A Two-stage Social Contract Informed by the Capability Approach as the Normative Framework of an Extended and Alternative Model of Corporate Governance for the Digital Economy

Pietro Ghirlanda (University of Milan)


During the last two decades, one major technological transformation has impacted how jobs and industries are organized in modern societies, i.e., the adoption of digital platforms to distribute work, match demand and supply, and facilitate horizontal exchanges of goods and services among peers. However, despite the original ideals of economic democratization connected with the advent of the first “sharing platforms,” this view was soon betrayed by the affirmation of the VC-backed monopolistic giants of Silicon Valley that outcompeted the incumbents and colonized digital markets. Nevertheless, the current status quo, i.e., the so-called “platform capitalism” regime, is now not only questioned by techno-activists but also by governments and civil society actors in general because of the abuses of power and negative externalities it produces, leading to the experimentation of alternative governance models for the digital economy. Particularly notable, from this perspective, is the case of the global movement known as “platform cooperativism,” started by the New School’s professor Trebor Scholz and then spread around the world with the goal of showing how all the relevant stakeholders could be involved in a cooperative form of governance for digital platforms. The contribution that I want to provide with this paper is to develop for the first time (to the best of my knowledge) a normative justification of this extended governance model. Therefore, in the first section, I will trace the history of the equilibrium selection path in the digital economy, reconstructing the different steps that brought to the birth of the platform cooperativism idea. Then, I will present my normative justification of this governance structure relying on a particular version of the constitutional contractarian theory that informs the hypothetical social contract through the lens of the Senian notion of capability. Lastly, I will also describe a real-life example of platform co-op to provide a concrete exemplification of how this normative framework can effectively work in practice, i.e., CoopCycle.

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