Saturday, April 10, 2010

We could have learned from Mondragon

William Foote Whyte, coauthor of Making Mondragon (Cornell University/1988), wrote about Ana Gutierrez-Johnson, one of his students and co-researchers for the book:
"She deserves particular credit for pointing out the importance of the equilibrio principle in guiding the development of the cooperatives. Ana phrased it in terms of the contrast between digital and analogic reasoning. Digital reasoning frames choices in either/or zero-sum terms, whereas analogic reasoning frames the choices in terms of both/and, guiding the actors toward balancing interests and needs."
The man who inspired the Mondragon cooperatives, a priest named Don Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, saw the politics of organizational structures in a spectrum, with cooperatives in the middle, as a balanced form of organization. In contrast to socialism on the extreme left, in which the welfare of the workers is always the primary concern, and capitalism on the extreme right, in which return to shareholders is always the primary concern, worker cooperatives provide for the welfare of the workers by achieving a balance between their needs and the organization's economic requirements.

It is surprising and disheartening to me that here in the United States, where we put such emphasis on freedom and openness, so many of us respond to the words "cooperative" or "socialist" as if they were curses, with no attempt to understand what they actually mean. Legislators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan proposed that cooperatives be another alternative means of providing health care insurance. Rather than exploring that alternative - a self-supporting organization that would cost taxpayers NOTHING - our media, legislators, and a significant portion of the public chose to remain polarized, insisting on what Ana Gutierrez-Johnson would have called the "digital" solution, and making us all poorer as a result.

What has happened to our democracy? And what has happened to our values, which used to support open dialogue, debate, and thoughtful decision-making?