Free online course: Economic Democracy: The Co-operative Alternative

Via an open, free, self-paced course, we'll be exploring the co-operative alternative to economic business as usual.

Donald George


Especially since the Great Crash of 2008, people around the world are seeking a viable alternative to hierarchical, corporate capitalism. Could a co-operative, market economy, in which firms are owned and controlled by their workers, be such an alternative?

That’s the central issue we’ll be exploring via an online, free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) which launches next week, and which anybody is welcome to join. There’s more information, including enrollment details, here.

Most Western societies are proud of being political democracies, but democracy rarely operates within the firm. Democratic governments, in principle, can be criticised freely and are answerable to those they seek to govern. By contrast, managers are not, in general, answerable to those they seek to manage, and the mildest criticism can be dangerous. Many of us elect our politicians, but very few can elect our Boss.

The central questions of this course are:

  • What would happen if workers ran their own firms?
  • Would worker-managed firms take the same decisions as their capitalist counterparts?
  • Could such an economy be efficient?
  • What policies could be deployed to promote a cooperative sector in a market economy?

The course is a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, the University of St. Andrews and the James Hutton Institute. The course instructors have a wide range of interests and skills. What we have in common is a fascination with co-operative forms of organisation that allow people, whether in their workplaces, their local communities or with regard to their personal finances, to take their economic destinies into their own hands.

The course will cover:

  • the internal impact of employee ownership: productivity, governance and management.
  • The external impact of employee ownership: spillovers for health, democracy, and the local economy.
  • Simple economic theory of the labour-managed firm.
  • Internal versus external financing.
  • Performance bonds and wage-earner investment funds.
  • Degeneration thesis and policies to counter it.
  • Kibbutzim, Pacific plywood co-operatives, Mondragon.
  • Co-operativism in the finance sector (with a comparative international focus): building societies, credit unions, etc.
  • Community renewables: economic democracy in action.

Economics and other social sciences can focus and sharpen the debate on co-operatives. Having taken the course, students will be better placed to participate in the public discussion on co-operatives, or to join a co-operative or even start a new one.

Once the course starts on 29th November, it’ll run as an open, free, self-paced course, with automated quizzes and community forums, monitored by the academic team and their teaching assistants. By exploiting the power of the internet, MOOCS can go a long way towards democratising education and encouraging a sense of community among students around the world.

“Economic Democracy: The Co-operative Alternative”- about worker-owned and worker-controlled firms will be starting on 29th November, hosted on the edX platform.

Click here to enroll