Posted by: Kenn Hermann | March 10, 2006

Late 19th Century – Mid-20th Century Cooperatives in the U.S.

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Here are two more books from my shelves that illustrate the possibilities of creating normative economic associations that are healthy, just, and productive.

Herbert B. Adams, ed., History of Cooperation in the United States; Vol. VI, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1888) This is the first serious scholarly effort to survey all forms of cooperatives in the United States. It is still a standard work. Scholars were assigned to locate, describe, and analyze cooperatives in six major regions of the U.S. — New England, Middle States, Northwest, West, Pacific Coast, and Maryland and the South. If your view of economic history is shaped by the Whiggish view of most textbooks that the late nineteenth century was characterized by the ‘rise’ of the large corporations (e.g. Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, etc.), then this book will surprise you. Here you will find numerous examples of successful cooperatives in retail, manufacturing, banking, and even among college students.

The introduction was written by Richard T. Ely, a founder of the American Economic Association. As a champion of applying Christian principles to economic life, Ely enthusiastically endorsed cooperatives. He praised them for introducing democracy into a business community that was most often ruled by despots.

Florence E. Parker, The First 125 Years: A History of Distributive and Service Cooperation in the United States, 1829-1954. (Superior, WI: Cooperative Publishing Co., 1956) This work was commissioned by The Cooperative League of the U.S.A. After a quick overview of 19th century cooperatives surveyed in the above volume, Parker concentrates on the wide range of distributive, productive, and service cooperatives across all regions of the country that were active through the first half of the 20th century.

The National Cooperative Business Association is the modern successor to the CLUSA.

Both of these books are replete with examples of what can be done in creating vibrant and just economic associations. All that is needed is creativity and imagination. Hopefully, these books will break open the log jams in your thinking about what kinds of economic associations are possible, even today. I would love to hear from those of you involved in real-life cooperatives today.

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