Today’s Solutions: January 28, 2023

The rising stinginess of intellectual property rights has sparked a creative response: open source.

Tijn Touber | March 2006 issue

Over the past decade we have seen a period of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity but also depressing levels of human need and extreme suffering. In the 21st century we must see the acceptance of a new set of ethics, aimed at creating a world where humans display more solidarity and less individualism, more compassion and less selfishness. In short, a world with more love.

An inspiring example of such ethics put into action is the co-operative: a self-governing enterprise of persons united to meet their common economic, political and cultural needs. Women, indigenous groups and others long excluded from the economic benefits of the marketplace have reaped tremendous benefits by joining together in agricultural, craft and housing co-operatives and credit unions.

Today some 750 million people around the world belong to co-operatives. Some count only a handful of members, while others resemble huge corporations; some have flat, non-hierarchical structures and equal pay for all members; others are less radical in their organization. Whatever their structure, all co-operatives share a common base set of values: self-help, responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.

Co-operatives have helped Costa Rica maintain the democratic tradition which we so treasure. Our small country abolished its standing army in 1949, and enjoys an adult literacy rate that exceeds 95 percent and life expectancies comparable to those in the U.S. and Europe. In Costa Rica, a strong political democracy helped co-operatives to take root. Co-operatives then made important contributions to the development of Costa Rican economic democracy, which we understand to be the basis for social justice.

During my time as president, the need to privatize the state-owned sugar enterprise became obvious. It was clear that selling this enterprise to private investors would have concentrated the profits in a few hands and the benefits to Costa Ricans would have been negligible. Instead, we made the decision to sell it to already-existing co-operatives and the sugar workers themselves.

Adapted with kind permission from New Internationalist (January/February 2004), the British magazine on global issues and justice, www.newint.org.

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