THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Stimulus, Part IX: What's Wrong with Worker Ownership?

As we learned in the previous posting in this series, socialism — State ownership or control of the means of production — is not the answer to economic, social, or political problems. At best a stopgap, if implemented as a solution, socialism only ends by making matters infinitely worse. As the English economist Charles Morrison pointed out in 1855 in his Essay on the Relations Between Labour and Capital, the only way to ameliorate the injustice of having only a few owners of capital as the value of labor falls in competition with advancing technology is to make ordinary workers owners of the means of production.

Unfortunately, the economic and legal institutions of the Great Britain of Morrison's day were not conducive to allowing workers to be owners. For example, limited liability for corporations could only be obtained on a case-by-case basis by special act of parliament, and then only rarely. This meant that any worker deemed to be an "owner" under law was personally liable for the debts of the corporation . . . and "ownership" included profit sharing in any amount, any input to management decisions, and participation in anything else traditionally understood as the "fruits of ownership." The worker didn't need legal title; even a farthing in "profit sharing" made him or her an "owner" in the eyes of the law, and liable for the debts of the corporation.

Consequently, no owner with a social conscience could possibly allow his or her employees to be put in that position. In a bankruptcy, employees generally are first in line right after any obligations owed to the State. Owners, however, are last in line, and without corporate limited liability could end up in prison if their personal assets were not sufficient to cover the debts. In such a legal environment, people like Karl Marx decided that since ownership could be so disastrous for the worker, and concentrated ownership was so obviously bad, the only solution was to abolish private property altogether, and give the State all ownership.

While socialists thought of this as benefiting humanity, they failed to realize that they were, in effect, advocating that human beings change from being human. Private property is a "natural right." Maintaining that private property (along with other natural rights such as life and liberty) is not absolute in the human person is to say in effect that people are no longer human. True, the exercise of property must be limited by the demands of the common good, the needs of the owner, and concern for other people, but we cannot say that these limitations negate private property as a natural right, any more than laws against murder or involuntary servitude negate our natural rights to life and liberty.