The Universal Capitalism Movement in the United States

By Morehouse, Ward; Speiser, Stuart et al. | Review of Social Economy, March 2000 | Go to article overview

The Universal Capitalism Movement in the United States


Morehouse, Ward, Speiser, Stuart, Taylor, Ken, Review of Social Economy


Abstract Ideas on how to make the fruits of capitalism more braodly enjoyed are not new. A rich body of thought exists advocating a redefinition of socioeconomic mechanisms to this end within the context of private property. This article traces the evolution of this thinking within the United States from before the American Revolution to the present. The culmination of this intellectual tradition is the universal stock ownership plan (USOP). The means of, and prospects for, experimenting with such an initiative are discussed.

Keywords: Capitalism, economic democracy, universal capitalism, USOP, universal stock ownership, economic equality, distribution of income, distribution of wealth, economic evolution, economic opportunity, economic rights, economic justice, American economic history

Thomas Paine, the great American patriot, stated in Common Sense that "We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation similar to the present hath not appeared since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand ..." His sense of the opportunity to redefine liberal society within the American context was echoed in the writings of the founding fathers.

Among them Thomas Jefferson was comprehensive in the particulars of this vision. From the vantage point of the late 18th century, Jefferson conceived of the ideal society being an agrarian economy in which everyone owned sufficient land to be a voter. In those days land was the principal means for accumulating wealth and acquiring the right to vote. A Jeffersonian society would embody widespread distribution of income-generating property and therefore political representation. Democracy to him meant "the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges relating to the common people". Jefferson's dream for America spanned both the concepts of political and economic democracy. In his mind the two were one and inseparable. He and the other founding fathers built the framework to support this concept of democracy into the Constitution.

Jefferson's conception of the ideal society was influenced by the intellectual movement of the Enlightenment and American social experimentation going back to the time of early English colonization. From the beginning America had attracted people to its shores who longed for freedom, opportunity and a new beginning; whose views of democracy often covered both political and economic aspects of life. With its open tolerance for social experimentation, relative lack of social hierarchy and freedom from the yoke of tradition, disenfranchised groups of Europeans came with visions of creating communal utopias. The first possessed a religious fervor and were represented by such groups as the Puritans who began their "Bible Commonwealth" in Massachusetts in 1630; William Penn and his fellow Quakers who started their "Holy Experiment" in Pennsylvania in 1681; and the Millennialists of various stripes from the Dutch Mennonites of Polckhoy's Commonwealth in 1663 to Ann Lees's Shakers who arrived in 1774. The social fou ndations established by these and many others culminated in the American golden age of communalism which lasted from 1820-1850.

Each of these early groups reflected the communitarian impulse of a planned society bound by a shared vision of peace, order and social harmony. In retrospect, they served as models for social transformation and laboratories within which the process of social change could be studied. More importantly, they epitomize the quest for greater freedom, equality and opportunity while establishing the American tradition of social experimentation. No doubt they heavily influenced the thinking and actions of the founding fathers and many others to follow in their footsteps. [1]

The term economic democracy is defined by the authors to mean a high level of citizen investment in economic processes through the empowering agencies of ownership, representation, freedom of endeavor, equal economic rights and access to opportunity. …

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