Monday, December 29, 2008

Cooperative Economics--December 29th

Early in the 70’s with the advent of “hippies” came a most advantageous example of cooperative economics, the exchange of goods and services from one to another without benefit of cash. This they called bartering. My parents, having grown up during the Depression when there were no cash resources, engaged in bartering long before the hippies, who, no doubt having parents like mine, took up the gauntlet and carried on the tradition. I learned how to barter from Mom and Dad and from the pages of Mother Earth News.
As a young married, I bartered what I could produce for what I could not. My friends hunted and brought me game and I traded with loaves of my homemade bread or prunecake. I could paint houses and others could dig fence posts. My friend Sharon painted my kitchen so that she could afford to stay a week at my home and visit the beach in the afternoons. What I enjoy about these exchanges besides the end results, is that every participant is respecting and honoring the skill of the other participant. It’s a way of saying, “What you know and do is worthwhile to the well-being of our society.”
Thanks to websites like Craig’s List, bartering continues today, proving that cooperative economics is still alive and flourishing.
Another way we hippie types prospered despite our tiny wages was to form co-ops to buy goods in bulk, and goods that were organic and grown by people we actually knew and not some corporation. Then we volunteered our time to run our own stores so that we could afford to buy those goods. I read every now and again that another co-op is starting up and some of the good ones never went away.
I admire large companies that engage in cooperative economics. In Kenya, the middlemen of corporate business were sucking the profit to be made from growing coffee away from the growers. Every inch of ground was being used for the growing of coffee so that the farmers were not allowed to even grow other food for their own use. Streams and water sources were suffering as well.
Wangari Muta Maathai of the Green Belt Movement[1] went to Starbucks to say these farmers were producing as much as they possibly could and still they were starving. Was there something Starbucks could do? And they did. They formed contracts directly with the farmers leaving out the middlemen entirely and once again those farmers could make a living wage from their land and grow their own vegetables on it as well. They replanted trees along the stream beds and water came back.
Both sides profited, thanks to a company that wasn’t afraid to give something back to its suppliers. Wouldn’t the world be better if every corporation cared about the lowest common denominator? If every government did as well?
I love the idea of cooperative economics as one more way to celebrate the worth of every person on the planet and to improve the lives of all.

[1] “The Green Belt Movement works to help individuals and communities improve both their environments and livelihoods, sharing the values of self-reliance, self-determination, fairness, and accountability.”

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