation in Vancouver:

There are 90,000 manufacturing enterprises in the region, surely one of the highest densities per capita in the world! Small, medium, enterprises (SME’s) predominate. One person in twelve is self-employed or owns a small business. In recent years the region has produced the highest GDP per capita in the country, and it now ranks with the ten best in Europe…2/3 of the citizens of Bologna belong to a co-op…45% of the GDP is produced by co-ops…(and) 85% of the social services in Bologna are delivered by co-ops…

Among the fascinating bits of information in Swinney's report:

Some of Emilia Romagna’s manufacturing companies that are world class high performance companies are cooperatives. Other private companies and cooperatives work together in flexible networks that combine a number of smaller firms into joint projects. And government has played a powerfully positive role in creating sector-based service centers that assist smaller companies in being competitive in the global economy;

Coop Italia is the top retailer surpassing giants like the French equivalent of Wal-Mart—Carrefour—in sales. It has 6 million owner/members, 55,000 employees, 1,200 stores, and €11 Billion in sales;....

The cooperatives have their own huge insurance company—Unipol, large investment funds such as Coop Fund to provide loan and equity to start-up companies, and very sophisticated support organizations such as Lega Coop that provide a full-range of technical, educational, and financial services to insure the success of cooperatives;

“Social Cooperatives” provide various services to the mentally and physically disabled—“privatizing” what historically were state services but to cooperatives that are frequently preferred by professionals because they permit creativity and the delivery of high quality services and work experience for the disabled....

That last item sounds like the idea of mutualizing social services that Larry Gambone talks about.

Swinney is also author of Building the Bridge to the High Road: Expanding Participation and Democracy in the Economy to Build Sustainable Communities.

6 Comments:

Blogger Larry Gambone said...

ECODEMA has some really fine postings and thiswas one of them. One minor point. Bob Williams was a former cabinet minister in the 1972-75 BC NDP government. At the time, I read that Mr. Williams was influenced by Henry George and that Georgist ideas may have been instrumental in the setting up of reserved "green areas" as a means of protecting the natural environment.

July 08, 2005 9:32 PM  
Blogger Jesse said...

Colin Ward has a nice discussion of Emilia Romagna in Welcome, Thinner City, if you can find a copy.

July 10, 2005 12:09 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Larry,

It's funny the way you can take just about any figure in the cooperativist or decentralist movements, and find "six degrees of separation" from Henry George.

Jesse,

Sounds worth checking out--I'll try ILL-ing it. Terry Burgess linked to some stuff on E.R. a while back on the LeftLibertarian list, didn't he?

July 10, 2005 7:28 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

And government has played a powerfully positive role in creating sector-based service centers that assist smaller companies in being competitive in the global economy

Ugh.

Coop Italia is the top retailer surpassing giants like the French equivalent of Wal-Mart—Carrefour—in sales. It has 6 million owner/members, 55,000 employees, 1,200 stores, and €11 Billion in sales;

At that size, it is impossible for Coop Italia to behave like a workplace democracy or a consensus cooperative. The business decisions must be turned over to specialists. As in most nations, the voting is probably irrelevant, with the serious decisions already taken out of the hands of the voters and put in the hands of the board. There are serious rational ignorance problems in voting groups large than a 1000 or so. In a voting group of 6m...

- Josh

July 13, 2005 2:50 PM  
Blogger alan said...

Josh wrote:"At that size, it is impossible for Coop Italia to behave like a workplace democracy or a consensus cooperative."

On the other hand I bet much of Co-op Italia's supply chain is indeed small enough to include such practices, and the high probability is that thousands of these small firms do so.

There is no reason a large retail concern like Co-op Italia can't be highly participatory in their local shops. If a capitalistic company like World Fooods can incorporate a high degree of participatory decision-making in their model, there certainly is little reason to suppose that Co-op Italia cannot...or even to suppose that it has not.



"There are 90,000 manufacturing enterprises in the region, surely one of the highest densities per capita in the world! Small, medium, enterprises (SME’s) predominate. One person in twelve is self-employed or owns a small business. In recent years the region has produced the highest GDP per capita in the country, and it now ranks with the ten best in Europe…2/3 of the citizens of Bologna belong to a co-op…45% of the GDP is produced by co-ops…(and) 85% of the social services in Bologna are delivered by co-ops"

July 21, 2005 7:50 AM  
Anonymous BillSeitz said...

You might want to check out Robert Putnam's work on the area:

review of Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy.

December 15, 2005 2:00 PM  

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