Worker-owned coöperatives are often considered both idealistic and inefficient; the model is seen as suitable mainly for upscale grocery stores or boutique bakeries in progressive towns. At a 2019 conference, the economist Larry Summers characterized co-ops as intrinsically sleepy and short-sighted. “When you put workers in charge of firms and you give them substantial control over the firms,” he said, “the one thing you do not get is expansion. You get more for the people who are already there.” And yet Mondragon is not a sleepy grocery store. Its collection of co-ops employs around eighty thousand people, and seventy-six per cent of those who work in manufacturing co-ops are owners. One makes bicycles at an industrial scale; others make elevators or produce huge industrial machines used in the production of jet engines, rockets, and wind turbines. Mondragon’s businesses include schools, a large grocery chain, a catering company, fourteen technology R. & D. centers, and a McKinsey-like consulting firm. In 2021, the network brought in more than eleven billion euros in revenue. The collective enforces five hundred and five types of patents and employs about twenty-four hundred full-time researchers. It also owns subsidiaries in countries including China, Germany, and Mexico, and competes effectively in international markets, winning contracts from firms such as General Electric and Blue Origin. The odds are good that key elements of something within a hundred feet of you—an espresso maker, a gas grill, a car—were made at Mondragon.
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