The Adaptive Evolution of the Co-operative Principles

28 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2019 Last revised: 7 Mar 2019

See all articles by Timothy Waring

Timothy Waring

University of Maine, Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions

Taylor Lange

University of Maine - School of Economics

Date Written: February 27, 2019

Abstract

The ‘co-operative principles’ are a set of operating and aspirational guidelines for co-operative businesses that originated in England in the 1840s and are used worldwide today. We evaluate the proposition that the co-operative principles constitute institutional adaptations by helping co-operative businesses survive and spread. The principles might contribute to group success, be adaptively neutral, or they might spread fad-like between co-operatives even hampering cooperative survival. We use two empirical rubrics to identify signatures of adaptive evolution in the co-operative principles in their 170-year historical record. Historical analysis provides compelling evidence of the variation, transmission and selection of the co-operative principles through time. We document that the principles arose and have been modified via intentional innovation, that they facilitate cooperation among the members of a co-operative, and that they have spread due to the beneficial effects on the co-operatives which adopt them. Historical evidence further reveals a clear pattern of descent with modification, and adaptive radiation into worker co-operatives. We conclude that these principles likely constituted institutional adaptations in 1840s England and 1950s Spain. Despite their near ubiquity, it is more difficult to assess the adaptive value of the principles today.

Keywords: co-operatives, co-operative principles, cooperation, cultural evolution, group cultural adaptation

JEL Classification: N01, N20, P51, J5, Q13

Suggested Citation

Waring, Timothy and Lange, Taylor, The Adaptive Evolution of the Co-operative Principles (February 27, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3322978 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3322978

Timothy Waring

University of Maine, Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions ( email )

Orono, ME 04469
United States

Taylor Lange (Contact Author)

University of Maine - School of Economics ( email )

Orono, ME 04469
United States

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