Towards a Society-Oriented Capitalism: Do Cooperatives and Mutuals Match Particularly Well from a Corporate Law Perspective?
Michael Lanser, Senior Legal Counsel, Skandia Mutual Life Insurance Company, Sweden
The modern free-market capitalism was born with the Industrial Revolution. Resting on exploiting individuals’ self-interest, capitalism evolved into a powerful and dynamic system that raised our productive capacity and living standards significantly. But, as is commonly argued, the system has also contributed to inequality and environmental degradation. The idea that the sole purpose of business is to make profits for owners of the firm and that everything else is a means to that end remains the dominant mental model for business. By acknowledging the interdependent nature of life and the human foundations of business, arguments have been made that business needs to consciously create value with and for all its stakeholders (owners, customers, employees, suppliers, investors, communities, the environment, etc.). That is, business should have a higher purpose that transcends an existence of just generating profits for one of its stakeholders, and thus find ways to exploit the potential of business in support of a broader society-oriented capitalism. Cooperatives and mutuals play an important role in the global economy and society, representing enterprises across all business sectors. These corporations are member-user driven enterprises. This paper discusses whether its form of ownership should in itself be understood as representing a stakeholder-oriented model aimed at contributing to a broader society-oriented capitalism.
Keywords: cooperatives, mutuals, people-centred enterprises, society-oriented capitalism, stakeholder(s)
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