Last week we made a series of postings on the Presidential Task Force on Project Economic Justice, creatively titled Distributism and Ronald Reagan I, Distributism and Ronald Reagan II, and Distributism and Ronald Reagan III. Today we conclude the series with (what else?) “Distributism and Ronald Reagan, IV.” Making it easy for us, the conclusion of Reagan’s speech sums up things nicely:
“I’ve long believed one of the mainsprings of our own liberty has been the widespread ownership of property among our people and the expectation that anyone’s child, even from the humblest of families, could grow up to own a business or corporation.
“Thomas Jefferson dreamed of a land of small farmers, of shop owners and merchants. Abraham Lincoln signed into law the “Homestead Act” that ensured that the great western prairies of America would be the realm of independent, property-owning citizens-a mightier guarantee of freedom is difficult to imagine.
“I know we have with us today employee-owners from La Perla Plantation in Guatemala. They have a stake in the place where they work and a stake in the freedom of their country. When Communist guerrillas came, these proud owners protected what belonged to them. They drove the Communists off their land and I know you join me in saluting their courage.
“In this century, the United States has evolved into a great industrial power. Even though they are now, by and large, employees, our working people still benefit from property ownership. Most of our citizens own the homes in which they reside. In the marketplace, they benefit from direct and indirect business ownership. There are currently close to 10 million self-employed workers in the U.S.-nearly 9 percent of total civilian employment. And, millions more hope to own a business some day. Furthermore, over 47 million individuals reap the rewards of free enterprise through stock ownership in the vast number of companies listed on U. S. stock exchanges.
“I can’t help but believe that in the future we will see in the United States and throughout the western world an increasing trend toward the next logical step, employee ownership. It is a path that befits a free people.
“Walter Reuther was one of the first major labor leaders to advocate that management and labor shift away from battling over wage and benefit levels to a cooperative effort aimed at sharing in the ownership of the new wealth being produced. He was looking far beyond the next contract. There is a story that Reuther was touring a highly automated Ford Assembly Plant when someone said, Walter, you’re going to have a hard time collecting union dues from all these machines. Reuther simply shot back, not as hard a time as you’re going to have selling them cars.
“Reuther was killed in a tragic place accident in 1970, so he did not live to see passage of legislation sponsored by Senator Russell Long of Louisiana that provides incentives for Employee Stock Ownership Plans, or ESOP’s.
“In recent years, we have witnessed medium-sized and even some large corporations being purchased, in part or in whole, by their employees. Weirton Steel in West Virginia, Lowe’s Companies in North Carolina, The Milwaukee Journal, Lincoln Electric Company of Cleveland, Ohio, and many others are now manned by employees who are also owners.
“The energy and vitality unleashed by this kind of People’s Capitalism-free and open markets, robust competition, and broad-based ownership of the means of production- can serve this nation well. It can also be a boon, if given a chance, to the people of the developing world. Nowhere is the potential for this greater than in Central America.
|Russell Long (left), President Reagan (right)|
“Ambassador Middendorf, I am looking forward to examining thoroughly the recommendations in this report, especially those that deal with debt equity swaps as a method of reducing the debt burden in Central America. Members of my staff described for me the overwhelmingly positive response your Task Force received when it floated this idea during a visit to Central America. That debt payments can be reduced, state-owned businesses privatized and made more efficient, and employee ownership expanded, all as part of a mutually reinforcing plan, is an exciting idea. I’d like to think of it as the Middendorf plan for growth and justice. I hope all of you on the commission will continue to work with me to see that this proposal and the other innovative ideas put forth in the Task Force’s report don’t get lost or ignored as so many good ideas do.
“Privatization is part of our current Economic Bill of Rights reform effort. If privatizing government operations is valuable for the United States, with our powerful economy, how much more valuable will it be for developing economies to be freed from such burdens.
|Russell Long (left), Norman Kurland (right)|
“I am instructing the appropriate officials in our administration to take a close look at all of the Task Force’s recommendations and to move on those that can be put into practice. This effort builds nicely on the foundation laid by the Kissinger Commission, the Caribbean Basin Initiative, the Agency for International Development, and the Secretary of the Treasury. I would hope that a dialogue with our friends in the Region commences quickly as to how this report can be turned into economy-building action.
“On July 3rd, I announced our Economic Bill of Rights Reform Package from the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. Well, the Founding Fathers, Jefferson in particular, did not see economic and political freedom as the right only of the citizens of the United States, but the right of all people, everywhere and for all time.
“Today the free people of the United States and Central America face a great challenge. I have every confidence that together we will meet the test, and that freedom will not only survive but triumph. The work of this Task Force should help bring about that triumph. Thank you for all you are doing.
“God bless you.”