Democratizing the economy

The economic and social functions of the social and solidarity economy (SSE), such as creating new markets, responding to new social needs, creating jobs, fostering social inclusion and strengthening social capital, sometimes overshadow its political mission of democratizing the economy. However, a number of authors, such as Jean-Louis Laville (1999), define the SSE as “all activities that contribute to democratizing the economy based on citizen involvement.”

This mission is expressed in various ways:

• at its most immediate, through the statutory aspects of the mutual societies, cooperatives, non-profit organizations, etc. comprising the SSE, aspects that link into democratic governance of initiatives;

• through collective decision-making by social actors (local authorities as well as professionals, the unemployed, women, young people, investors, etc.) on a whole series of economic variables (definition of social needs to be met, organizing production, setting a fair price in fair trade or social money systems, solidarity-based criteria for production, distribution, consumption, investment, etc.).

Above and beyond these aspects, which tend to be associated with a form of management, we can also observe an alternative political project for social transformation:

• debate fostered by SSE networks on the concept of wealth, role of money, predatory globalization, competition as the driving force of the economy, environmental destruction, etc.;

• respect for the principles of redistribution and reciprocity, outside of state and market mechanisms;

• the question of SSE institutionalization points to the fact that market and state regulations would need to be supplemented by democratic and citizen regulatory mechanisms for economic activities;

• the incorporation of new forms of citizenship and citizen participation in the economic arena, thus opening up a new and local public space lying between the political and the economic.

One of the main challenges facing the plural economy is to bring about real recognition that democratic principles can serve as mechanisms for management, mediation and economic regulation within the production and consumption of goods and services in the same way as the market and state (Fraisse, 2004).

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