This I Believe

Andrew - Olympia, Washington
Entered on August 24, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

The country is divided, and I believe that government can’t fix the problem. And that is good news. The way out of this mess is not through what sort of government we elect, but through what people do together by their own free will.

We have a self-image of rugged individualism, but we also have a strong tradition of cooperation which has yielded many great results. Three quarters of the country has electricity because people formed democratic businesses called cooperatives. Most of our milk is cooperatively produced, and many brand names—including Best Western, Tree Top, Carpet One and Sunkist—were created by groups of small farms and businesses working together. Credit unions and housing co-ops, mutual insurance companies and food co-ops, are all parts of a broad cooperative movement which counts nearly half of Americans as members.

I believe that this is only the start of what is possible.

In Italy, there are several separate systems of cooperatives. One is socialist, another is Catholic, but they are all cooperative in nature. We have a lot to learn from this model. There are some things we can agree upon, but this shows how to address issues on which we cannot agree: Government should enforce values which are nearly universal—prohibiting murder for example. But when society is divided, it ought to encourage the creation of parallel systems through which people may live alongside each other.

For example, we are not likely to agree upon defining the family, so any law addressing these issues will need to be forced upon many of us. The government would enforce laws against violent crime, while the other issues would be left to people who choose to cooperate with each other.

Rather than using the government to force our ideas upon those who have different values, I believe we should be building with those who do see things our way. The Italian cooperatives show us that it is possible to create systems based on shared values which are large and complex, voluntary and separate.

We already have to agree to disagree, and each must tolerate certain practices which we believe to be wrong. In a cooperative scenario we could at least be freed from supporting those practices with our taxes while also struggling to outlaw them.

We need to find ways for people to work together with those who share their values. I believe that we have to let go of forcing our wills on each other, and get back to the spirit of liberty that got people on this continent so excited about independence in the first place.

And as we develop these different systems based on our shared values of democracy and liberty, I may not like the decisions you make. But I will at least respect and appreciate the ways in which you make them.