Neo-Associative Economics

Neo-Liberalism to Neo-Associationism : Economic Unity in Cultural Variety

The Western Neo-Liberal Backdrop

The so called “international” Mount Pelerin Society was formed in Switzerland in 1947, post World War 11, to build further upon the “liberal”, economic ideas of the “father of economics”, Adam Smith. In fact there was little that was genuinely international about it. For those making up the society were Western European or North American, Austria’s Friedrich von Hayek and the U.S.’s Milton Friedman being the most prominent amongst them. There was nobody from Africa, no-one from the whole of Asia, no representatives whatsoever from South America, not even anyone from Eastern Europe. Such indeed was the “inter-nationality” of the association. Yet Mount Pellerin purportedly stood for an “open society”, allegedly open to the whole world, but in fact closed off from most it. So in promoting an “open economy”, that is free trade, free markets, indeed a “free society”, it was open to a select few, but closed for most others.

Indeed, such a “neo-liberal” economic movement that the Society promoted, claimed to have taken the classical ideas of Adam Smith’s liberalism, further on. Not really so! Building purportedly on his “laissez-faire” economics, drawing on his notion of an “invisible hand” of supposed self interest, the Society in fact vigorously promoted individual entrepreneurship, autonomous private enterprise, privatisation, and freedom from government interference. Such then neo-liberalism subsequently led to a
proliferation of global financial markets, today amplified by private equity and hedge funds, on the one hand, and to oligopolist tech companies, on the other. Yet the latter have become as far removed from Smith’s free markets as can be. In fact, for Harvard Business School’s Shoshana Zuboff (1), today’s Surveillance Capitalism rides roughshod over our individual self interests, rather promoting the corporatist cause of the globalised advertising industry. As such, a “global South” does not get a look in.

From Scotland’s Virtuous Self to Russia’s Associative Cosmism

Indeed, and overall then, such a neo-liberal dispensation, is now as far removed from the original “liberal” economic foundations, of Adam Smith, in the 18 th century, as you can get. For fellow Scot, developmental biologist and economist Keith Skene (2) today, who is originally of Celtic Irish heritage (neoliberal economics is much more English Anglo-Saxon than Celtic British) as founder of the Biosphere Institute, states in his book on Sustainable Economics : “economic growth could deliver a society that would progress and an environment that could thrive. This became known as Ecological Modernisation Theory (EMT). This was very different from what Adam Smith had in mind. He started with a healthy functioning society, from which individuals would gain empathetic skills and act with virtuous self-interest. The invisible hand would then emerge from this functioning society and guide our economic activity”.

If Smith then, as a Scot positioned midway between “north-western” Anglo Saxon and “south-western” Celt, promoted virtuous self – if not also thereby mutual – interest, what about his supposed arch adversary, Karl Marx? Ironically, to begin with, while Marxism is often posed as “eastern” Communism” as opposed to “western” Capitalism, it is nothing of the sort. It is actually as Western European as they come, albeit in his case Anglo-German, as opposed to Anglo-Celt. For as such, given his more middle,
continental European identity, according to American economic historian Ingrid Rima (3) : “Overall, Marx’s objective was to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society. He maintained that the prime mover of social change is to be found in changes in the mode of production. For him, the mode of production includes not only the technology surrounding the physical means of production, but also the social relationships deriving from the whole complex of the socio-economic, political and cultural institutions that accompany a given stage of development”.

For Marx then, the technological and the social were the visibly dominant forces in economic development, rather than the “inviable hand”. He, of course, is predominantly associated today with the hitherto Soviet Union, if not also latterly with the People’s Republic of China. Yet, Communism in and of itself has nothing innately to do with Russia, or China, in their Eastern European, or far Eastern, natures and cultures, where the “social”, for us (4), in our study of Integral Advantage : Emerging Economies and Societies, has very different natural and cultural connotations. Indeed it is “eastern” Cosmism, rather than “western” Communism, that emerges out of, if you like, the Russian soul, and Taoism and Confucianism that are originally innate, naturally and culturally respectively so to speak, in China.

Indeed modern-day Russian Cosmists, ironically today founders of the Institute for Planetary Development in Dubai, far removed from Putin’s Russia, Alexandr Bezgodof and Konstantin Barazhev (5), in their recent book on The Origins of Planetary Ethics in the Philosophy of Russian Cosmism, maintain that : “The main task of planetary ethics is to harmonize the general and specific, universal and individual, the biocentric and cultural level of values. Planetarity as such is the name of the kinship of all types of existing matter”. Similarly, for New Rural Reconstructionist Wen Tiejun (6) in China : “To build an ecological civilisation, the first step is to abandon the GDP-supremacy mentality. Economy must be re-embedded in society and ecology .. China is one of the very few civilisations that has evolved without a break for a few thousand years. Its struggle to achieve modernisation in the last 150 years is a tragic and heroic saga. The idea of
ecological civilisation arises out of it”.

What we believe therefore, and will become apparent as we traverse the globe, worlds-wide as we say, is that the associative principle, in economic of not also more general social and ecological guise, in one neo-associative natural-cultural form or another, is much more prevalent than the “neo-liberal” one. What more specifically do we mean?

From Associative Economics to Associationism in the East

For us then, worlds-wide, much more pervasive, in particular societal principle if not also yet in actual macro-economic practice, than the liberal, “western” European and subsequently American (“north-western”) individualist-capitalist economic model, is the associative one. Such was initially posited, economically, by the Croatian born eastern European polymath, early last century, Rudolph Steiner (7), in his seminal work
Towards Social Renewal. We maintain such an “eastern” orientation then to be more integral than Marx’s communism because it is grounded in particular eastern European,
local, as opposed to “western”, global, soils.

Moreover, as such, “associative economics” prevails at both a macro level, in theory (though evidently not in practice), and also, practically, at a micro level. At a macro level for originator of anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner : “human cooperation in economic life must be based on the fraternity inherent in associations. In the civil rights system which is concerned with purely social and political, person-to-person relations, it is necessary to
strive for the realization of the idea of ‘equality’. Thirdly, in the relatively independent cultural sector of the social organism, it is desirable to strive for the idea of freedom”.

Interestingly enough, we reckon, the most comprehensive application of such associative economic principles, at a micro level, is by the Sekem Group in Egypt, with which we have been closely associated over the last decade, thereby, for its founder, thereby associatively, aligning occident and orient in Egypt, as the ancient cross-roads of civilisation, if not also, as such, the sacred (both Islam and anthroposophy) and the secular (sustainable development). For Ibrahim Abouleish (8) then, as a Muslim by
heritage and also European in orientation : “Allah says in Islam that the earth and the ground are only given to us to take care of. He alone owns the ground. It is the same with capital, we can only manage it for the good of the people. In the light of such I consider modern joint stock companies to be dysfunctional, as they act as if God’s legacy was their own. The interest and the riches they receive are not their own achievement, because intelligence and abilities are the gifts of Allah .. We aim towards living together
according to social forms which reflect human dignity and further development, striving towards higher ideals. Our main goal is a developmental impulse for people, society and the earth. The co-operation of economic, social and cultural activities, as such, is stimulated by art, science and religion”.

Sekem today has some 2000 employees, better termed individual associates, while also engaging with organisational associates, as both farmers in Egypt and also as trading partners worldwide. Yet such associative principles are by no means exclusive to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. In the Far East in fact, now specifically in Japan,
contemporary social philosopher and literary critic Kojin Karatini (9) championed, early in the new millennium, the cause of associationism. NAM (New Associative Movement) then, was conceived by him as a counter–capitalist/nation-state association. His seminal work, thereby, on the Structure of World History, was an attempt to rethink the history of social formations from the perspective of four modes of exchange. Until now for him, in Marxism this had been taken up from the perspective of modes of production, regarded as the “economic base”, while the political, religious, and cultural domains have been considered the ideological superstructure. Reality though, for Karatini as for us, has betrayed their expectation, whereby nature and culture have risen to the fore. In fact
later in life, at the time he wrote Capital, Marx himself no longer believed in such.

There are then for Karatani then, four modes of exchange, our “four worlds” : mode A consisting of reciprocity and gift; mode B of rules and protection; mode C of commodity exchange; and associative mode D transcending the other three, indeed revisiting and renewing mode A. Indeed a good such an example of Mode 2, at a micro level, in Japan, is the renowned case of Canon Corporation, while President Kaku (10) was at the helm. Pursuing the path of Kyosei, or co-evolution, immediate business survival for Canon, at the youthful outset, was ultimately, maturely followed by alleviating global imbalances. In fact an example of this in the South, albeit an African variation of this neo-associative theme, can be seen in South Africa, Albert Koopman then complementing Kaku.

Value Sharing in the African South to Cooperative Economics in the European North

The emergence of the “new South Africa” in the 1990’s (compared and contrasted with the Spanish Basque country as we shall seem in the post-Franco era) with the iconic Nelson Mandela at the helm, had been preceded by the so called CODESA process, Codetermination and Democracy in South Africa. Indeed this is what renowned Ugandan social scientist, Mahmoud Mamdani (11) had heralded, at least politically, as unique in the world for underlying the Southern country’s duly associative constitution, serving to bring together its diverse ethnic groups. Lamentably, at a macro level, such
an associative economy has never followed suit, with one notable, “micro” exception. The recently late Albert Koopman (12), in his distinctive approach (see Table 1 below) approach to Transcultural Management, built explicitly on what he termed “The Divine Will of Africa” to promote a distinctly “southern” orientation to value sharing that characterised a rural supplier of building materials, and its 1500 individual associates.

Constitutionally moreover, and philosophically, the Cashbuild cooperative in the African South, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, was not that different from the Mondragon Cooperatives, in the Spanish Basque County, in European North. However, culturally, while Cashbuild was modelled on the Bantu African indigenous philosophy of ubuntu – I am because you are – Mondragon was modelled on the prior Catholic encyclicals.

Mondragon today then is a highly successful cooperative model, and a showcase of workers’ self-management in Northern Spain, with over 50 years of proven success. It has established research centres, banks and credit unions, a university, youth cooperatives, and small to large businesses. Founded in 1956 in the Basque town of Mondragon, the Mondragon Cooperatives now encompasses 264 businesses and employ more than 100,000 worker-owners in more than forty countries. And it began its life on the initiative of Don Jose Maria Arizmendiarrietta (Arizmendi), a rural village priest with a transformative vision who believed in the values of worker collaboration and working hard to reach for, and realize, the common good, in association.

Founder Arizmendi (13) then wrote of such cooperativism – and such large-scale cooperatives predominate in the “North”, as : “The third way distinct from egoist capitalism and from depersonalizing socialism. We want cooperatives, which constitute a new social potential and, thus, are built by those who are not impelled by a myopic and limited egotism or by a simple gregarious instinct. Cooperativism seeks to create a new state of conscience, of culture, through the humanization of power, through democracy in affairs, and through solidarity, which impedes the formation of privileged classes”.


Associative economics, associationism, value sharing and cooperative economics, for us then, are all variations on a neo-associative theme, in the above cases each one lodged in particular nature, culture and society, ranging from eastern Europe, the Middle and Far East, to Southern Africa and the Spanish Basque country. There are indeed further such variegated neo-associative (variations on an overall associative theme), micro-economic examples, ranging from Akhuwat’s so called Soulidarity economics (14) in Muslim Pakistan, to the Irish Homestead movement (15) at the turn of last century in Ireland, to the longstanding kibbutz movement (16) in Israel still today, if not also our own form of Integral Enterprise, as illustrated by Medlabs (17) Careing for Society in MENA today,
duly and newly associating, as such, nature and culture, technology and enterprise.

What remains significant, overall, is that whereas such what we have termed neo-associative economies – “neo” because of the many variations on an associative theme – are prolific at a micro level, that of the individual enterprise, be it for example a cooperative or a kibbutz, at a macro, societal level, no such associative economy practically exists. This is remarkable given the pervasiveness of such associative tendencies, throughout human kind. Indeed it reveals the global, duly “westernised” power of the “Washington Consensus”, the financial markets, the multinational
corporations, as well as the graduate schools of business and economics, in promoting an individualised, capitalist model. Such a “neo-liberal” economic model is by no means intrinsic to who we are as Africans, Asians, Arabs or Europeans, indeed as “native” Americans, north or south of the border. It is such a more pervasive cultural and economic model, South and East, North and West, that we seek to neo-associatively recognize, not least, in our CIEEM – the joint Mount University/TCA Centre for Integral
Ecological, Economic and iMpact – context in the US and worlds-wide, in this case building on Pope Frances’ (18) Integral Ecology, together with his Irish compatriot Sean McDonagh, one of the foremost Catholic proponents of ecological, if not also for us neo-associative, economic, awareness.

It is our (19) overall intention, then, to co-evolve such neo-associative economics, with and through our Southern, Eastern, Northern, Western and Centering, Integral Worlds, both on a micro and a macro basis, through our learning communities, transformation journeys, research academies, and integral academies, worlds-wide. Thereby (20), and overall counter-culturally, the proverbial “west” needs to build on the integral “rest”.

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Barack Obama Books
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4 Lessem R (2016) Integral Advantage : Emerging Economies and Societies. Abingdon.
5 Bezgodof A and Barazhev K (2019) The Origins of Planetary Ethics in the Philosophy of Russian Cosmism. Dubai. Planetary Project
6 Tiejun W (2021) Ten Crises : The Political Economy of China’s Development. New York. Palmgrave Macmillan. Global University for Sustainability Book Series
7 Steiner R (1977) Towards Social Renewal. Forest Row, Rudolf Steiner Press
8 Abouleish I (2005) Sekem : A Sustainable Community in the Egyptian Desert. Edinburgh. Floris Publications
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10 Kaku R (1997) The Path of Kyosei. Harvard Business Review, July/August 75 (4)
11 Mamdani M (2020) Neither Native Nor Settler. New York. Belknap Press
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13 Whyte W. and K. (1991) Making Mondragon. Ithaca. Cornell University Press
14 Saqib, A and Malik, A. Integral Finance – Akhuwat ; A Case Study of the Solidarity economy. Abingdon : Routledge, 2019.
15 West T (1986) Horace Plunkett, Cooperation and Politics : An Irish Biography. Gerards Cross. Bucks. Colin Smythe
16 Horrox J (2009) The Living Revolution : Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement. Oakland, CA. AK Press
17 Lessem R (2017) Embodying Integral Development. Abingdon. Routledge Focus Books
18 Pope Francis with Sean McDonagh (2016) On Care for the Common Home. The Encyclical of Pope Francis on the Environment. New York. Orbis Books
19 Lessem R, Adodo A and Bradley T (2019) The Idea of the Communiversity. Manchester. Beacon Academic
20 Adodo A and Lessem R (2021) Afrikology : Deconstructing and Reconstructing Knowledge and Value in Africa. Manchester. Beacon Academic