Economic Resilience and Generative Ownership

In a recent article, Marjorie Kelly discusses the potential contribution to economic resilience of what she calls “generative ownership” designs, basing parts of her argument on social-ecological resilience theory (particularly the “self-organizing” aspects of adaptability). She provides the following four broad categories as a preliminary outline:

b kelly

Lest we think this is merely a niche or utopian idea, Kelly points out:

If there are more kinds of generative ownership design than many people realize, then the scale of activity is also larger than we might suppose, particularly among cooperatives. In the U.S., more than 130 million Americans are members of a co-op or credit union. More Americans hold memberships in co-ops than hold stock in the stock market. Worldwide, cooperatives have close to a billion members. They employ more people than all multinational corporations combined. Among the 300 largest cooperative and mutually owned companies worldwide, total revenues amount to nearly $2 trillion. If these enterprises were a single nation, it would rank ninth on the list of the world’s largest economies.

She notes some of the anecdotal evidence (citations available in the published article) that suggests the importance of further investigation from a resilience perspective:

While more systematic research remains to be done, there is anecdotal evidence that these models are less likely than Wall Street-owned firms to engage in destructive behaviors, are more likely to create broad benefits, and are more likely to remain resilient in crisis. This can be seen, for example, in the success of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota, which because of its success in the 2008 crisis, has inspired activists in more than a dozen states to pursue similar models. It can be seen in the resilience and responsible behavior of credit unions, which generally did not create toxic mortgages, and needed few bailouts. It can be seen in the fact that workers at employee-owned firms on average amass more in retirement assets than workers at traditionally owned firms. And it can be seen in the fact that in recent times the Basque region of Spain, home to the massive Mondragón cooperative, has seen substantially lower unemployment than the country as a whole. These relatively beneficial outcomes seem to correlate with the  fundamental structure, the ownership design, of enterprise. As systems thinker Donella Meadows observed, system structure is the source of system  behavior.

Kelly’s article appears in the most recent issue of the journal The Good Society as part of a symposium on Alternatives to Capitalism.” The full set of articles is listed below and can be found (temporarily unlocked) here.

  • The Possibility of a Pluralist Commonwealth and a Community-Sustaining Economy / Gar Alperovitz and Steve Dubb
  • Challenging Corporate Domination: The Public Ownership Approach / Thomas M. Hanna
  • Returns to Capital: Austerity and the Crisis of European Social Democracy / Joe Guinan
  • The Architecture of Enterprise: Redesigning Ownership for a Great Transition / Marjorie Kelly
  • Constitutionalizing Property-Owning Democracy / Thad Williamson
  • Using State and Local Policies / Joel Rogers
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