Essay Prize 2012


In 2012 Ethical Consumer launched an essay prize at the 'Mainstreaming Co-operation Conference' in Manchester to get people thinking and exchanging ideas on the question 'Is there a co-operative alternative to capitalism'.

2012 was the International Year of Co-operatives but it was also a year when the clamour of serious questions about capitalism is getting louder. Europe and America were, and still are, facing their worst economic crises for a generation, 'occupy' movements around the world are calling for sweeping social reforms, and scientists and academics point to increasingly dangerous levels of climate and habitat destruction.

We wanted to ask some questions about the co-ops movements ability to tackle these questions.

Do co-operatives offer an alternative model of social organisation which could address some of these key issues? Or do they simply offer another way of organising businesses within a predominantly capitalist economy?

What would the world look like if - as some early co-operators aspired to - co-operatives grew to gradually replace private businesses across every economic sector? Would it be much the same? Would it be somehow transformative or utopian?

Thirty three high quality entries were received and entrants included university professors, economists, and came from as far afield as Argentina and Italy.

You can read a synopsis and download the full winning entry from Dan Gregory below.


Download a pdf containing the summaries from the four prize winners' essays.




Essay Prize 1st prize – Dan Gregory



Is there a co-operative alternative to capitalism? - Synopsis


“Co-operatives and social enterprise which eschew conventional capitalist forms of ownership, perversely, have been financially outperforming red-blooded businesses within their own capitalist game. In the UK, the co-operative sector grew by more than 25% between 2008 and 2011; RBS (sic) report that social enterprises are “flouting the fiscal gloom to grow faster than the rest of the UK economy”; social enterprises are outstripping SMEs for growth, business confidence and innovation and Spanish co-operatives have seen an increase in employment of by an average of 7.2% in the last quarter of 2011, despite wider unemployment at record levels. Furthermore, co-operatives have higher resilience in economic crises, based on research by Roelants and Bajo.”

“So a case can be made that imagines a more co-operative economy, in the sense that each distinct sector adopts a more co-operative approach – with co-operative businesses taking a higher market share and organisations in the public and third sector mutualising or embodying more co-operative principles. Yet this is only a co-operative alternative to capitalism in a limited sense – simply more co-operative actors playing the capitalist game. As far as it goes, this is perhaps not so hard to imagine.

But from a more fundamental perspective... such changes could be a

stepping stone to the transformation of the relationships not only within but between the sectors, and the creation of a system of production that could be defined as an alternative to capitalism – or co-operativism.

“So is there a co-operative alternative to capitalism? Perhaps not, if what we mean by capitalism is a mixed market economy. But the answer is almost certainly yes, if we are in the market for an alternative to ‘actual existing capitalism’. The recent history of the private, public and social sectors – and also the story deep inside us – could prompt a dawning realisation by participants in the economy that a more co-operative approach could potentially deliver a more efficient, human and harmonious market economy in a world with ever scarcer resources. A co-operative economy can be in both our common and our self-interest. As Robert Owen says “the union and co-operation of all for the benefit of each.” Imagine.”


Dan has worked for over a decade to support the development of a more social economy. He previously worked for the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, leading the development of government policy on third sector access to finance, social investment and the role of the sector in service delivery. He now works independently under the banner of Common Capital, mainly working to bridge the gap between policy and practice in the funding and financing of mutual and social enterprises.

Dan authored NCVO’s Report on Tax Incentives for Social Investment, the Cabinet Office’s Consultation on the Social Investment Bank, HM Treasury’s Guidance to Funders and Purchasers, a recent report for the Big Lottery on Investment Readiness, ResPublica’s Financing for Growth and Social Enterprise UK’s The Right to Run.

Dan also works to support the development of policy and practice around pop-up and meanwhile use of empty land, shops and property, for example, advising the London Legacy Development Corporation on meanwhile land use post-Olympics, working with Meanwhile Space CIC and 3Space, and helping Merthyr Tydfil Council develop a meanwhile strategy. He helps run Pop-Up Bristol and Pop Shop Wiltshire and founded the world's first ‘pop-up think tank’ - POPse!


Download the full essay here.



More on our Co-op Alternatives project:


The book: "People over Capital - is there a co-operative alternative to capitalism"

Find out more about our new book published along side New Internationalist here.


2013 Conference

Listen to audio and see pictures from our 2013 conference entitled, 'Is there a co-operative alternative to capitalism?' here.


Have your say

If you want to comment on our forums about co-operative alternatives, click here.


More on the co-operative alternative to capitalism project and Ethical Consumer here.


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