Fredric Jameson (American literary critic and political theorist) stated that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”! Albeit tragic, this is so true. It is easy for us to see how humanity could be wiped off the planet (nuclear wars, ecosystem collapse, melting of polar ice caps, pandemics, food shortages, etc.) but it is inconceivable to us to think of how else people could organize their society. This phrase simply reveals how deeply ingrained in our societies is the notion of free, unfettered markets as the only means of achieving prosperity for humanity. The world, having experienced all kinds of economic models from completely free markets to complete state ownership (communism), has run out of hope for any practical, sustainable alternative. So, it’s no surprise that this sentence, while terrifying, rings true to so many people. Even those who strongly demonstrate in streets around the world demanding “system change” do not really know two vital parameters of this demand: first, to whom they are actually addressing this demand, that is, from whom do they expect the change, and second, what exactly does this change look like.
I believe the issue here lies in the difficulty of societies to think outside the box. We are stuck in a two-dimensional understanding of our socio-economic system that oscillates between more or less state, freer markets or more controlled markets. The main problem is that we have traditionally seen state ownership as the only alternative to free markets. I would like to propose another approach which also answers the first question of the required system change, namely “who will bring it about”. It is now obvious to me that only people themselves can bring about the required change.
So, the model is very simple: instead of waiting for the state to reclaim ownership of the means of production (which, as history has shown, this does not necessarily translate into public ownership), the private owners of the means of production begin to share their ownership with society. This is achieved when private companies start giving part of their shares (e.g., 10%) to society for free, thus making citizens part of their ownership structure. As part owners, citizens are motivated to support and promote these companies since their success will benefit them with dividends. A simple model of incentives that aims to reverse the dynamics of free markets by favouring those companies that give back to their societies. A model that aims to cultivate a culture of cooperation and collectivity, that seeks to give citizens immediate economic, social and environmental benefits by promoting collective prosperity. A model that seeks to redefine the role of citizens in free markets by giving them ownership and control of their local economy in order to make them drivers of change towards a more sustainable future.
In order to facilitate the distribution of shares in private companies to citizens in a practical and easy way, we have established the first collective ownership company in Cyprus (COCO Collective Ownership Company Limassol Limited) which covers the Limassol district, and to which local businesses can give part of their shares to become participating companies. This company is a for-profit, limited liability company by guarantee, which accepts members, not shareholders, who are, however, the owners of the company. Each member has one vote and an equal share in the profits of the company as every other member. Eligible members of COCO Limassol are those who have their permanent residence within the geographical boundaries of the Limassol district or those natural persons who own at least 10% of a company with a registered office within the Limassol district. Both groups have a direct and special interest in the development of the local economy. The revenues of COCO Limassol come from the dividends it receives from the participating companies.
Our goal is social and environmental sustainability. To achieve this, we need to decouple our prosperity from the need of continuous and perpetual economic growth, which is responsible for the social and ecological breakdown that the planet is experiencing today. We need to break the big, international interests that are based on the narrative (or, as Greta Thunberg stated, the fairy tale) of eternal economic growth. This is achieved when we try to strengthen local economies again. Once we manage to achieve a more localised economic logic, it will be much easier to discuss and understand prosperity on a human level and not in meaningless numbers and growth rates that do not reflect social well-being.
COCO Limassol’s motto is: “We are all partners”. Without eliminating private initiative and creativity, but on the contrary, by encouraging it, we aim to build a new paradigm for our socio-economic development, based on interdependence and respect for our fellow citizens and mother nature. But in order to be able to truly respect and protect our natural environment, we believe that we should first build stronger social groups, with stronger social ties. And we believe that this can be achieved once we all start sharing a piece of the value that each of us creates.