Cooperatives are not, as everyone at this conference knows, just a peripheral or incidental or anachronistic or culturally limited form of organization. Rather, they are big business of a distinctly modern type. They represent a substantial share of the economy in most developed market economies. For example, in the United States – which many people take today to be the epitome of a capitalist economy – cooperatives dominate important industries, such as basic agricultural products and supplies, and have a large market share in others, such as wholesaling and production of business supplies and services, electricity generation and distribution, housing, banking, and insurance.
More generally and more strikingly, the overall share of economic activity accounted for by cooperatives is larger in advanced market economies than it is in less-developed economies. And, more striking still, the market share of cooperatives in economic activity has grown throughout the 20th century. Indeed, this conference, which celebrates the organization of the modern form of Finnish cooperative movement 100 years ago, reminds us that cooperatives are a distinctly modern form of business organization. They developed only in the late nineteenth century, well after investor-owned business corporations were already well established as a form for organizing business.
It is interesting to ask whether we should expect this trend to continue, with cooperatives representing an ever larger share of economic activity in the future.