Template:Cleanup Template:Economics sidebar Co-operative economics is a field of economics, socialist economics, Co-operative studies, and political economy, which is concerned with co-operatives. Notable theoreticians who have contributed to the field include Charles Gide,[1] Robert Owen,[2] Beatrice and Sydney Webb,[3] J.T.W. Mitchell, Paul Lambart,[4] Race Mathews,[5] David Griffiths,[6] and G.D.H. Cole.[7] Historical co-operative movements, such as the Rochdale Pioneers, have also contributed to the field.

Co-operative federalism versus co-operative individualism Edit

A major historical debate in co-operative economics has been between co-operative federalism and co-operative individualism. In an Owenite village of co-operation or a commune, the residents would be both the producers and consumers of its products. However, for a Co-operative, the producers and consumers of its products become two different groups of people, and thus, there are two different sets of people who could be defined as its 'users'. As a result, we can define two different modes of co-operative organisation: consumers' cooperative, in which the consumers of a co-operative's goods and services are defined as its users (including food co-operatives, credit unions, etc.), and producer co-operatives, in which the producers of a co-operatives goods and services are defined as its users (which includes worker co-operative, agricultural producer co-operatives, etc.).

This in turn led to a debate between those who support Consumers' Co-operatives (known as the Co-operative Federalists) and those who favor Producers Co-operatives (pejoratively labelled ‘Individualist' Co-operativists by the Federalists[8] ).[9]

Co-operative Federalism Edit

Co-operative Federalism is the school of thought favouring consumer co-operative societies. Historically, its proponents have included JTW Mitchell and Charles Gide, as well as Paul Lambart and Beatrice Webb. The co-operative federalists argue that consumers should form co-operative wholesale societies (Co-operative Federations in which all members are co-operators, the best historical example of which being the English CWS), and that these co-operative wholesale societies should undertake purchasing farms or factories. They argue that profits (or surpluses) from these co-operative wholesale societies should be paid as dividends to the member co-operators, rather than to their workers.[10]

Co-operative Individualism Edit

Co-operative Individualism is the school of thought favouring workers' co-operative societies. The most notable proponents of this latter being, in Britain, the Christian Socialists, and later writers like Joseph Reeves, putting this forth as a path to State Socialism.[11] Where the Co-operative Federalists argue for federations in which consumer co-operators federate, and receive the monetary dividends, rather, in co-operative wholesale societies the profits (or surpluses) would be paid as dividends to their workers.[12] The Mondragón Co-operatives are an economic model commonly cited by Co-operative Individualists, and a lot of the Co-operative Individualist literature deals with these societies.

Please note that these two schools of thought are not necessarily in binary opposition a priori, and that hybrids between the two positions are possible.[13]

Co-operative Commonwealth Edit

In some Co-operative economics literature, the aim is the achievement of a Co-operative Commonwealth; a society based on cooperative and socialist principles. Co-operative economists - Federalist, Individualist, and otherwise - have presented the extension of their economic model to its natural limits as a goal.


  1. Gide, Charles; as translated from French by the Co-operative Reference Library, Dublin, "Consumers' Co-Operative Societies", Manchester: The Co-Operative Union Limited, 1921
  2. Owen, Robert, "A New View of Society" (originally published in 1813/1814), in Gartrell, V.A. (ed.), "Report to the County of Lanark / A New View of Society", Ringwood: Penguin Books, 1970.
  3. Potter, Beatrice, "The Co-operative Movement in Great Britain", London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1891.
  4. Lambert, Paul; as translated by Létarges, Joseph; and Flanagan, D.; “Studies in the Social Philosophy of Co-operation”, (originally published March 1959), Manchester: Co-operative Union, Ltd., 1963.
  5. Mathews, Race, "Building the society of equals : worker co-operatives and the A.L.P.", Melbourne: Victorian Fabian Society, 1983.
  6. Charles, Graeme, and Griffiths, David, “The Co-operative Formation Decision: Discussing the Co-operative Option”, Frankston: Co-operative Federation of Victoria Ltd., 2003 and 2004
  7. Cole, G.D.H., “The British Co-operative Movement in a Socialist Society: A Report for the Fabian Society”, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1951., and Cole, G.D.H., “A Century of Co-operation”, Oxford: George Allen & Unwin for The Co-operative Union Ltd., 1944.
  8. Lewis, p. 244.
  9. This analysis is based on a discussion by Gide, Charles; as translated from French by the Co-operative Reference Library, Dublin, "Consumers' CoOperative Societies", Manchester: The Cooperative Union Limited, 1921, pp. 192-203.
  10. This analysis is based on a discussion by Gide, Charles, pp. 192-203.
  11. Reeves, Joseph, “A Century of Rochdale Cooperation 1844-1944”, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1944.
  12. This analysis is based on a discussion by Gide, Charles, pp. 192-203.
  13. This analysis is based on a discussion by Gide, Charles, pp. 192-203.

Further readingEdit


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