The Framework

There are two related frameworks that are relevant to worker cooperatives. The first is the framework of modern finance and the second is the employment framework. Framework issues are tricky because people often don’t realize a framework exits. The framework and its assumptions usually remains unstated, which confines the discussion without having to acknowledge alternatives. Sophisticated propaganda relies heavily on narrowly framing of dialogue in order to control public opinion.

Frameworks matter for worker cooperatives because, as a minority player in the business world, worker coops are to some degree forced to operate within the dominant framework. Since the dominant framework is widely held to be true and the results provided by the framework are considered to be common knowledge, accepting the dominant framework facilitates communications and interactions with the world at large. Adopting the framework is quite convenient in this regard.

The difficultly addressing framework problems is they require questioning closely held beliefs, and abandoning them if they are found to be inconsistent. Rejecting a framework involves holding a minority viewpoint, an act considered radical by definition. Due to the inconvenience of non-conformity, there is usually a fairly high bar before such a task is undertaken.

Frameworks become a problem when they incorrectly describe reality. This has a real impact as it artificially limits options and diverts scarce energy and resources. In the case of worker cooperatives their impact has been quite severe. Growth in terms of the rate of new startups has been heavily reduced, and startups have been largely limited to non-capital intensive industries. The worker cooperative sector is dominated by small businesses. The growth of existing cooperatives has suffered as well. Conversions of existing business to worker cooperatives that are consistent with the cooperative values are few and far between. In the United States there are about 300 worker cooperatives with a cumulative 3000 members, out of a workforce 150 million. Hopefully those numbers provide sufficient motivation to address the framework questions.

The conceptual issues behind theĀ modern finance framework and employment framework are fairly simple and trivial to understand. The hard part is accepting the implications. This is especially true when they conflict with the core cooperative values, and potentially strike at the identity of worker cooperatives.