The ‘third sector’

Co-operatives, mutual, charities and social enterprises

Authored by: Anthony Webster

The Routledge Companion to Business History

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415855563
eBook ISBN: 9780203736036
Adobe ISBN: 9781135007836


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A dictionary of business history written in the 1980s would almost certainly have been a briefer and less diverse volume than the present. By then, notions of what were considered valid business organisational models were characterised by a degree of certainty and restricted scope which seems refreshingly obsolete a quarter of a century later. At the height of the ‘neo-liberal’ revolution sweeping the Anglo-American world at that time, economists and business analysts seemed to share the conviction that at base all business models by definition shared one key ingredient: the paramountcy of the profit motive as the key driver and raison d’être for all business activity. In this context the profit motive was solely about the enrichment of individuals or corporate bodies; the pursuit of wealth for its own sake. Other models, in which either the profit motive was entirely absent, or in which profit was to be used for purposes other than individual or corporate enrichment which trumped the pure profit motive, were implicitly regarded as either inferior or in some way invalid. Business was about individuals enriching themselves, and any motive which superseded this reason for being involved in business threatened business integrity by diluting the discipline of market fundamentals. This was one reason why, over a period of a quarter of a century or so, business models based on collective rather than individual and corporate interests faded from economics and business literature (Kalmi, 2007). This questioning of the legitimacy of mutual and collective models of business organisation was given legal force by new legislation in the UK and in many Western economies designed to allow mutual organisations such as building societies to be converted into mainstream ‘investor-led’ public limited companies, usually with the help of substantial financial incentives for members or owners of mutual organisations.

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