If you were looking for something for which to be thankful tomorrow, you may need to look no further. As we hinted in the two previous postings in this series (as well as in the series on the ontology of personalism), the situation is far from hopeless. While the individual is frequently helpless to effect change in social situations, the remedy of social justice is open to every single human being.
Each member of the human race, by virtue of the fact that he or she is human and therefore a "natural person" (that is, a person by the mere fact of being human at whatever stage of physical, mental, spiritual, economic, or political stage of development), has the capacity to organize and act directly on the common good not as an individual per se, but as a member of a group. If we are faced with unjust structures that inhibit or prevent us from owning an adequate stake in the means of production sufficient to generate a living income, then we do not need to go, hat-in-hand, either to a rich private elite and beg for alms, or to the State and surrender our personal sovereignty in exchange for our vote and a bare sufficiency to meet our material needs. The only thing we need is a specific plan, for — without that — we might as well just stay where we are. If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there . . . and rather quickly, at that.
Such a plan is Capital Homesteading, a concept embodied in a proposal called the "Capital Homestead Act."
The Capital Homestead Act is a modern version of Abraham Lincoln's 1862 Homestead Act that (usually — there were some exceptions) offered a quarter section of land (160 acres) on the frontier to anyone 21 years of age or over, and who was an American citizen or declared the intent to become one. While there are many modern critics blessed with 20/20 hindsight who can point out the flaws of the Homestead Act, it cannot be denied that the Act was the most successful economic initiative in American history, excepting only the fact of America itself. The Homestead Act laid the foundation for America's rise as the world's greatest industrial power, and embedded ownership of the means of production as the road to economic and political independence deep in the American psyche, from which more than a century of effort by the State and other forces have been unable to root it out entirely.
Unfortunately, land has a singularly unique drawback. There is, generally, only so much to go around, and the land eventually runs out. There is, however, a frontier that, to all intents and purposes, cannot run out. That is the technological frontier, the sector of the productive economy made up of industrial and commercial enterprises.
Admittedly, hostility toward technology is also embedded deep in the American psyche. This is not because technology is evil, per se, but (as Hilaire Belloc pointed out in The Servile State, 1912, as did Kelso and Adler a generation later), because methods of corporate finance virtually guaranteed that ownership of the new technology would be concentrated in the hands of a very few people. Since (as Daniel Webster observed in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1820), "power naturally and necessarily follows property," concentrated ownership of the means of production automatically means concentrated power.
Americans hate concentrated power.
That's not to say that other people do not hate concentrated power. There is, however, just something about the proud, the arrogant, those who exercise raw, naked power — as did the United States Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade — that excites a profound and visceral reaction in the American spirit. This aspect of the American spirit can only be ameliorated or all but extinguished through intensive and continuing — and State funded, of course — propaganda, and the fostering of a servile class ready, willing, and able to look to the State as the source of all that is good. This is in sharp contrast to what Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the early 19th century of the habit Americans had of organizing and taking care of matters themselves without the bumbling interference of the central government.
Nevertheless, despite the debilitating results of training people to look to the State as the source of every blessing, the fire of the American spirit is not so easily extinguished. Rather, the state of society in which we seem to be trapped today is the result of the fact that most Americans were never given a chance to share in the ownership and profits of our high-tech industrial and commercial frontier, which (unlike land) has no known limits.
Capital Homesteading would take nothing away from present owners, who would be left with their current accumulations intact. They would only lose the virtual monopoly they now have over ownership of future capital.
By returning to a sound understanding of money, credit, and banking and employing advanced techniques of corporate finance, Capital Homesteading would link every American (especially the poorest of the poor and those previously economically disenfranchised) to the profits from sustainable economic growth. Every citizen could gain a share in power over technological progress and the tools and enterprises of modern society. Through widespread, direct ownership of the means of production everyone would participate in a more democratic economic process, just as they now participate in the democratic political process through access to the ballot.
The only question remaining is how Capital Homesteading would probably work — and why people seem to think it won't. We will look at those questions in the next posting in this series.