PIERGIORGIO DEGLI ESPOSTI
University of Bologna, Italy
A cooperative, commonly referred to as a “co-op,” is a voluntary association that is organized for the mutual benefit of a particular social, economic, and/or cultural agenda(s). The venerable idea of cooperative enterprise originated in Europe during the Middle Ages. In fact, the merchant guilds and trade associations of the Hanseatic League were built on the idea of cooperation. As the legitimacy of aristocratic regimes based on monarchic or theocratic rule declined and European territories gained political independence, the idea of the cooperative took root and spread. The cooperative principle is a historical and core ideal of the Swiss nation. The relics of medieval commons which can be seen in present-day European forest cooperatives offer proof of the cooperative's deep history.
While various cooperative efforts have their roots in ancient civilization, the modern cooperative movement began primarily as a response to industrial capitalism. Those concerned about the problems created by industry looked to a variety of private and public efforts to provide greater security and equity for those whose lives were being turned upside down by powerful economic changes. Economic theorists such as Mills, Pareto, and Walras were prominent in regard to the notion of cooperation. Mills (1852) emphasized the equality of workers as shareholders with the capability of electing or dismissing ...