What is solidarity economics?
Solidarity economics is a theoretical and practical pursuit of alternative ways of engaging in the economy that are based on solidarity and work.
The main principle or foundation of solidarity economics states that the introduction of quantitatively and qualitatively superior levels of solidarity in economic activities, organizations and institutions, encompassing businesses, markets and public policies, increases both micro- and macroeconomic efficiency in addition to generating an array of social and cultural benefits that contribute to the development of the whole society.
1.1. Solidarity economics is an up-to-date and realistic response to the most damming problems of our time:
-The poverty, exclusion and marginalization that affect millions of human beings, social sectors and entire populations in different regions of the world.
-The unemployment and job-insecurity of a high and increasing percentage of the workforce.
-The limits and shortcomings of the ubiquitous informal and popular economy, which can be empowered and directed towards a better insertion in the market by enriching it with solidarity values. In several instances solidarity economics has been shown to be a valid alternative that, in an organized manner, can lead many informal workers to operate with better efficiency, allowing for their reinsertion into society. By the same token, wide sectors of people who independently engage in productive initiatives can generate income and raise their precarious standard and quality of life.
-The enormous and increasing social injustice and inequality triggered by the predominant economic system, which are reflected in a process of erosion of the social cohesion, in conflicts that drag on without receiving appropriate solutions, in civic disobedience and citizens disaffection, in severe crime and generalized corruption, etc. Consisting of a just and humane form of economic organization, the development and implementation of an economy based on solidarity may contribute to effectively overcome all these grave problems that so negatively affect our societies.
-The reckless situation in which women find themselves with respect to work and the economy in general, where they encounter multiple barriers to access and achieve an important role in economic, social an cultural activities and organizations. Solidarity economics has been one of the means by which women and families find newer and broader opportunities for their participation, development and empowerment in their quest for genre identity and recognition.
-The crisis of traditional cooperative, mutualistic and self-management entities, allowing solidarity economics to open new avenues and set new foundations for the pursuit of associative and participative economic forms that place human beings and communities above material things as well as work above capital.
-The harm to the environment and the ecological equilibrium, which is mostly due to the individualistic approach to the production, distribution, consumption and accumulation of wealth. Solidarity economics guides us towards new forms of production and consumption --socially and environmentally responsible forms.
1.2 Solidarity economics is a great project of development, transformation and optimization of the economy:
-Today, when serious and profound reasons lead many people to question how convenient or even possible is to continue our focus on unrelenting economic growth under current precepts, solidarity economics proposes a new type of economic development: alternative, all-inclusive, sustainable and on a human scale, with an emphasis on local issues and needs. This new type of economic development assumes also the existence of a new type of economy, which may be completely based on principles of solidarity, or, in a more modest fashion, may allow solidarity economics to be just a contributing factor to the new economic framework.
-Today, when the capitalist "system" appears as the only efficient mode of economic organization in spite of its huge social and environmental costs; when the socialist projects that were based on State ownership and economic planning have failed in their attempt to establish a just and humane economy; when the historical reasons that led to the formation of movements that predicated social change under a realm of justice and equality continue to be relevant, but are also devoid of new and alternative proposals that set them on the right track; when social and spiritual entities that pursue social transformation and search for better forms of economic organization, centered around values of justice, equality, freedom, fraternity and solidarity, cannot find their way towards success in an adverse world that seems unchangeable; when the lack of hope spreads all over and the idea that "more-of-the-same" will not open new horizons for humanity; in this difficult historical context, which is seen by many as a crisis of civilization, solidarity economics appears as the only new mode of thinking and designing efficient and profound transforming processes, capable of motivating the conscience and the will of those vast social sectors that desire the establishment of a more humane and cohesive society, and thus a better life.
-Today, when a sense of urgency makes necessary the optimization of the economy at different levels --businesses, markets, public policies, globalization processes--, solidarity economics offers a real alternative and a worthy project, capable of contributing to such optimization, bringing into the picture new and efficient standpoints, criteria, methodologies and models.
1.3 Solidarity economics is a real process of convergence for various pursuits and multiple social sectors and groups:
-Community groups and grassroots organizations that organize themselves around a framework of solidarity to confront their problems and satisfy their needs.
-People from all social groups that want to develop new types of business initiatives, pursuing efficiency and the application of social and ethical principles in their activities.
-Environmental groups and organizations that realize that environmental problems are caused by individualistic economic and developmental practices.
-Native and indigenous peoples that struggle to recover their identities and find in solidarity economics a modern economic form by which they can apply and experience values and relationships in accordance to their community-based cultures.
-Businessmen and women who want to combine efficiency and solidarity in addition to aspiring to establish new and harmonious models of economic relationships in their companies.
-Non-governmental organizations that pursue social and developmental objectives with the aspiration of contributing with new experiences and initiatives to local, alternative and sustainable development processes.
-Public institutions and local power structures with concerns about poverty and unemployment, perceiving that solidarity economics is an efficient way to fight them.
-Religious institutions that perceive that solidarity economics is a new way to conduct an economy that is coherent with their spiritual and ethical frameworks, and an efficacious way to generate human and social development spaces.
-Intellectuals from diverse disciplines who are searching for new answers to the big social problems of our times, new patterns of social and developmental change, new conceptual paradigms and new relationships between social theory and practice.
-Economists that acquire an understanding of the limitations and inefficiencies inherent to the theoretical setting of conventional economics.
1.4 At the level of economic theory, solidarity economics is a new conceptual approach with respect to cooperative, self-managed and associative economic forms:
Since the origins of capitalism and throughout modern history, multiple searches and processes of experimentation have focused on alternative economic organizations, which have received different names: cooperativism, self-management, mutualism, social economy and others.
A distinctive feature of such experiences is their reliance on a socioeconomic thought based on ethical, philosophical, doctrinal or ideological terms. From these, solidarity economics establishes guiding principles and organizing models that state the "must-be" of economic proposals, creating then juridic and legal norms that dictate more precisely how the organizations that participate in such experiences organize themselves and function.
These ideas, which help to reshape our economic experience, and are doubtlessly useful to motivate all participants, have been shown to be inefficient in: a) providing adequate guidance and efficient economic criteria for decision and management processes of economic operations; b) guaranteeing a consistent identity for the experiences and pursuits, which often lose track of their original aims and eventually resemble and subordinate to State and capitalist forms of conducting the economy, contrary to their original goal of differentiating and becoming a viable and valid economic alternative; c) generating enough confidence and security about its efficacy to attract human, financial and material resources necessary for their development; d) assuring the cultural autonomy required by any movement and process that attempts to engage in profound changes of the economy and society.
As an explanation to all these limitations, we can explore the fact that cooperative, self-managed, mutualistic experiences and such, lacking the conceptual and analytical instruments to support their decision processes, often rely on analytical tools derived from conventional economic science, which have been formulated under very different and even opposing operational, experiential and rational frameworks.
Those four aspects cited above, which imply essential limitations and deficiencies often seen in these alternative experiences and pursuits, cannot be overcome without the support of a scientific theory that respects and strengthens their alternative economic identity, expressing in a coherent manner their unique economic rationale and providing them with rigorous criteria to guide the decision-making process, management and operations in the market where they are employed.
The concept of solidarity economics is a scientific instrument, based on economic theory, that tries to fill these gaps. It is established at the epistemological level of economic science, using its conceptual and methodological tools, conveniently widened and re-elaborated to express the identity of very different economic forms: the special rationality of these unique alternative forms grounded on cooperation, self-management, mutualism and mutual aid. Solidarity economics becomes, in such a sense, a relevant contribution to the empowerment and development of efficient alternative pursuits.
The theoretical foundation of solidarity economics offers other contributions:
a) It provides a modern, renewed, motivating and captivating language, in a cultural context such as today's, in which the traditional concepts of cooperation, mutualism and self-management have lost their appeal.
b) It allows for the social integration of pursuits and experiences that have developed under different denominations, and despite this, they converge towards a central purpose, endowed with a unique economic rationality, which should be further explored.
c) It allows to recognize as a part of alternative economic forms numerous new and original experiences that adopt different organization structures, with different names, and characterize the dynamics of reactivation of solidarity experimentation processes as well as cooperation in the economy and social life.
Luis Razeto Migliaro.
(Traducción al inglés, gentileza de Olaf Dominguez)