While it may be tempting to divide the world into two separate camps, market and commons, some of the most interesting territory lies in the spaces in between – namely, in the non-capitalist, commons-based marketplace. In France, they call it the “social economy” – the segment of commerce serviced by cooperatives and mutual enterprises. Such companies meet their members’ commercial needs while also trying to address broader social, ecological and democratic concerns.
I spent the past three days at a gathering, the Mont Blanc Meetings (Les Rencontres du Mont-Blanc) dedicated to exploring how economic efficiency and social equity can be balanced through coops, and how the social economy can be a political force for a new vision of society. The Mont Blanc Meetings have been held every two years since 2005 as a kind of alternative to both Davos (World Economic Forum) and Porto Allegre (World Social Forum). The Mont Blanc Meetings are the social economy’s attempt to build an international identity, collaborate on practical projects and promote a new political vision.
I must say, the organizers certainly chose a lovely place to meet – Chamonix, France, a small resort village nestled in the shadow of two majestic mountain ranges that tower more than two miles above the 3,000-foot valley floor. What a combination: European charm, good food, scenic beauty and bracing political discussion.