A Network Rather Than a Bulwark: Toward a Planetary-Scale, Pluralist Commonwealth for the Digital Economy
In our view, therefore, an alternative to the Everything Store should be a network rather than a bulwark, building on the history of the cooperative commonwealth, an economy made up of connected but autonomous enterprises.
A commonwealth of cooperatives all along the supply chain using shared digital infrastructure
We envision an economy with, at its core, a commonwealth of cooperatives gone digital. Here, federated, small producers can act as one large entity, competing in the marketplace through shared digital infrastructure. Digital cooperative ownership builds on the promise of scaling operations and governance through shared digital infrastructure, potentially leading to lower operating costs than brick-and-mortar cooperatives. It is a vision of multi-stakeholder cooperatives that enfranchises all participants in the economic value chain (and other forms). This includes logistics workers, managers, tech workers, upstream supply chain workers, suppliers, and customers.
A bricolage of organizations
Ours is a vision of a bricolage of organizations, a plurality of independent worker-and-user managed and owned enterprises up and down the supply chain, democratic employee-owned businesses (“esoperatives”), not-for-profits, unionized private companies, and hybrids among these. It is a vision that does not prioritize one model over the other as different sectors demand different structures and sizes. Let’s stop the circular firing squads among progressives who fetishize one organizational form over the other.
Our proposal builds on Feminist Economics; aiming to address structural economic gender disparities, feminist economics not only examines gender roles within different co-ops and other organizational forms, but it also works toward radically re-imagining co-op culture, rendering women more visible and valuing practices of care within these organizations.
Equal access to just platform work
Platform companies depend on minoritized, low-wage workers. Our vision is based on a culture that provides equal access to just platform work for all.
Design justice as part of a pluralist commonwealth
Avoiding the tech-solutionism of Silicon Valley, our proposal builds on the commonalities between platform cooperativism and elements from Gar Alperovitz’ concept of a “pluralist commonwealth,” first proposed in 1972, and Sasha Constanza Schock’s Design Justice.
The proposed digital pluralist commonwealth will be rooted in shared-data agreements, cooperative data trusts, distributed ledgers, community-stewarded AI, and token systems that facilitate time banks, participatory budgeting, and distributed decision-making. Platforms for data sharing among cooperatives, based on a variety of cooperative reciprocity licenses, will turn the promise of big data into a cooperative advantage, while actively co-producing commons. The purpose of deploying such technologies is to emancipate users, workers, and the entire population. To succeed, it will require strengthening the way that cooperatives work together.
Breaking capital’s spatial agenda
Applicable throughout planetary-scale production networks, this proposal is a response to capital’s spatial agenda, which is based on low-cost production in the Global South for consumption in the Global North. While a globally structured network of cooperatives will break with such a north-south dynamic by enforcing fair wages, meaningful positive outcomes for the global poor will require a broader political vision.