Democratic capitalism is in crisis. Brexit and the Trump nomination marked victories for xenophobic economic nationalism that would have been unimaginable in these two bastions of free trade, globalization, and liberal pluralism a decade ago. They reflect one trajectory of rebellion against the era of oligarchic capitalism that began in 1973 and crashed on the shoals of the Great Recession. The urgent task of the moment is to define a clear alternative.
Platform cooperativism is at the cutting edge of defining that next ideological framework, the set of ideas, institutions, norms, practices, and beliefs that will allow us to understand the present stage of market society and to re-embed markets in social relations in ways that will produce a more egalitarian, open, and politically stable market society.
Work on the commons and cooperation, on collaborative and learning organizations, FOSS, peer production, and a broader set of disciplines and practices that have developed over the past twenty years provide the foundations of a more decentralized, self-governed, socially-embedded model of market society. It emphasizes the diversity of motivations, institutions, and organizational forms, it recognizes that power in markets is as endemic as it is in the state, and seeks to construct systems that are resilient to these forms of power and allow their participants to engage in self-governance and continuous experimentation, learning, and adaptation in communities of practice. This emerging view of market society is in direct competition with more technologically-deterministic, still-neoliberal conceptions of how market society will develop in the coming decades as well as the resurgent xenophobic nationalism that challenges the very foundations of open society. Winning that battle of ideas, not on paper but in the real world of running organizations of cooperative, social production, will be central to developing a socially-embedded market society.
Yochai Benkler Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard University