Change.  We are all subject to it but it is still the natural reaction of the majority to be resistant to change.  Conservatism with a small “c”.

I had a bit of a Eureka moment this week (stay with me, it isn’t about my bathing habits) about change in politics, economics and education.

I started reading David Erdal’s new book (Beyond the Corporation: Humanity Working) which produces sound evidence and practical examples of employee ownership confounding the predictions of neo-classical economics.  However the prevailing economic orthodoxy will not accept these facts.   This resistance is particularly acute in our business schools but also across our education system in general.

The irony of this inability to offer alternative choices in organising enterprises and the economy seems to be completely lost on these learned academics.  One of the key premises of achieving equilibrium in a perfectly competitive economy is that rational economic man makes rational choices based on perfect information provided by the market.  There seems to be a flawed logic in not even making any attempt to provide information on alternative organisational structures such as co-operatives, mutuals and employee owned enterprises and then claiming that the traditional structures achieve an optimal solution.

Erdal’s book repeatedly makes the point that the people who generally make substantial gains in business transfers are the advisors and providers of capital.  The de-mutualisation of the financial sector along with soft touch regulation led to lots of fees being earned by the City; a handful of senior bankers making a killing and you and I being left to foot the bill.  Again, the irony is that the proponents of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” totally ignore the fact that he warned against greedy individuals corrupting capital markets.  Selective amnesia?

Erdal also makes the point that very often the “Invisible Hand” is invisible because it is just not there.

The key point here is that intellectually lazy civil servants, academic advisors and acquiescent politicians need to be challenged on the orthodox assumption that the market will provide the optimal solution.  It may, and sometimes does, but it is far from automatic and we need to offer alternatives.  There is a need for change.

Which leads me to the political arena.

In last year’s Westminster elections many people thought they were voting for a new approach to politics.  In the sense that we have the first UK Coalition government in the best part of a century, that’s new.  In the sense that within days of taking control the Coalition was proclaiming to be more radical than the Thatcher administration, it would appear that we are still lurching from one end of the two party system to another.

There is an interesting connection here to Erdal’s writing, in that amongst the people he cites as providing the inspiration for his conversion to employee ownership are an American corporate lawyer, who adapted the leveraged buyout, beloved of free market financiers, to creating ESOPs where the employees all shared in the wealth (we’re all capitalists now!) and a Jesuit priest who saw worker co-operatives as the antidote to fascism. (Socialism!)  Confused?  You should be but get your hands on the book and Erdal will explain it a lot more lucidly.  The point again is that something isn’t working in the best interests of the majority in our democratic society and needs to be fixed.  There is a need for change.

You might now be asking what all this has to do with education.

Curriculum for Excellence requires significant change in the way we educate our young people.  We seem to accept the need to move from a Victorian factory system  of churning out batches of awards in”the skills that are easiest to teach and test and are also the easiest to digitise, automate and outsource” to one where we enable learners to “undertake meaningful, problem-based inquiry, which might be multi-disciplinary, supported by blended teaching methods and hybrid resources”.  It’s certainly a major challenge for teachers but one we think CETS can help with.  We are supporting several schools and their pupils to attain the “Asdan –  Certificate of Personal Effectiveness through Co-operative Studies” and are confident it fits substantially within the new educational paradigm.

We offer co-ops as a context for this new learning and a way to adopt self help and self responsibility to build democratic enterprises and create a better (Big, Medium or Small) society

Change is happening in the teaching arena but I’m not sure the accreditation is keeping pace.  I have recently seen SQA proposals for qualifications in economics and business which adopt the same lazy orthodoxy of the market and offering little understanding of alternative forms of enterprise such as those showcased in David Erdal’s book.

Change can be for the good.  We have elections for Holyrood this year with the potential for change and from that might flow increased opportunities for changes in how we run the economy and how we educate our future citizens.   Co-operatives, mutuals and employee ownership can and need to be at the heart of that change for the better.  Revolutions can be bloodless although they do tend to take longer.

You need to participate to make change happen.  You need to challenge the orthodoxy, the status quo, you have to offer alternatives.

As the song says, something better change.

P.S.  Name that tune and win a copy of David Erdal’s book.  Answer to info@cets.coop

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