Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thornton On Ownership

We've gotten a little bit away from our obsession with William T. Thornton during the Halloween Horror Special series, now over for another year. In light of the continuing failure on the part of the powers that be to appreciate the potential inherent in the Just Third Way to resolve the economic crisis, we thought we'd lay another quote on our readers about the value of capital ownership for keeping an economy going and lessening conflict.

Thornton did not confine his concerns to the rights only of propertyless non-agricultural workers. In fact, Thornton's proposal bears a striking resemblance to that of Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler published in the late 1950s and early 1960s. (See Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer Adler, The Capitalist Manifesto. New York: Random House, 1958; The New Capitalists. New York: Random House, 1961.) In 1869, Thornton published A Treatise On Labour: Its Wrongful Claims and Rightful Dues, Its Actual Present and Possible Future (London: Macmillan and Company, 1869), revising it in 1870. This work strengthened his point that the only solution to the conflict between "labor" and "capital" is for workers and owners to form an alliance, with workers becoming owners with defined rights to profits and control. As he summarized the benefits of such an alliance,

"For mistrust and dislike or indifference on the one side, and for envy and jealousy on the other, would be substituted something of that fellow-feeling which can scarcely help growing up between those who, in serving themselves, are helping each other. With those laborers who had taken shares, some sympathy with capital would tincture the old headlong passion in favor of labor. With those who had not yet become shareholders the possibility of their becoming so subsequently would have a like effect." (William Thomas Thornton, On Labour: Its Wrongful Claims and Rightful Dues, Its Actual Present and Possible Future, Second Edition. London: Macmillan and Company, 1870, 394.)

Not surprisingly, this had also been the contention of Charles Morrison in his pivotal An Essay on the Relations Between Labour and Capital (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1854). Morrison's book was influential in the reform of the Law of Partnerships and adoption of the Limited Liability Act of 1855 (18 and 19 Vict c 133), his goal being to lift one of the chief barriers preventing or inhibiting worker ownership.  Morrison's book was published in 1854, but the same theme would be repeated by Pope Leo XIII in the epochal Rerum Novarum in 1891, usually regarded as the first social encyclical, "On Capital and Labor":

"We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners." (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum ("On Capital and Labor"), 1891, § 46.)

All of this was a good idea then. It's a better idea now.

#30#

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