Book Review: Everything for Everyone

Everything for Everyone:

The Radical Tradition That Is Shaping the Next Economy

By Nathan Schneider

290 pp. Nation Books. $28. http://nathanschneider.info/e4e

Overview

Introduction

A thread Schneider diligently weaves throughout the book is started here, that there is a urgency today for “companies that are capable of seeing the world as people do”, but there is a long tradition of people using the cooperative model to create a more just economy and doing just that.

Chapter 1: All Things in Common: Prehistory

Chapter 2: The Lovely Principle: Formation

Schneider continues a dizzying whirlwind of travel to Italy and Kenya to gather how others are finding “…faith in the lovely principle of Cooperation” (from a poster advertising a new cooperative store in Philadelphia). Something sitting right in front of our faces, Schneider digs up for us: Leland Stanford (of Stanford University) wrote in his initial endowment of the University that it was to promote the advantages of cooperation. Schneider notes that the university’s MBA programs are silent on this and that this is not upholding the wishes of the founder. Like many universities, including Stanford, cooperatives do come up in course material in the agricultural economics courses. It is no wonder that cooperative management education (outside of the agricultural sector) is relegated to specialized, university-level programs.

Chapter 3: The Clock of the World: Disruption

It is glossy and sexy for us to read about disruption by life-changing apps and ways of connecting via the internet that it may find us yearning for more if we ourselves are not “disruptors”. If we are not disrupting, then maybe we are not as advanced or innovative as we thought? Schneider digs into the stakeholders of disruption and cautions not against disruption, but against wanton disruption for the sake of disruption without regard for the people in the being disrupted.

He also maps some examples of disruption across centuries, so our newly adulated tech CEOs cannot wholly own it. It is part of our human condition; a cycle of patterns deeper than any app could hope to be. While part of our human cycle, it is to be taken seriously and with heavy respect of its power to significantly change people’s lives.

Schneider reports on the messy yet forward-moving nature of cooperatives through anecdotes of Green Taxi (Colorado), a conference for the sharing economy, OuiShare (Paris), a diversified venture that’s not a co-op but acts like one, Enspiral (New Zealand) and back to Colorado for an intense, hands-on, heady report-out of the colliding of gentrification, politics and housing cooperatives.

Chapter 4: Gold Rush: Money

The chapter ends with the story of Enric Duran, a celebrity-like figure / outlaw in France & Spain that is helping to create and promote alternative communities, currencies and more. Like Occupy Wall Street, Duran’s work is coming from a very similar place of discontent with the way conventional institutions treat people. When you read about his projects, it evokes disbelief that any of it will ever work at all. According to Schneider’s reporting though, at least some of it is. I come from a background of cooperatives working well within the boundaries of the dominant economic systems and institutions so this chapter has been enlightening for me with its pragmatic stories coupled with the bold vision of the cooperators.

Chapter 5: Slow Computing: Platforms

Schneider relates the growing conscientiousness about our food and where it comes from (such as, slow food) to a need for us to bring that same kind of awareness to our use of the internet, apps and other data systems; hence the chapter title, Slow Computing. He gives us an easy to digest overview of software licensing and other cultural products (like a video you upload to YouTube) and how it relates to the digital commons.

An accessible accounting of how venture capital works and why it is responsible for the platform capitalism we engage with every day (think Facebook, Google, etc.) illustrates how we are subservient to capital. It is common in cooperative literature that cooperatives aim to turn this around and make capital subservient to us and to serve people. A reaction here by some cooperators is that raising capital is a real and present challenge for cooperatives, and they are right. But Schneider counters that “knowing co-op history” makes him confident: “Finance gets figured out”. Here he notes that past cooperative movements have built cooperative banks, credit unions and mutual insurance. Schneider admits that co-ops were the “original crowdfunding”. But we need more. He is searching for a kind of crowdfunding (like GoFundMe and Kickstarter) but that retains the “co-ownership and mutual accountability” as you don’t own anything when you give money through these platforms. Raising capital remains a critical issue for cooperatives in need of creative solutions.

This chapter has great stories about the education that is needed to train up workers to be owners, the Associated Press and the #BuyTwitter campaign (an idea which Schneider originally proposed). Schneider proposed that Twitter should be sold to its users and transform into a cooperative.

Chapter 6: Free the Land: Power

The chapter on Power then turns to stories of cooperative healthcare initiatives and the role of politics in supporting (or not supporting) cooperatives in the US and Italy. In the heart of this chapter is an incredible story of Chokwe Lumumba and his son Chokwe Antar Lumumba, both served as mayors of Jackson, Mississippi. Broadly, the story follows the attempts by the elder Lumumba to develop cooperatives in the city of Jackson to help offset racial inequities and declines in the city’s economy, basic infrastructure and other quality of life amenities. This story’s characters have poignant and nuanced perspectives on the current state of cooperation, race, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Chapter 7: Phase Transition: Commonwealth

Conclusion

At times Schneider will begin a story (or two) and it’s not clear where he is going with it in regards to cooperation. Sometimes the reading is dense with an academic style and references that may not be commonly known. It can walk the line of being too academic, too much of a firehose of anecdotes from across time and space. This balance though adds to the authoritativeness, the intrigue, the sense that these are dispatches from the field of cooperative action and can be entertaining and enlightening to read. The writing overall has an authenticity from an authoritative writer that cares about cooperation and about the well-being of people. He has a poetic handle of language and narrative to create this compelling case as to why and how cooperatives are shaping the next economy, and in fact have been for some time.

About the Reviewer

Brad Lynch has worked in cooperatives for 17 years and is deeply interested in building, developing, promoting and expanding cooperatives. He studied for his Masters of Management of Co-ops & Credit Unions from St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He currently works for a non-profit, and is serving on the boards of co-ops. A proud, native Iowan for most of his life, Brad now lives, works and plays in Portland, OR with his 11-year old basset-hound-mix, Wallace.

I love food, cooperatives and social justice. A native Iowan currently working, living and playing in Portland, OR with my basset-mix, Wallace.

I love food, cooperatives and social justice. A native Iowan currently working, living and playing in Portland, OR with my basset-mix, Wallace.