The social and solidarity economy must produce its own standards

The social and solidarity economy must produce its own standards

Professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris, Jean-Louis Laville explains that the social and solidarity economy must free itself from the capitalist system and invent new ways of working, with the aim of transitioning to a model that saves our planet. 

What changes are the current crises imposing on the world of work? 

Jean-Louis Laville: The main lesson of our time is that mainstream market capitalism is unsustainable by its very construction. It is based on the principle of endless expansion, incompatible with geophysical limits, and it exacerbates social inequalities. It is a system that operates on exhausting natural and human resources.  

Therefore, it is vital, in the most profound sense of the word, that we legitimise other forms of the economy that have been denied for the past century, while half of humanity is living outside of market capitalism in invisibility. 

Is the social and solidarity economy a niche market or can it become a dominant economic model? 

I am critical of a certain form of the social and solidarity economy which has strived to make itself respectable in the eyes of the dominant system. It has cultivated its own niche identity, which is of little interest. There is even a temptation to drift towards a capitalism that has social pretensions, which is limited to correcting the excesses of standard capitalism and which I do not believe in at all. The clearest example of this is Danone ‘listening to society’ over the years until it mutated into a company with a ‘social and environmental mission’. The result is that the management was ‘dumped’ by short-term return investors, with a massive redundancy plan and no more consultation than you find elsewhere. 

So, let’s stop trying to paint black capitalism pink! The social/solidarity-based economy does not have to import the rules of this system, whose only compass is profit and economic efficiency. Rather it must produce its own standards by taking into account the interdependence of the economy, society, and nature. And this model is gaining more and more ground nowadays, with increasing cooperation between its components, all combined with a network of territories. 

You are working on this new paradigm that we can ‘transition’. What dominant traits would you attribute to it? 

Our common subject, today, is the survival of the planet and the beings that inhabit it. The rupture principle, promoted by 20th century thinking, is no longer relevant. As it is not a question of ‘changing’ what exists, but rather of preserving it. We must head in a new direction. The social and solidarity economy is one of the only examples of a tangible attempt to make this necessary shift. This is precisely why it should not be seen as a niche that does not question the institutional framework, but rather as a way of experiencing, evaluating the experience, drawing lessons from it, fuelling the action to go further, all aimed at making itself acceptable as a public policy. The related initiatives, that are more numerous than ever, are also a response to the democratic crisis. They act as a citizen transformation: it is not a question of disinterest in politics, but a way of practising it differently, through action that creates this transition.