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The evolution of agricultural cooperative thought, theory, and purpose in the United States is reviewed from the standpoint of the reemergence of interest in how cooperatives can provide some of the security and benefits that might be lost with gradual phasing out of federal government farm support programs. By accomplishing group action for self-help, the early development of cooperatives drew considerable attention from economists, social theorists, and politicians. Alternative schools of cooperative thought developed, but most proponents of cooperatives regarded them as having enormous potential to provide a public service role in building a more economically stable and democratic society This paper also surveys how cooperative theory was developed more rigorously in the post-WWII period. It has provided better analytical tools for understanding how and why cooperatives have changed in response to technological and economic developments, as well as to social trends, like individualism. Given the new perspectives on cooperative theory and the scope of changes in how cooperatives operate and are structured, cooperatives have even greater potential for coordinating self-help actions, but this potential needs the support of cooperative education services.


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